The composed and uninterrupted remembrance of our absolute weakness and sinfulness is truly the, par excellence, (yet admittedly peculiar) means to permanent, spiritual joy. – Dino (in the comments)
Readers of this blog who stay around for a time discover that often the best “meat” is found after you crack the shell – that is, the comments often transcend the article itself. I, myself, am one of those readers. I write the articles, but I await the comments with great eagerness. There I am student as well as teacher (as are we all).
I recently spoke at a conference for writers and podcasters sponsored by Ancient Faith Ministries. I was asked to speak on the “spiritual life of creative people.” When I was given the topic, I more or less sucked wind, thinking mostly about the scattered shards of my own “spiritual life.” My immediate temptation, built from long years of habit, was to assume that expertise is the foundation of all teaching. It is the myth of excellence and competence, that thing that alludes us throughout our lives.
The truth of our mediocrity and incompetence is generally an occasion for shame. I recall the first few weeks I was in grad school at Duke. It was a highly competitive doctoral program, and I had not yet learned that I was far from the sharpest knife in the drawer. In private, I was deeply aware of what I did not know, but the adversarial debates within the seminars did not encourage vulnerability. At a cocktail party with incoming students, I engaged another new student – older even than I (which was 35 at the time). We were arguing about a few points of Anglican liturgical theology. After a few minutes he gave me my first dull knife lesson: “Actually, Stephen, you should read my book…” End of debate.
The next day my curiosity took me to the library (there was no Google back then). I discovered that he was the author of three books, two of which were pretty much the definitive works on the topic…and he was an incoming student! We later became good friends and I learned to respect him and listen carefully when he offered an opinion.
Expertise is actually a very rare commodity (my friend was a rare man). Mediocrity and incompetence are widespread (nearly universal). Fortunately, expertise is not the hallmark of the spiritual life. Were it so, almost no one would be saved.
This October will mark the 10th anniversary of Glory to God for All Things. My topic at the Ancient Faith conference made me go back and remember how this came about, and consider how it is that it continues. What I shared there seems correct. I have a very scattered brain – medically it’s called ADD. Privately, it’s called frustrating, distracting, sometimes embarrassing, and occasionally problematic. Doing anything for a protracted period of time borders on something like pain. If you share such a condition you know what I mean.
“Thinking through” something is important to me. Over the years, I found that writing is almost the only way I can think. I’ve never liked journaling, it seemed too “inward” for me. After I graduated seminary, I began writing. Around the house, the project was known as “The Book.” It never got finished, being mostly under constant revision. What it represented was my ongoing effort to “work through things.” That work had a lot to do with my later conversion to Orthodoxy. The more I “worked through” things, the more the answers came up “Orthodox.”
That process eventually showed up as this blog. I am not “working through” things on such a fundamental level, but I still find it essential for thought – occasionally even for prayer. Readers do not see how many things are written and discarded or re-written multiple times. What I did not foresee, however, was the conversation that would begin in late 2006. “Thinking through” is useful, but has its limitations when you are essentially just talking to yourself. My thoughts have been shaped by the conversation. My spiritual life has as well.
One abiding lesson has never left me: mediocrity and incompetence are not roadblocks to salvation – they are the gateway. This is essentially what Dino says above (“uninterrupted remembrance of our absolute weakness and sinfulness”). I say this in mundane terms (“mediocrity” and “incompetence”), if only because they are so mundane, and I dare not dress them up in theological finery.
On the day that I started the blog, I wrote an article entitled, “What Matters.” It was stated for my own sake, lest I take too seriously the project that was beginning. I have re-published it many times, always for my own sake. The last paragraph summarizes its sentiment:
This blog does not matter – except that I may share something that makes it possible for someone to know God or someone may share something that allows themselves to be known. This matters.
I give thanks to God that occasionally, it has mattered. Glory to God for all things!