Monday, February 5, 2018

God hates divorce – even between theology and piety.

When I was reading theology at the graduate level, I noticed that I was struggling to bridge a gap that I saw looming before me.  It was that gap that seems to exist between theology and piety – something which I really hadn’t given much thought to before. My discomfort with this apparent yawning divide between the two in our life as Christians was becoming more and more defined.  The more I read, the more I saw the contrast - that what I was studying in the pages of those tomes and deeply reflected theological thoughts and intellectual calisthenics had little to do directly with the average person in the pew in church.  Its irony wasn’t lost on me at all as I walked each day to my classes, wondering if all this would make me a better priest and if this would really help me in my deep endeavour to serve the people I was sent to minister to when my studies were over.

Much as I did enjoy breathing in the theological air that I was immersed in, I kept reminding myself that ultimately, this was not what I went into the seminary for in the first place, some 20-over years ago.  Much as I looked on in wonder and admiration at my professors and fellow course-mates who seemed to be so passionate in their pursuit of theological excellence, there was a nagging part of me that back home, half the world away, in the church pew, sits some illiterate man or woman with a heart filled with a deep love for God and neighbour, and my wanting to soak up the intellectual offerings of the Institute would hardly make a difference to their world, and in all probability may not help them to love God more.  Yet, I had an acute sense that what I was doing was going to impact them in some inchoate way.

I couldn’t put my finger on the issue at hand at that time, but upon reflection in my convalescence in these past weeks, I have been led to realise this – that within me, and perhaps in a lot of us, lay the great temptation to cut and divide, and to segregate theology from piety, simply because it is always easier.  After all, it is rather prevalent where one is emphasized at the expense of the other, and oftentimes, this makes for the apparent chasm between theology and spirituality or piety.  A great pastor of souls has to endeavor to marry the two like the way a great artist marries the different paint pigments so as to bring the beauty that he has in his mind to materialize on his canvas.  And this is not always easy.

They are, admittedly, of two seemingly different worlds – theology and piety.  Yet, there is wisdom in striving to marry the two, challenging though it may be.  A theologian who hasn’t filtered down lofty theological concepts like the Trinity or the Incarnation or even God’s very Being (as if this is at all possible) isn’t going to make either God or himself very relatable.  A preacher who only preaches pious stories and Chicken-soup-for-the-soul-stories, solely promoting devotions and being persnickety about the minutiae of ritual stands in danger of turning spirituality into mere sentiment, romanticism and technical correctness. 

There is a very interesting and relevant quote from Malachi 2:16 which I believe applies as much to marriage as it does to theology and piety.  There, it is stated that God hates divorce.  Certainly, what God hates or detests is not divorcees but the terrible consequences that divorce inevitably has on his beloved people.  How this statement has been so misunderstood and used to bludgeon people who have suffered from failed marriages is fodder for another blog reflection.  But I believe that connected to this is how God sees beauty and necessity in marriage and union, and in oneness, and that it ought to apply as much to marriage as it should to how theology and piety need constantly be married and not be divided.

A good priest needs to have both these tools at hand, and minister with both of them open in front of him.  Doing this with a consciousness and a mindfulness will prevent us from being lazy and repetitive.  Being mindful of the need to be guided and formed by good theology will keep him sound in his view of God, in God’s very Being and that God is Love, and the being mindful of having a heart of tender love will remind him of the need to show this through his actions and words.  This will be my 17th year of being an ordained priest, and I must confess that it is a great challenge to do this well, having more misses than hits.

My time away from ministry in this 6-weeks of medically imposed period of Coventry by my doctor is meant to strengthen a weakened and dying part of my femur.  Hopefully it will at the same time strengthen a part of my ministry that is in a constant need for renewal and regeneration too.

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