About eight years ago, I determined that I would no longer spend energies and time reading what I will call “academic” theology. By that I mean books and articles on theological topics written for intellectual, rational examination and evaluation, as well as dialogue and debate. There is definitely a need and a place for such things–we are called to test and examine the spirits to discern whether they are of God–but I discerned a need, for my spiritual well-being, to cease such activities indefinitely. Instead I focused on learning the ancient prayers of the Church, and praying them, practicing the asketical disciplines of the faith, and reading the lives of the saints (which is another way of reading theology). This week, partly through providence, partly through prayer, I determined that I would begin again wisely and with discernment to allow myself to return to reading “academic” theology. What changed my mind? This is the providential part: I was given a copy of Joseph Farrell’s Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor.
Today is the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, or Mary’s death and translation to heaven. I wanted to offer some general thoughts on Mary, Jesus’ mother.
In the Orthodox Church, our hymns are incredibly rich with two thousand years of Christian theology and devotion. The writings of the Church Fathers are full of traditional and historical doctrines, of Christian belief about Mary. But my own initial thoughts and experience regarding Mary were far less doctrinal, and much more personal. To be sure, as a Protestant, non-denominational evangelical, I had to address certain questions I had when I became Orthodox. But these never seemed all that problematic. No, my first experiences were, if you will, much more relational.
The assurance of faith is often talked about in terms of feeling. We feel assured, we feel a conviction in our hears, we feel confident of a belief or hoped-for outcome. And there is no doubt an aspect of assurance that involves feelings. The difficulty however is that feelings are fleeting. They come and go. We may feel assurance about something, but days or weeks or months later, no longer feel that assurance. And then after a time, we once again feel that assurance. If that’s assurance, that’s not very sure.
Part of the dilemma is that we normally associate conviction with knowledge. If we know a thing to be true, we are convinced of it. But if we are uncertain about something, then we normally assume we don’t have enough knowledge about the thing. Or, worse, we assume that we lack faith. Because if we have faith about a matter, we believe we also will have strong feelings about it. We separate out faith and knowledge. And, tragically, since we tie faith and feeling so closely together, we lose a vital aspect of faith, which is to bring assurance to our hearts. Or, to say it another way, assurance is the expression of trust. We are certain of a matter, because we trust that it is true or will come to be true. Assurance is the exercise of faith itself.
Take a seven year old boy, have him lie awake at night contemplating his salvation, and it will not be a surprise if he hears the voice of God telling him to be baptized. And he will be baptized. Take that same boy a few months later and put him in a summer Little League baseball uniform, and he will be a boy that prays. And if he prays, he will learn a thing or two about God.
So let him pray before every game that his team will win. And let his team win every single game until the final championship. And let that boy pray with confidence that his team would win the championship. Then let his team lose. He will wrack his little brain and pummel his heart trying to figure out what went wrong. And if he does it right, he’ll learn a thing or two about God.
I’ve posted a new entry on my writer’s blog. Please take a look.
I have begun a new blog over at Clifton D Healy: A Writer’s Journey. It’s devoted to what I’m learning about the craft of writing. I invite you to take a look. If you like what you see, subscribe to it; put it in your reader feeds; or just bookmark it. At this point I’m not sure how often I’ll post, though I intend to put some focused energy to it. It’s still being developed. Feedback is welcome.
I have reposted some original blogposts from here on the topic of writing over at the new blog. I may also repost the Kansas blogposts over at the new blog. I’ll continue to post theological, philosophical and socio-cultural reflections here.
A couple of year ago, I took a month and attempted to write as many words on a single project (a book I was working on) as I could. My goal was to write 2000 words per day. At the end of the month, I had written about 45,000 words. That included a weekend where the goal was to write a many words as I could, and I wrote about 9,000 words in several hour or hour-and-a-half bites.