As I said at a work meeting of Berkeley chapel ministers yesterday, sometimes God comes in a trickle, and sometimes God comes in a waterfall. I seem to be standing under two waterfalls at the moment, feeling energized, immersed, very alive, and somewhat overwhelmed at it all.
Waterfall #1: A whole lot of Spanish has been going on lately. This all started last spring, when I suggested to the dean of the Berkeley Divinity School that we worship occasionally in Spanish, given the importance of knowing Spanish in many ministry settings. He loved the idea of reinstating Spanish services, which had faded away a few years ago. And so another Berkeley chapel minister and I created an easy to use service booklet for our typical Thursday morning worship (Episcopal Morning Prayer and Eucharist, or Communion). Our supervisor recruited a priest willing to celebrate the Eucharist in Spanish, and we put on our first Spanish Morning Prayer this last week.
The work we put into creating the service wasn’t the waterfall; that was just a small stream. (I have prayed Morning Prayer in Spanish during the summer for the past 4 years just to get a little variety in my routine, so Spanish Morning Prayer was no big deal for me.) The waterfall was everything else associated with my interest in Spanish:
- Our Anglican Studies adviser asked me to be the lead chapel minister on a Spanish/English bilingual service and to work with the Spanish-speaking priest on this. That has been rewarding and time-consuming!
- A student who was at the Morning Prayer service wants to start a Spanish language table with me at YDS (she’s more fluent than I am).
- A Berkeley Divinity School official in charge of fundraising says there’s a crying need for Spanish-speaking priests in the Episcopal Church.
- The priest who helped with the service wants to talk to me about serving as a priest in Ecuador and ministering to Spanish-speaking people in the U.S.
- A seminary friend of mine is suggesting that we go on a mission trip to Ecuador and Peru this summer and help put on a Spanish-language Cursillo in Peru. This happened lightning fast. And she knows how to get the grants to make such a trip possible for me.
¡Que diluvio! I mean, a mi me encanta Español, y quiero servir los que hablan Español. It’s absolutely imperative that the Church respond to pastoral needs of Spanish speakers in the U.S., and I am learning now from my new connections that nations in Central and South America also need priests to help out. I am very drawn to this. But I am also just trying to get through seminary. If you’ve been reading the blog, you know that that means working three jobs, serving at my internship site, and taking four classes. Which leads to my second waterfall:
Waterfall #2: Theology.
There has been a very exciting, but somewhat confusing confluence of God-talk in my two-and-a-half theology courses. (Anglican History and Theology is a bizarre hybrid of, well, history and theology, so it’s half of a theology class.) In Systematic Theology I with Miroslav Volf, an introductory lecture course, we are comparing the theologies of two twentieth-century German theologians: the Reformed Protestant Karl Barth and the Roman Catholic Karl Rahner. What’s at issue? How do we know that God exists, and how do we know that God is God? How do we experience revelation, and how do we know that we are experiencing revelation? What are human beings capable of, and are we just creating God in our mind, or are we experiencing a God that is outside us and unknowable by us?
Meanwhile, in my Doctrines of God seminar with David Kelsey, we have finished reading William Placher’s The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking about God Went Wrong, and we’re halfway through Edward Farley’s Divine Empathy. I love these books, and Farley in particular is exploring the same questions about how we know there is a God and what we think the attributes of God are. So whenever I am in a theology lecture or discussion, I have the voices of about four different theologians competing for space in my head, and just a bit of confusion: was that Rahner who said that, or Farley? And could we all get on the same page about what transcendence and ontotheology mean?
Studying this kind of theology might seem like an empty intellectual exercise to some, but in fact it can be very important to examine how we think about God (and the unexamined assumptions we have made) in a life of ministry. For example, before a mission trip to Ecuador, a trip in which I hope simply to be present to the people of Ecuador and get to know them better in a churchy/missiony kind of environment, it’s important to understand how a God presented in the Bible and Church language as male, powerful, and a dominating presence over nations can be perceived very negatively in postcolonial environments and by those who have been subjegated due to gender, race, poverty, and so on. (In the Doctrines of God seminar, we are reading postcolonial and feminist theologians, too.)
A fellow seminarian commented to me that he did not see the same connections between theology and life that I see. To me, theology and ministry are intimately connected. Naming what we believe God to be–questioning those beliefs, adding to them, repudiating some of them–helps me, at least, to make sense of life with my fellow human beings and with a God I cannot truly understand but feel compelled to keep seeking. (By the way, that’s one of the classic “proofs” for the existence of God.) And in my desire to help those who tell me that they kind of, sort of, maybe would like to believe in God but feel unconnected to that whole realm, I engage in more and more God-talk to learn other languages in which to address them.
And so, friends, it’s a two-waterfall sort of weekend. I had better swim to the library and start paddling through Farley and Barth, or I will soon drown in a lake of epistemology, phenomenology, and existential estrangement.
Also, I have a sermon to write.
¡Ayudame, Dios del universo!