This blog is not a journal. It is a place to express thoughts and, once expressed, to learn better. To have others teach me what is better. At my first introduction to theology, I was told that the first attitude of a theologian is docility. I must be teachable.

This requires humility.

And – some years later – I find myself far from docile. I am angry, so frustrated it cuts my heart like razor blades. Theology, academic theology, professional theology, the venerated school of inquiry, is not what I thought it would be. I am exhausted, strained by the weight of my studies, barely able to take time to reflect. To receive from God. Surely this is what I wanted from theology: to receive from God, and to learn in all humility to describe to others what this means. To receive from God.

But I must write. And I must read. And I must compete to be heard. To be articulate. A desired intellectual commodity. An authority.

I never wanted to be authority.

I wanted, in all naïveté, to love God. More and more. And to assist others in that love.

What have I become instead? An agitated machine of reflections, cogitated statements. A rolodex of important names and dates, repeated like empty phrases. Impressive hollow words. But still passionate – animated and intuitive, the direct markers of a dramatic personality. Despite the endless professional consternation it causes, the constant lectures to tone it down, I never could quite cease to burn. Never can quite stop myself from leaping to the far outer-reaches of reason – proclaiming where the galaxies might end, and always intensively worried that they might really disintegrate into the pitch black.

I should not worry. I’m told I should not worry.

But I am so worried. And so tired. And so anxious for silence. To leave the books and the words and to collapse before the tabernacle – and never move away again.

“Oh the mind, the mind has mountains, cliffs of fall/ Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed.” I do not quite know that I have academic theology in me. It is soul-draining. Or, I have found it so. Others flourish, and this is their blessing. I am left with a draught of acid dissatisfaction. “Bitter would have me taste: and my taste was me.”

On the one hand, I am told that I have talent. This I have trouble discerning. On the other, I can comprehend the rising frustration with my loyalties: I am an instinctively obedient Catholic, whole-heartedly willing to mold my mind with judgments identical to the official Church. I hate questioning the official Church. I hate even distinguishing levels and types of obedience. I want the fullness of obedience to become to me like breathing, and not like surgical dissection.

This is perhaps not what theology is, and I am wrong to expect it. I acknowledge this with sad humor, and acknowledge that I am perhaps better suited elsewhere. I know not where.

If I were to leave, Lord, where would I go? Surely you would show me the way if you desired me elsewhere. And since you have not unveiled a new path, I have only this one by which to follow you. If I must be conformed to it, please conform me. If I must change it, please transform me into a figure of change.

The other day I wept before Mass, angry and perplexed and despairing. Mentally emaciated by a conference that meant every good, and came to be a midnight agony – though only for me. I am not meant for this! I cried in silence, shaking. Why would you have me do what I hate?

And I saw a fierce stained-glass window of the Holy Mother clutching her Son in her lap. The Seat of Wisdom, my mind announced like a tour guide. I became silent, enraptured by the image. She held him out for all to see, and he blessed all before him. She neither obscured him nor ceased her maternal care. And he made her beautiful. Sitting there together, with a shepherd’s staff at their feet and a bound lamb.

A bound lamb.

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

– T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Francisco Zurbarán, “Agnus Dei”

Advertisements