A very happy and blessed new year to everyone! It's been crazy here on the East Coast with all of this stormy winter weather, but it has presented me with some unplanned opportunities for reflection and watercolor pencil experimentation (as you may have noticed from the cover photo). I've also been able to pick up a book that's been on my shelf for a few months. Reading is one of my favorite pastimes, so I have collected plenty of books, some of which are my I'll-read this-when-the-time-is-right books. The book I picked up this month is one of those, and the time is definitely right.
Accidental Theologians by Elizabeth A. Dreyer kept coming to mind as I found myself with some spare time on my hands. It stood out to me when I saw it at the Religious Education Congress because the first five words on the front cover read "Four Women Who Shaped Christianity," followed by the title and then these colossal names: Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Ávila and Thérèse of Lisieux.
I didn't even read the introduction or the back cover. I just bought it.
When I finally got around to reading the foreword many months later, I was happy to have made such an impulsive purchase. Describing the valuable content of Dreyer's book, Sister Joan Chittister writes: "...it confirms that the body of theology each of these women leaves us is a genuine part of the tradition, true to God's presence in their time yet still alive to God's presence now. It makes us living participants in the history of Christian consciousness. More than that, it frees us to do the same in our own age."
Sister Joan's foreword challenged me to consider timelessness by realizing that what I do now is in the present, and I do it for the future, but it will eventually become a part of history. Just as with the theologians in this book, not everything I do or believe now will be relevant in the future, but some of it will be and so it is my duty to pass on the wisdom that I have and will receive.
Exploring the timelessness of the wisdom we have gained from these four female doctors of the Church, the author's preface presented yet another invitation: to acknowledge my own role surrounding theology in the Church. Dreyer says, "The importance of laity (especially women) doing theology cannot be stressed enough. While few of us are professional theologians, we are all called by baptism to study and reflect on our lives in the light of the Good News." She goes on to explain that theology is no longer limited to studies in formal and advanced education; it has been broadened to include knowledge that is gained through graced experiences and engagement with God. In other words, theology isn't all about studying, it's about our daily lives as well.
Those who "do" theology through educaton and study would be doing what Bernard McGinn calls scholastic theology; those who "do" theology through daily life and reflection would be doing what he calls vernacular theology. If you're like me, you probably thought scholastic theology was the only type of theology and that it only took place through the formal settings of higher education. The first person who usually came to mind when I thought of the word theologian was St. Thomas Aquinas. I still admire and cherish his work very much, but now my vision is not so narrow. Now I also picture saints like the quiet and humble Thérèse, or the fiesty and fiery Teresa, when I think of the word theologian.
What's most exciting to me about this broader sense of theology is that now I can be included in it. I always thought I'd have to be as studious and serious as St. Thomas, but I can be my daydreaming, sassy self and still be a theologian!
What I also realized is that I've already been doing theology, I just didn't know it. I have a personal blog (which you can access here) that has been my way of doing theology for years. It's where I process the events around me -- whether it be a movie, a family situation, or something someone said to me in passing -- and where I offer my reflections for others to ponder.
Christopher McCandless, whose end of life is documented in the movie Into the Wild, wrote, "Happiness is only real when shared." It is the same with theology.
Our God is not one to be selfish, so it makes sense that anything good we receive must be shared -- especially the Good News. Our experience of the Gospel, written and lived, is an important theology that we must share whether we are scholastic theologians or vernacular theologians. The Church needs both.
Maybe you're like St. Thomas or maybe you're like St. Catherine of Siena. Either way, God's love for you is unique, and so are the spiritual gifts you have to offer. If you, like me, are just now discovering that you are a theologian, I hope you are as excited as I was.
If you have not yet discovered your way of doing theology, keep your eyes and ears and heart open. You never know, it could start with the first few words on the cover of a book.