Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Second-Step Theology

Last weekend, I came upon a great quote about the nature of theology from Father Gustavo Gutierrez:
Theology is reflection, a critical attitude. Theology follows: it is the second step. What Hegel used to say about philosophy can likewise be applied to theology: it rises only at sundown...Theology must be able to find in pastoral activity the presence of the Spirit inspiring the action of the Christian community. 
Academic theology often gets a bad rap because people regard it as useless speculation. To my mind, most of it is indeed useless speculation. Yet it does not have to be so.

I, too, once believed that theology could serve as an agenda-setting exercise. I have come to realize, however, how wrongheaded this was. Theology only ever functions after the fact, in the waning hours of the day, and it responds to what it observes. Like an owl it takes flight and scans the ground beneath it, observing, discerning movement. Rather than setting forth an agenda of how the Holy Spirit is to act, it instead reports back on what is happening.

If theology so often appears arid and disconnected, perhaps it is because the space the theologian surveys is a small office or a deserted quad, long after the students have left. Should theologians wish to nourish their reflections, they must throw open their windows and look out upon the workaday world where the Spirit is alive and enlivening.

I think returning to the study of theology after three years of teaching is a great gift. I have many observations, many experiences, many ways in which I have sensed God's activity in the lives of ordinary people. Should I be faithful to my call, it is from this perch the owl will take flight and it will be these experiences - and certainly many others - that will provide the material to reflect upon. Should I be faithful in this task, I should contribute to the world something more than a dust-collecting book upon a shelf but, rather, a theological reflection that contributes to the upbuilding of faith in the modern world. 
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