I had to lecture about the spirituality of the Gospel this last week at Gonzaga. Being shaded by the birth of my son, I have been meditating on the nature of Truth. When Rene Descartes declared that his thinking was the basis of establishing his existence, we have become a people who love propositional truth and have become people uncomfortable with suffering. I heard on this American Life a piece (listen here) about how a young woman, Trisha Sebastian had lost her faith due to death of a close friend. Ms Sebastian heard about Coach Hogan and his story about helping an opposing team of down and outs. She wrote to him to say he did a good thing. He wrote back and then they got into the question (or debate) about God and God's existence. What I heard was a battle of propositional truth, where each made a claim on answers. It was sad as what Ms. Sebastian wanted was a reason to believe and share her pain of losing a good friend. She needed compassion and not Apologetics.
The Gospel of Matthew’s spirituality finds itself in the Emanuel (God with us) or Jesus being with us until the end of the age. It is a faith of compassion. Ms. Sebastian needed compassion and not answers to her question. She needed a space to let her questions breath and not to contained in a small container of our answers. She needed to know God shared her pain and still loved her. Coach Hogan is a good man, who misunderstood this need for Emanuel. With the birth of my son, I better understand the need of presence. I understand God as I understand my little boys need of my and his mothers attention. As I lectured on how for Matthew, we become better humans the more time we spend with God. God's presence transforms us. I know I would leave most of Ms Sebastian’s questions unanswered. They are beyond me, or most people to answer. This despite that I know most of the answers from the past reflections of other theologians and thinkers. There is place for Apologetics, just not in the face of suffering. In the Book of Hours, Rilke's love poems to God, he wrote an answer to Ms. Sebastian’s longing:
It's possible I'm moving through the hard veins
of heavy mountains, like the ore does, alone;
I'm already so deep inside, I see no end in sight,
and no distance: everything is getting near
and everything getting near is turning to stone.
I still can't see very far yet into suffering,—
so this vast darkness makes me small;
are you the one: make yourself powerful, break in:
so that your whole being may happen to me,
and to you may happen, my whole cry.