I'm seeing a spiritual director now. Sister Barbara Austin is a Benedictine Nun from the St. Joseph Monastery here in Tulsa. I spent one hour with her last week. I'm sad I waited years to see a spiritual director. In that one hour I started seeking God better than all of the time I've spent studying theology.
I told her I was taking theology classes towards a bachelor's degree, and that I struggle with my studies and with theology - not just intellectually but emotionally and, yes - spiritually. Most of the time, I am like the RAF officer who approached Lewis at one of his theological lectures:
I've no use for all [this] stuff. But, mind you, I'm a religious man too. I know there's a God. I've felt Him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that's just why I don't believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who's met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal.I've blogged about Lewis's theology map metaphor. I want to explore this metaphor more and more.
Sister Barbara gave me a copy of Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith. I read it quickly in a day, and I'm now re-reading it slowly and doing the spiritual exercises. (Writing is part of it, so blog posts may pick up here for a while.) The first chapter is titled, "Who will answer my questions?" and it is even more quotable than Lewis!
- ... we need to live the questions of our lives ...
- Most of the time we respond to questions from below with answer from below. The result is often more confusion.
- Once pain or confusion is framed or articulated by a question, it must be lived rather than answered. The first task of seeking guidance then is to touch your own struggles, doubts, and insecurities - in short, to affirm your life as a quest. Your life, my life, is given graciously by God. Our lives are not problems to be solved but journeys to be taken with Jesus as our friend and finest guide.
- Painful questions must be raised, faced, and then lived. This means that we must constantly avoid the temptation of offering or accepting simple answers, to be easy defenders of God, the Church, the tradition, or whatever we feel called to defend. Experience suggests that such glib apologetics animate hostility and anger, and finally a growing alienation from whom or what we are trying to defend.
- Without a question, an answer is experienced as manipulation or control. Without a struggle, the help offered is considered interference. And without the desire to learn, direction is easily felt as oppression.
- Living the questions runs counter to the mainstream of Christian ministry that wants to impart knowledge and understand, skills to control, and power to conquer. In spiritual listening, we encounter a God who cannot be fully understood, discover realities that cannot be controlled, and we realize that our hope is hidden no in the possession of power but in the confession of weakness.
- When God enters into the center of our lives to unmask our illusion of possessing final solutions and to disarm us with always deeper questions, we will not necessarily have an easier or simpler life, but certainly a life that is honest, courageous, and marked with the ongoing search for truth. Sometimes, in living the questions, answers are found. More often, as our questions and issues are tested and mature in solitude, the questions simply dissolve.
So, when I study theology, I must not make it solve problems. Studying theology moves me closer to Truth not when I cling to answers, but when I uncover the map of deeper questions pointing to God. I'm hoping and praying that spiritual direction and discipline will provide me with the compass I need on my journey of living the questions.