I arrived to class late, having spilled the church lunch on both sleeves of my jacket, tried to listen to my favorite fifth grader tell me about her first day of school, and failed miserably at appearing elegant and refined to the three young girls sitting around me (all of whom managed not to spill lunch on themselves). I was looking forward to this class in particular, because I knew that it was the day for Anglican theology.
I imagined we’d get into the detailed difficulties, the philosophical nuances, the dusty corners of complicated problems. What does it mean, really, to say that God is and is from the beginning without beginning? Is it possible for us to believe in a God who is all-knowing and yet who allows free will? What is the Eucharist, exactly?
These are the problems that feed me. I want to sit in a pub somewhere in England and talk someone’s ear off about the possibility that God’s involvement with time is perhaps one of His most merciful and mysterious acts. I want to live in theological reflection, in the words about God and the systems of understanding how very little we can know about Him. And of course, I must confess – I love theological arguments. I love sitting in the same pub and fighting what feels like a fight to the death over the interpretation of Jesus’ phrase, “I am the Truth.” I like the heat and thrill of fighting.
“If you want to know what we believe, pray with us.”
I looked up as Fr. Brian spoke, my eyes widening in surprise. A drop of ink splotched onto my journal page. He smiled at the group gathered at the same small table, books and papers strewn across our laps. “Theology is worked out best in prayer.” I gulped. What about the arguments? What about the long academic papers I spent all that time writing? What about the rush of winning a point? What about all of that?
I could feel my stomach twist and turn as we turned to the Thirty Nine Articles (a historical document in the Anglican Church outlining some points of faith), as we followed the old language down the twisted paths of election and free will and grace, as we sorted out where we believe church authority comes from and what we think of the sufficiency of Scripture for teaching about salvation. Even as we read, I couldn’t get that first phrase out of my mind. “If you want to know what we believe, pray with us.”
To know what we claim as true, you have to listen to us talk to the Truth. To know our doctrines, listen to our pleading, to our thanksgiving, to our intercession. All my beautiful arguments, the long maze of points and subpoints, of countering, and modifying go out the window if the heart of my belief is in how I pray.
Because if you pray with me, it’s not with arguments. I don’t prove God to Himself in five points, or neatly weave together two distinct definitions of the word “sufficient” to reveal the true mean of Christ on the cross.
No, I ramble. I pray in the car on the way to work and interrupt myself with a second thought and a wistful remembering. I pray for people and two seconds in I’m asking about whether He will let me have what I want. I pray while I run, my palms skyward, and over and over I repeat the simplicity: I love you, Lord. Will you stay with me?
To know what I believe, you have to pray with me. To know the heart of the Church, you have to get on your knees with her. We are so ready to stay safe in our books, in our academic critiques, in our theological possibilities – when all along, He is calling us to the more radical theology revealed in the rain and wind of prayer.
So I pray: I love you, Jesus. Your Name is salvation. Can I stay near you?