It is a bit intimidating to be the last person to post on the very first theological shark week. I knew that whatever I wanted to say would already be touched upon and so my drafts of this post changed as each day another post touched on the topics I wished to engage. I didn’t want to repeat those topics. I wanted to offer a different take on the topic but how could I offer something new? So after multiple drafts that I am no longer pleased with, all I can offer is this simple idea that in fact is far from new. I will keep it short and leave it as a summary of all the posts this week.
Theologians have many roles to play and many audiences to serve. Each of the writers this week eloquently pointed this out. In fact, I was impressed that we discussed all the major topics I would hope to see. Concern for the poor. Duties to church and the public as well as the university. Economic and political questions raised. Concern for the conversation between God, neighbor and ourselves. All important and necessary components for theologians to address. There was even specific mention of theologians helping with prayer, religious praxis and liturgy.
All that said, I would proclaim that theologians should serve those who wish to behold God.
In her book Writing the Icon of the Heart: In silence Beholding, Maggie Ross points to the importance of the word “behold” in scripture. The imperative form of the word behold appears over 1300 times in Hebrew and Greek in the bible and Ross worries when beholding is no longer taught or explained. Beholding, intimately connected with deep silence and attentiveness to God, is the first command of God to the newly created humans in Genesis 1:29 and it is part of Jesus’ last words to his followers in Matthew 28:20.
Silence and beholding are our natural state. As Irenaeus puts it, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive, and the glory of the human being is the beholding of God”: the two clauses are interdependent. The story of the Garden of Eden tells us of the primordial distraction from beholding, the descent into noise and bewilderment caused by the projections we call “experience”. All our ills come from the loss of silence and beholding, our failure to listen and our insistence on our flawed and limited interpretations. It was in the context of beholding that we were given stewardship of the earth; it is in the context of distraction that we have (mis)managed it. As the pace of contemporary life accelerates and the rising tide of noise degrades the biosphere, the need to recover and, more especially, to teach and practice silence and seeking into the beholding becomes even more critical.
(Maggie Ross, Writing the Icon of the Heart: In Silence Beholding, p. 11)
In more and more of my conversations with people in the pews, I learn of their desire to touch ever deeper into the Mystery of their faith. And in more and more of my conversations with fellow theologians and theologians in training, I have become convinced that there is a great thirst to write theology that not only does what the others this week eloquently posted about — but theology that helps to guide people in prayer and matters of the heart in much more mystagogical ways. There seems to be a need for and a desire to write theology that comes out of, and leads people into silence and beholding. “For it is in our core silence, through our beholding, we realize our shared nature with God; we participate in the divine outpouring upon the world: incarnation, transfiguration and resurrection become conflated into a single movement of love.” (Ross p. 14)
It is from the space of beholding that we realize the Kingdom of God (Luke 17:21) and it is from this space we can serve with the poor, engage the different “publics” and move the conversation forward. It is in this sense that theologians are called to write theology: theology filled with thinking and words but informed by the Silence that is the foundation of it all. A theology that helps us seek into the beholding.