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I know that sounds selfish and prideful, and it certainly is if that is your prevailing attitude in life. But sometimes it is completely necessary and beneficial. You can’t give of yourself if you are running on empty. And I have been running on empty. It’s sort of like when you’re on a plane and they give you the run-down on safety matters–put your own oxygen mask on first, and then assist others. It was years before I understood the good and logical reason behind that instruction. You can’t very well assist anybody if you can’t breathe yourself.
And so, I have been trying to focus on myself. Doing things that I know will be profitable to me. I’m even taking a break from looking for Mr. Right–this is partly out of scientific curiosity; I want to test the very popular and widespread theory that “When you’re not looking, that’s when the perfect person will come along.” We shall see about that.
Among other things, I just completed an introductory computer programming course via Coursera. I took it just because I felt like learning something completely new. I wasn’t too sure whether I would be any good at it, but I did it anyway, and it turns out I am pretty good at it (so far)! It might even lead me down a new path in my career. I’ve already signed up for some future classes in math and science.
For so many years, I was convinced that I was no good at math and science and never could be, not in a thousand years. Now, I wish I could go back in time and give my younger self a sound shaking and say “Don’t you believe it. Don’t you dare believe it!” Now, I am trying to make up for lost time. The truth is, I’ve always had a natural love and fascination with science. My mind has always worked in scientific ways. My heart and soul have always been in it–regardless of what marks I got in school. I always knew a truth that was far more important than anything I could learn in school: I knew that science would help me know God better. And I know that now more than ever before. That is my driving force.
It feels good to broaden my horizons and unfurl my sails! Who knows where I might end up? Adventure–I think that is what I need most of all right now. An adventure with the One who knows me best and loves me most.
I’ll close with one of my favorite G.K. Chesterton quotations: “All science, even the divine science, is a sublime detective story. Only it is not set to detect why a man is dead, but the darker secret of why he is alive.”
As I prepare to get back to my religion classes, I find this a powerful reminder from the great St. Vincent Ferrer, OP (1350-1419):
Do you wish to study to your advantage?
Let devotion accompany all your studies.
Consult God more than your books.
Ask Him to make you understand what you read.
Never begin or end your study except by prayer.
Science is a gift of God.
Do not consider it merely the work of your own mind and effort.
“Science is a gift from God”–you wouldn’t hear many people say that today. I, of course, agree completely.
I found this quotation via a little “Prayer of the Day” Vista gadget that I have on my work computer. Every morning, I look forward to seeing what prayer or Saint quotation I will find there. :)
I’m still reading Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, and I am finding more and more to like… more and more that “clicks” in my mind. The chapter on “Tradition and Revolution” is one of my favorites. Here are some excerpts that particularly resonated with me and with my Dominican soul. They also relate a bit to what I was talking about in my Easter Sunday post on belief and understanding.
… the saints arrived at the deepest and most vital and also the most individual and personal knowledge of God precisely because of the Church’s teaching authority, precisely through the tradition that is guarded and fostered by that authority.
The first step to contemplation is faith; and faith begins with an assent to Christ teaching through His Church; fides ex auditu, qui vos audit, me audit. “He that heareth you, heareth Me.” And “faith cometh by hearing.”
It is not the dry formula of a dogmatic definition by itself that pours light into the mind of a Catholic contemplative, but the assent to the content of that definition deepens and broadens into a vital, personal and incommunicable penetration of the supernatural truth which it expresses–an understanding that is a gift of the Holy Ghost and which merges into the Wisdom of Love, to possess Truth in its infinite Substance, God Himself.
… The dogmas defined and taught by the Church have a very precise, positive and definite meaning which those who have the grace to do so must explore and penetrate if they would live an integral spiritual life. For the understanding of dogma is the proximate and ordinary way to contemplation.
Yet true contemplation is not arrived at by an effort of the mind. … But God gives true theologians a hunger born of humility, which cannot be satisfied with formulas and arguments, and which looks for something closer to God than anaology can bring you.
This serene hunger of the spirit penetrates the surface of words and goes beyond the human formulation of mysteries and seeks, in the humiliation of silence, intellectual solitude and interior poverty, the givt of a supernatural apprehension which words cannot truly signify.
