Live Our Theology

I just finished a remarkable book.  Christopher Pramuk, a theologian who teaches at Xavier, wrote about the theology of Thomas Merton, my favorite monk of the last century.  Pramuk’s book is entitled, Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton.  The book is not an easy go.  While it has the hallmarks of a doctoral dissertation, it is very articulate.  It is tough going because it brings in significant amounts of rather sophisticated theology.

Many people in the church would not know what the term, Sophia, means.  That is the Greek word for “wisdom.”  Sophia plays a role in both testaments of the Christian Bible.  In most cases the word would be translated “Wisdom.”  Even though I know Merton’s writings fairly well, Pramuk was able to lift out ideas and analyze them in fresh ways that I found exciting.  Part of the fascination, of course, is my own love of Merton.

He was a remarkable man and monk.  His life pilgrimage into faith is an intriguing story in itself.  Born in France to parents who were into the arts, Merton’s early life was one of instability.  He moved not from town to town, but from country to country.  He bounced between France, Long Island in New York and England.  For a while his father took him to the Caribbean.  Part of the intrigue is when Merton finally becomes religious, he joined the Catholic Church and, then, one of the most rigorous monasteries he could have chosen. And when he became a monk in 1941 at age 27, he took a vow of stability!  The vagabond promised to stay in one place.  And he did.

For all its sophistry (see our word sophia-wisdom in this term), Pramuk’s book is really an attempt to think about contemporary life and how to make sense of it and to make it better.  In fact the first line of the book contains a definition of theology that I very much like.  Pramuk says theology is “a lifelong conversation with wonder and mystery…”  That line already points to a way of seeing God.  God is wonder and mystery.  I think that is a good way to begin.

The key question that follows from this is how do we know this wonder and mystery in our real lives?  And furthermore, if we know this wonder and mystery, what difference does it make in how we live?  Those are crucial questions because all of us who are alive will necessarily choose some way to live.  Will we be ethical?  Or will we not give a hoot?  We will care about others or will we say we couldn’t care less?  Somehow those of us who claim in some fashion that we believe in God should have that belief reflected in real life.

This is the point to which Pramuk returns at the end of the book.  If we are going to be women and men of faith, how do we take the theology of our faith (our explanations of things) and actually live it out?  Wisely, Pramuk chooses words from Merton penned in my favorite book of his, namely, New Seeds of Contemplation.  There Merton says, “If we believe in the Incarnation of the Son of God (God become human), there should be no one on earth in whom we are not prepared to see, in mystery, the presence of Christ.”  Pramuk, then, asks, “Is this not after all the deepest mystery of our faith that ‘has to break through a little’ if we are going to live as children of God, companions of Jesus, bearers of presence, peace, and hope in the twenty-first century?”

Personally, the focus on the incarnation is key for my own belief.  If God is wonder and mystery, as Pramuk puts it, then that wonder and mystery came into our world as a human being.  Somehow Jesus embodies that wonder and mystery.  That speaks positively to me.  Obviously it makes Jesus different than I am.  But it does not mean I cannot emulate Jesus.  The fact that Jesus embodies wonder and mystery is a call for me to do the same.  God is ready to come into me, too.

And when that happens, it makes me see the world in a whole new way.  As with Jesus, it means there are not more enemies.  As Merton said, I need to be prepared to see, in mystery, the presence of Christ in the other.  And I begin to live my life as a child of God---which is what Jesus did.  I become a peacemaker and justice-seeker.  I become a lighthouse of hope in a dark world.  I learn to pray (and mean it), “not my will.”

I can talk theology.  I can use big words, as Merton and Pramuk did.  That’s not bad; it is simply not sufficient to make me spiritual.  Merton’s counsel to his fellow monks at Gethsemani should be our counsel, too.  Thinking and theology are important Merton claims.  But, “What we must really do…is live our theology.”  That is the call and the challenge.

It makes me think of a more street-savvy way of putting it.  “Words are nice, but actions speak louder than words.  We have to live our theology.

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