I have not historically found myself at home in the writings of Christian mystics, so I don’t spend a great deal of time in them. However, I find Simone Weil’s description below quite beautiful – and very near the mark for how we might think about the theologian’s practice of “pushing all those who come near into the opening”:
The beauty of the world is the mouth of a labyrinth. The unwary individual who on entering takes a few steps is soon unable to find the opening. Worn out, with nothing to eat or drink, in the dark, separated from his dear ones, and from everything he loves and is accustomed to, he walks on without knowing anything or hoping anything, incapable even of discovering whether he is really going forward or merly turning round on the same spot. But this affliction is as nothing compared with the danger threatening him. For if he does not lose courage, if he goes on walking, it is absolutely certain that he will finally arrive at the center of the labyrinth. And there God is waiting to eat him. Later he will go out again, but he will be changed, he will have become different, after being eaten and digested by God. Afterward he will stay near the entrance so that he can gently push all those who come near into the opening” (“Forms of the implicit love of God,” in Waiting for God [1951; 2001], p. 103)
We might even view a Christian liberal arts education along the lines of Weil’s thinking here: no matter the course of study, we stand at the door of this or that particular “beauty” and we invite our students in. And within the University faculty, theology, specifically systematic theology, has the unique task of thinking all areas of human knowing and experience from the perspective, or vision, of the gospel. This all reminds me of something Colin Gunton once wrote. Systematic theology is an activity
dedicated to thinking in as orderly a way as possible from the Christian gospel and to the situation in which it is set …
Sadly, many of my past students have feared this course of study because the later half of this definition was too often left out. So I wonder, and I will be wondering about this from time to time this first semester or two: how does one teach systematic theology with both poles always in view - its object of study (God) and its relationship to “the situation in which it is set”?