Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back to Square One

The very first thing I learned in graduate school was that I knew nothing. I arrived at Brown University's theater department at age 20, feeling pretty good about my resume as a theater generalist up that point and pretty smart for being so young and landing in such a prestigious place. That all ended after about 2 hours into my graduate school career. I had one professor whose primary focus was American popular entertainment. This man knew more about circus performers than I even knew existed to know about circus performers. Another professor was an expert on Javanese shadow puppetry and another had cornered the knowledge market on the American Broadway Musical. After sitting in on about 1o minutes of class time with each of these guys I realized the depth of knowledge just in theater history and theory alone was vast enough to drown in, let alone that level of knowledge of the endless other topics upon which my fellow students were taxing their brains across the humanities. There is just a lot of knowledge to be had in the world and I suddenly felt like a flitting, brainless flea on the Great Dane of history.

I've since comforted myself with the idea that much of that knowledge has very little impact nor import on my life as a mom, a wife or even as a Christian. God didn't call me to collect that knowledge (how I ended up as a graduate student at Brown is fodder for another post with the working title of My Big Prideful Mistake), he called me to be a mom, a wife and a Worshiper. In fact, I must confess that I seem to have some sort of severe memory problem. I can't remember anything - and it isn't just "Mommy Brain" or "Getting Older" - I've always had this problem. I can't remember people's names, gifts people have given me, movies I've seen, books I've read or knowledge I've amassed. About the only thing I can recollect is personal conversations and my husband will chide me for even getting those wrong (although he likes to give me the benefit of the doubt by ending every disagreement over the issue with "You have your memory of that conversation and I have mine"). It's so bad that I finally had to make a deal with God - If it's important enough for Him to want me to remember it then He'll need to remind me of it. This has worked out nicely so far, or so I'd like to think...

Over the past 20 or 30 years I've collected, then, what I hoped was enough understanding of God and His Ways to at least develop some sense of a personal faith life. I understood the differences between Protestants and Catholics. I knew the ins and outs of Evangelicals and Charismatics. I could pray in tongues, prophecy and recite my creeds - both the so-called Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. I knew Liturgy - as a personal form of worship and as a theological construct. So imagine my surprise when we became Orthodox. Suddenly I know Nothing again. I am back to that flitting flea, this time on the Newfoundland of Theology. Where once I was a prophet sought out for advice and "the Word of the Lord" I now have nothing to offer by way of novel spiritual insight. As the hubris of the charismatic crushed under its own weight I found myself crawling from the rubble with not much left of my Christian identity.

Recently I've been slogging through Dr. Alexandre Kalomiros' essay The River of Fire which somehow found its way to the back of Archbishop Puhalo's book on the The Ikon As Scripture. Tad insists that all that he's saying in this essay are the ideas he's tried to teach and preach about for years now but I don't remember - or I was just plain too simple to get it. All this stuff about Augustine and the True nature of God is just plain blowing my mind - and my spirit. It takes me several readings of a sentence just to "get" his drift. Then I move on to the next paragraph and forget what I just learned the page before and have to start all over again. It is all so new, so different, so radically not what I thought I knew and understood and yet it makes so much sense.

So here I am back at square one - back at the beginning of finding my identity in Jesus Christ. I am thankful to Anastasia and her series on Why Did Jesus Die?. I am thankful for a priest who hands me books I need to read, I am thankful for the Church Fathers who, even in all of their knowledge can boil down faith to a simple "Jesus have mercy on me" and I am thankful for God who has yet to give up on me even when I find myself forgetting and beginning again. I have never asked for God's mercy as much as I have as an Orthodox believer and I believe that God, in His mercy, is reducing me to the knowledge and faith of a child.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

OH, can I ever identify with this post! Only difference is that where you write of the hubris of trhe charismatic, I'd have to say the hubris of the New Age Mystic.

And yes, there was that day when I realized my entire theology was gone. The whole edifice was in ruins. (This was just before becoming Orthodox.) I remember reading, "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it," and thinking, "YES! Thbere's ONE piece of theology I know!" And then I semi-remember that one day something else clicked, and I said, "That's two things I know! I've doubled my theology!"

O Lord, take the ruins of my heart and build something better than whatever was there before!

Rosko said...

Having just become Orthodox, I can also relate. My theology is strictly what I've learned in the past year or so.

orrologion said...

Another theatre type, huh? I was at acting school just up the road in Boston.

Mairs said...

Well, it's in my heart and my bones but didn't get very far as a career...family quickly took over.