We have been exploring the inner life of the theologian (and the theological student) from various angles over the last couple months. Most recently, James challenged us to consider Lent a season for ‘setting aside’ areas of our calling in order that we might take them up again in renewed awareness of their dedication to God. Toward this end, James is setting aside scholarship (and TF) for Lent because, ‘I can sit and think all day about God without ever really thinking about God.’
For the same reason, I began praying the daily offices, or ‘divine hours’, at the turn of the year (Morning, Midday, Vespers, and Compline). I found the rythms of my days dictated entirely by my research and writing and, like James, I could almost entirely forget God in the midst of theology. So I began using Phyllis Tickle’s seasonal guide to praying the daily offices in order that a rhythm of dialogue with God might order my day rather than my self-prescribed schedule. I have found it both refreshing and frustrating.
Why frustrating? I find myself consistently missing the midday prayers. Now I could chalk this up to the steep learning curve I’m on regarding scheduled prayers (a free church guy like me has had little exposure to traditional Christian practices like this) – but that would let me off the hook too easily. Forgetting the midday office reminds me that I have a long way to go before the cadence of my day breaks free from my self-prescribed designs and attaches more self-consciously to a rhythm of remembering God – and not only remembering God, but working consciously (in Barth’s words) ’under the rule and blessing of God’.
Because theology demands so much of our faculties it is a ready temptation for theologians and theological students to fall headlong into the intensity of our work without actually inviting God into it – the object of the work itself. One can surely think about the relationship between prayer and theology from various angles, and theologians may describe the relationship between the two in their own work in just as many ways. Even so, Karl Barth’s words have been ringing in my ears throughout this learning process:
The first and basic act of theological work is prayer…Undoubtedly, from the very beginning and without intermission, theological work also study; in every respect it is also service; and finally it would certainly be in vain were it not also an act of love. But theological work does not merely begin with prayer and is not merely accompanied by it; in its totality it is peculiar and characteristic of theology that it can be performed only in the act of prayer … We should keep in mind the fact that prayer, as such, is work; in fact, very hard work, although in its execution the hands are most fittingly not moved but folded. Where theology is concerned, the rule Ore et labora! is valid under all circumstances – pray and work! … Work must be that sort of act that has the manner and meaning of prayer in all its dimensions, relationships, and movements (Evangelical Theology, 160).