Beyond the labor of argument it finds rest in faith and beneath the noise of discourse it apprehends the Truth, not in distinct and clear-cut definitions but in the limpid obscurity of a single intuition that unites all dogmas in one simple Light, shining into the soul directly from God’s eternity …
Here the Truth is One Whom we not only know and possess but by Whom we are known and possessed.
I have had countless experiences where studying Scripture, the Catechism, or some theological text has led me to a more direct, intuitive apprehension of God.
At times it can be dramatic, like a bolt of lightning. I remember one day sweating over the concept of the Holy Trinity (one of my favorite theological mysteries). My brain was going round and round, tying itself into knots. And then, out of nowhere, without my seeking it or expecting it, there was a kind of “flash”–and all in an instant, I suddenly understood! But in the very next instant, of course, I realized what was happening, and instead of resting in the light and in the sublime vision, my fool of a mind latched on to the experience itself–”Oh my gosh, this must be some kind of contemplative experience!”–and the light vanished as quickly as it had come.
That’s happened to me a few times, and sadly I haven’t learned to stay still and be quiet. Or maybe it’s just supposed to be a quick “flash.” Maybe that’s all I can handle. In any case, it’s always enough to inspire me and keep me going in my pursuit of Truth.
More often, however, I’ll be in the process of studying, and I will just be moved by how incredible God is. How good and beautiful and tremendous and majestic He is. And I find that my studying becomes a form of prayer in which as my mind absorbs the divine truths, it also responds with praise, with thanksgiving, with worship. It becomes like a dialogue between God and my soul. A deep, wordless connection. A sea of love and understanding and wisdom.
This is why it is so important to submit yourself to learning and, if necessary, struggling with Church teaching. And why you must begin from a position of submission and faith, from the position, “I believe that the Church is right.” Do that, and before you know it, your mind and your soul will open up to something and Somebody far greater than you. You will see the light of Truth. It might not happen in a bolt of lightning–it may happen slowly and gradually. But it will happen if you are open.
It’s also why studying theology is so important for me. People ask, “Why do you want to study theology? What good will that do you?” That’s understandable because in our society, studying is often intricately tied to career, to earning a salary, to getting ahead in the world, to gaining prestige. Sure, people also study for leisure and enjoyment, for self-cultivation. Theology is not a field of study usually associated with either career or leisure. OK, maybe it’s part of your “career” if you are becoming a priest, but beyond that, it doesn’t seem to provide any real prospects. So what is it that compels me and so many other people to study it, or to wish to study it?
It is simply this: that theology is an encounter with God. With Life and Love and Truth and Goodness and Beauty and Mercy and Justice and Happiness. With everything that the human soul loves, longs for, and adores.
That is the value in studying theology. It is also the true value in studying anything else, insomuch as any genuine and earnest search for truth will ultimately lead the soul to God Who is Truth.
I’ve definitely decided: I need to get back to my Adult Faith Formation classes at UD. I thought I would take time to study independently, but I simply don’t have that kind of discipline right now. I need a more structured kind of studying right now. And I need studying, period. Particularly theological studies.
At the very least, i am going to take the Christology class. Because I just love Christ! I know that probably sounds absurdly self-evident coming from a Christian. But how often is it cited as a prime motivation for spending 3 and a half hours on a Saturday morning in a university classroom? I also know Christians who would tell me that I’ll never get to know–much less love–Christ by sitting in a classroom or poring over books (unless it happens to be The Good Book, of course).
Oh, that couldn’t be farther from the truth! When we love somebody, don’t we pour everything we’ve got into knowing them and loving them? Including our minds? My mind is yearning greatly for my Beloved! Any experience of Him will only be partial without the intellectual experience. I know our intellects can only go so far, but they can take us somewhere! In fact, I would consider the intellect an integral set of bricks in the road: knowing leads to greater loving… and loving leads to a greater need for knowing. I am deeply within that need right now!
In the meantime, I am trying to express my love in new and creative ways, in my writing projects. For those who don’t know, I have several writing projects, at various phases of development. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction. I write the odd poem as well, when the inspiration hits me. Now that I mention it, I think poetry might fit the bill nicely…