Let’s start the work week off with a prayer. The following is Walter Breuggemann’s, and I used it last week in conjunction with my teaching on the divine attributes. I am challenged every time I approach that topic with students for various reasons, not least of which because it is (undoubtedly) an area of Christian theology requiring great humility.
The theologian finds themselves in a territory of Christian confession in which terms and appellates for God are lying ready at hand: love, power, mercy, knowledge, etc. Yet, in taking up and employing such terms what does one expect from them, and what is the reference point one uses for filling out their meaning? The risk is sharp that we unintentionally make God out into a bigger, stronger, version of ourselves, that without some care we find ourselves speaking about God by speaking about ourselves in a really loud voice (as Barth once said of some theology in his day).
In the face of such challenges, Brueggemann reminds us that the triune God “shows himself yet fresh beyond our grasp”:
We call out your name in as many ways as we can. We fix your role towards us in the ways we need. We approach your from the particular angle of our life.
We do all that, not because you need to be identified, but because of our deep need, our deep wound, our deep hope.
And then, we are astonished that while our names for you serve for a moment, you break beyond them in your freedom, you show yourself yet fresh beyond our grasp.
We are – by your freedom and your hiddenness – made sure yet again that you are God . . . beyond us, for us, but beyond us, not at our beck and call, but always in your own way.
We stammer about your identity, only to learn that it is in our own unsettling before you that wants naming.
Beyond all our explaining and capturing and fixing you . . . we give you praise, we thank you for your fleshed presence in suffering love, and for our names that you give us. Amen. (Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth, p. 14)
It makes me wonder: what would characterize theology mindful of what Brueggemann portrays so beautifully in this prayer? And how might the theologian go about remaining mindful of it? Are there practices that train their attention in this way and shape the character of their work? Are there also practices and habits that war against it – that is, are there habits the theologian would want avoid cultivating (accidentally) that train them away from the attitude found in Brueggemann’s prayer?