Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Beginning And End Of God-Talk

Along with ruminations on William Stringfellow, Per Crucem ad Lucem also has a variety of ruminations on the thought of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. Surprisingly, perhaps, for a contemporary English prelate, Williams has a long CV, and a recent work is criticized, from the perspective of method, in this thoughtful post.

Reading it, I found echoes of recent thoughts I've expressed - on the way doing theology is a never-ending process; my own warnings at resting safe on any particular conclusion; the way the Spirit has of disrupting even the most cogent self-satisfaction - and heard the warnings and criticism of similar thoughts expressed by the Archbishop.

As a response, I can only say that theology is not a "thing" humans do. We too often associate it with other human intellectual pursuits, in particular philosophy, from which it often borrows vocabulary, and with which it remains in dialogue. Yet, the two things are very different. Indeed, theology can rightly claim not to be an "intellectual pursuit" at all. Rather, it is a faithful pursuit of understanding, striving to make clear using different vocabularies that which we proclaim in our life of faith. The beginning of philosophy, it is often said, is wonder. Wonder that there is something rather than nothing. Theology, on the other hand, does not begin with wonder.

It begins with praise. It begins with the faithful acknowledgement of the reality of salvation God has granted in Jesus Christ, to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. We encounter this reality in our life of worship, in the sacramental practices by which the Body renews itself and restores us. We encounter this reality in prayer, as the Spirit takes our mumblings and stutterings and makes of them something coherent. We encounter this reality on the pages of Scripture that begin the journey of unraveling the encounter between God and creation.

While I do indeed, and will continue to insist, that we should never rest easy with what we feel are, in the words of Archbishop Williams, "a captivity to trivial optimism … and lying cliché", this should not prevent us, even as we continue to try to make sense of this marvelous mystery in which we find ourselves living, from continuing to participate in the praise and thanksgiving which birthed it. Unlike the kind of doubt and skepticism that can pervade philosophical thought, even the most thoroughgoing doubt and pervasive God-questioning rarely leads an honest theologian from saying, praying, and singing the reality that God's love, offered to the world in Jesus Christ through the Spirit that is the Love that binds Father and Son together, is the strange and wonderful thing that keeps them going.

The end of theology, like its beginning, is always and only praise. I wouldn't even claim a more enlightened praise, or a more deeply-felt thanks. Rather, I would just say one with a bit more clarity. It is one thing to put all one's works, including one's theological musings, under the shadow of the Cross. No matter how faithful, now matter how brutal, no matter how honest they will always fall short because they are human works trying to make sense of the God who is Wholly Other. Which is precisely why prayer and praise, song and sacrament, living and working in the Spirit are always the end of theology, just as they are the beginning.

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