This morning – at 4:23 am – I finished a paper for one of my classes. Granted, there are three weeks left in the semester and it’s not due until May 17th, but I wanted to get it out of the way (I’m moving into the season of just writing papers as quickly and as fiercely as possible). What amazed me about this paper was that I managed to write eleven pages and create a church handout on a twelve-word prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
My paper isn’t all that impressive when I look at the stack of books that I used as research – books about the prayer from an Easter Orthodox priest, a Quaker, two Evangelicals, a Catholic priest, two mainline protestant theologians, a Benedictine monk, and one anonymous English text from the 14th century. All of these writers and their works focused directly to this twelve-word prayer and I didn’t use nearly all of the books that I could have.
What fascinates me about all of this is that the amount of information I can use is all centered on God. I have two seminary libraries with hundreds of thousands of books on their shelves, as well as the University of Texas libraries down the street with just as many, if not more books available to me. And these books are all about or related to God.
Yet, as much as has been written about God, there is still so much more that is unknown. It’s unfathomable that we admit we know even a portion of who God is…what God is…how God is. While God is surprisingly simple, God is also completely complex to the point of non-understanding and un-understanding.
We often use the little phrase ‘both/and’ at seminary for a variety of things related to God – God is both simple and complex; God is both known and unknown; God is both present and distant; God is both in the room and around the room.
While I think I have a pretty firm grasp on this Jesus Prayer thing, but really, I have only managed to merely glimpse the tip of the iceberg from a thousand miles away. The same can be said about my knowledge of God – and that’s where today’s truth resides – as much as I think I have a firm grasp on God and a steady knowledge of the Divine, I really don’t have much of a clue about any of it. I both know and don’t know. I both understand and am clueless.
I think a lot of people choose to step away from seminary (and from God) in these moments because they can’t fully know and this leads to frustration and a turning away from it all. At the end of the day most of us have to just throw up our hands and admit that a large part of what we’re learning about is handled with a healthy dose of faith. As much as I can talk about atonement theory, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or Pneumatology, I really don’t have a clue about most of it and largely have to leave it to faith.
I thank God that my faith (as miniscule as it is) is greater than my doubts, and I pray that this is the case for others as well. I pray that God can guide us to knowing and unknowing and not-knowing, and that we can rest assured in the places where we stand. I pray that God will continue to give us places to learn, opportunities to grow, and chances to slough off falsehoods. And I pray that some day…some day we will fully know and understand.
much love. sheth.