Thursday, October 18, 2012
Theology and Life
Theology and Life
It seems to be a no-brainer to assert that there is a relationship between theology and life. But is such a relationship a given? There are ample indications that, on several levels, theology and life are struggling at a great distance from each other. Many people struggle to get through life without the slightest help of illumination from theology. And many theologians ply their trade completely removed from the concerns of people. To my way of thinking, the two worlds meet at one juncture and one juncture only. When a man or a woman takes the time to reflect on the messiness of life and the possibility, the hope, that God is a living part of the mess; when words from that awareness come, and maybe even flow, human experience is given windows into itself. We are helped to see, to feel, who we are, what we suffer, what we hope for, and can then live in the light of those words and in the light of each other.
Sacramental theology is a good point of departure to suggest what I mean. The sacraments are earthy. They are not understandable apart from flesh and blood, water and fire, birth and death, sexuality and desire. The sacraments live in and are revealed through life experiences. They encompass everything – food, comfort, hope, home. They are not removed from life. They immerse us into life, into what we are really doing when we eat, love, heal, forgive. They serve as markers for the holiness that is life, for the sacredness that we are and move through every moment of our lives.
Life experience invites one to theologize. “God language” need not be rarified formulations or graduate degree tomes. A sensitive ear or eye or heart will be able to pick up living signs of the ways of the divine in this life. The cry of a baby, the tears of an old man, the longing for a deceased loved one; poems and songs that hope for more, want more, that transcend the boundaries of culture and time in that they lift the hearts of millions to hope for what is yet to come.
Church leaders look about them and wonder why people are leaving their congregations, or why they are disenchanted with them, or cannot connect with its teachings. Perhaps they would do wise to look at themselves and ask if it is they who have lost touch with people. The various departures are telling. People are trying to find God in this life and the quest is on – and they will find it, in art, music, photography, poetry – places that are struggling to making the right and lasting connections between heaven and earth. These are realms in which people labor to create, to connect, to share. They take risks and are not afraid of failure. If their efforts somehow fail or miss the mark, they are not afraid to try again. And again. Something about the organized churches is too satisfied, too secure within their framework of preconceived questions and answers. But these only seem to work for those who benefit the most from the system – the institutional leaders. Dismay and setbacks do not seem to be a part of their experience, or even their vocabulary. And that is not human, either.
I do not have any answers. Perhaps there aren’t any on this side of the road. For those on the other side, those who seem to have “arrived,” they may notice too late that fewer and fewer people are following their example. They are looking elsewhere, and they like what they are finding. Churches will close. Some will turn into restaurants or galleries – places where food and beauty are shared and discussed. A change, perhaps, for the better.