Augustine of Hippo contemplated “what evil is there not in me and my deeds; or if not in my deeds, my word; or if not in my words, my will”. While my deeds and my words may not obviously display evil, the evil within me is not without its vices. I have stopped my “race of virtue [which] marks the beginning of the race of evil” (Gregory of Nyssa). The former is a marathon (not merely the race, but all the training involved); the latter a walk in the park.
In my class we discussed the word spirituality. I have held onto the idea that spirituality is made up of divine experiences that stimulate our emotions and leave us changed. Not only did this concept of spirituality feel very foreign to me, but it also felt like something which I was unable to obtain. If I could not make God show up, and I couldn’t, then I could not be spiritual. When the definition shifted to be “theology lived,” suddenly the onus was on me. I haven’t been living my theology. I have not been racing towards virtue, but rather I’ve fallen away “from the perfection which is attainable” (Gregory of Nyssa). I know many of the things I could, and should do, but I have no desire to participate in these things. Gregory of Nyssa suggests that “those who know what is good by nature desire participation in it”. Do I believe that God is good? Do I see the value of reading my Bible? Do I credit any merit to prayer? Maybe not. Reluctantly I sat through chapel on Wednesday. I wanted to leave. I wanted to escape. Recently my escape has been story writing. I wasn’t feeling close to God, and I knew that story writing wasn’t helping me feel any closer to him, but sitting in chapel wasn’t helping either. I know it is not all about feelings, so I started to wonder how my beliefs would act themselves out at that moment. I couldn’t justify writing. I couldn’t justify running. I reckoned that if I truly believed in community that I would stay around and be open with people. If I believed that through others God works, then maybe I could find healing. Chapel ended.
As I walked down the hall someone approached me
“Hey Patricia, how are you?” She asked.
“I’m okay.” I wasn’t okay. “How are you?”
“I’m good,” and with that we parted ways. So much for living authentically. So much for living my theology.
Reading the works of Basil the Great reinforces my theology of community. I cannot go through life alone for we “require the help of one another”. So frequently, however, I am unwilling to accept that help. I am selfish, not seeing my gifts as “common possessions” of the community. I also do not see the gifts of other in this way. I feel bad being a burden to anyone. While I may be willing to help someone carry their burden (as long as it is not too heavy and the journey not too far), I carry mine alone.
I do not know why I fear community when it is a gift from God.
I do not know why I escape to story writing when Christ alone is my refuge.
I do not know why I look to the blogosphere to fill my desires when I know that “the longing for Jesus is always underneath our every desire” (Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality).
Though my brain is stuffed with knowledge I am not a spiritual being. Over and over I fail to live my theology. I do not know why. With Augustine I ask “why [do] I find so much delight in doing this”? When I believe that God is the “true and highest Sweetness”, “by what passion, then, [am] I animated” to do evil? How easy it is to say that I will suffer with my Lord, but when the suffering is not glorious, when it is simply denying myself of my cravings, how quickly I am to give way. While I have spoken now mostly of my deeds, often it is my evil will which threatens my theology. My rebellious desires seek “nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself”. How harsh are Augustine’s words, and yet how deeply they struck me as true. “My sole gratification” is in the thought of “my own sin” and there is not much holding my back. With Augustine I want to say to God “Presently; see, presently. Leave me alone for a little while” and then I want to fall back into a deep sleep, and not walk up until the interesting dream is over and my responsibilities are left undone for so long that I cannot go back and do them. Though I want to give myself fully to God eventually, I am “bound by the iron chain of my own will”. My current desires will only make this chain stronger, rather than fight against it. Maybe I don’t live my theology because I don’t really believe it. I know the right things to believe. It is easy to say that God is love, but hard to live in such a way that would proclaim I believed it. Who is this “sweeter than all pleasure” and how can I know him if not through my “flesh and blood”?