all theology is autobiography...

This insight from Frederick Buechner gets it right for me:

At its heart most theology, like most fiction, is essentially autobiography. Aquinas, Calvin, Barth, Tillich, working out their systems in their own ways and in their own language, are all telling us the stories of their lives, and if you press them far enough, even at their most cerebral and forbidding, you find an experience of flesh and blood, a human face smiling or frowning or weeping or covering its eyes before something that happened once. What happened once may be no more than a child falling sick, a thunderstorm, a dream, and yet it made for the face and inside the face a difference which no theology can ever entirely convey or entirely conceal. But for the theologian, it would seem, what happened once, the experience of flesh and blood that may lie at the root of the idea, never appears substantial enough to verify the idea, or at least by his nature the theologian chooses to set forth the idea in another language and to argue for its validity on another basis, and thus between the idea and the experience a great deal intervenes. But there is another class of men—at their best they are poets, at their worst artful dodgers—for whom the idea and the experience, the idea and the image, remain inseparable, and it is somewhere in this class that I belong. That is to say, I cannot talk about God or sin or grace, for example, without at the same time talking about those parts of my own experience where these ideas became compelling and real.

Over the years I have come to see that Scripture, doctrine and all of the written prayers and songs of the faith are simulacrum: creative and loving attempts to put words to an experience with the Sacred. Some words get it better than others. St. Paul, for instance, honors experience before doctrine when he observes in Romans that: the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. The gospel from St. John for the fifth Sunday of Lent is similarly poetic and evocative about the tears and love Jesus shared with his friends. It is not, however,merely  literal or linear when the story tells us that after "Jesus wept" he raised Lazarus from the grave. Rather, it is about remaining in union with God's loving grace in life, in death and life beyond death. 

Interestingly, the Lord's tears are not loud wails nor torrents of grief. Those self-centered expressed cause Jesus to huff and become frustrated with those around him. No, Christ's tears are prayers both for the agony of his beloved friends and in anticipation of his own suffering. Praying through our tears has been a constant for me of late. Buechner comprehends this truth  when he advises us to:

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

The heart of my message this Sunday will be grounded in this listening: as we prepare to enter into the close of a Holy Lent we must all listen to our lives! 


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