February 1, 2016

Restless Hearts

            “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until at peace with you,” is the best known excerpt from St. Augustine’s Confessions.  As a young man, he had pursued many pathways seeking to understand himself and his vocation.  His discovery of the orientation of his heart was life changing for him.

            Recently I have been a part of the process of interviewing candidates for the Women’s Leadership Initiative.  You recall that we are looking “for a few good women” for this select educational opportunity.  As I listened to the women describe how they came to apply to this program, a theme emerged.  They described a certain restlessness of heart.  Although they were in good jobs and settled family situations, they knew they were being prompted to a new horizon, which included graduate theological education.
            One of the women is in a well-paying executive position that allows her to live comfortably and send her daughter to college.  She remarked over and over that she would not think of changing her profession—except for this restlessness.

            The Old Testament lesson for the Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany narrates the call of Isaiah.  At a particularly vulnerable time in his life, he describes his encounter with the Holy One of Israel:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)
King Uzziah had died, and a tremor ran through Judah as Assyrian domination threatened.  No wonder Isaiah feels vulnerable.  Unexpectedly, he experiences a theophany in the temple at this critical time, and his prophetic vocation is clarified.  His heart is laid bare by his encounter with God, and purified, he responds with forthright commitment.  Although the mission summoning him is arduous, he is willing to become God’s speaker to an unholy people.  It is his life’s work.

            What makes your heart restless?  Is it a longing to understand what you were put on this planet to do?  Is it a sense of being summoned to a life of greater meaning and service? Our school has one purpose: to empower persons to lead their best lives.  We believe God intends for your heart to sing.
            Flourishing human lives are grounded in spiritual understanding, a moral vision, and deep awareness of one’s unique identity.  Self-understanding is critical to personal and vocational generativity, and Central is committed to helping each learner discover his or her ultimate purpose.  We believe this discovery will make your own heart rise up, and you will find the best pathway to help transform our world.  We will be delighted to be your companions on this journey.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares creative leaders for diverse ministry contexts.

January 25, 2016

God Knows You

            The human quest for self-knowledge is constant.  Why else would people spend time playing whimsical games on social media for the slight chance they might understand themselves better?  Do we really need to know which character of Downton Abbey we are like, what color our personalities are, or whether we recognize southern colloquialisms?  Just this past week I learned that my Myer-Briggs type was the same as St. Benedict’s; I am sure he took the test along the way, also.

St. Benedict writing the rules. Painting (1926) by Hermann Nigg (1849–1928).

            The self is not a fixed entity.  Often our self-descriptions lock us into a particular epoch of our lives and fail to recognize how fluid certain aspects of human identity are.  We all carry mysteries around inside of us, as my friend Clyde Crews wrote in Ultimate Questions.  St. Augustine was frustrated in his quest for self-knowledge: “I have become a question to myself” (Confessions, Book 10).  And he tried to recount his whole life to come to a measure of understanding.
            Helpfully, John Calvin linked knowledge of God and knowledge of self.  He perceived that we cannot understand ourselves without a theological lens, which is the inquiry about the role of God in human lives.  Also, theological insight is always grounded in concrete human existence.  He put it starkly at the beginning of his magisterial Institutes of the Christian Religion: “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God.”
            There is a long tradition in Christian theology that speaks of God’s “prevenient grace.”  It is the idea that grace comes before any human response to God.  That is, God knows our human frailty, and our condition draws forth God’s unconditional love.  The ancient monastics likened this disposition to that of a mother who has tender love for the little one who cannot reciprocate

Lectionary preachers will wrestle this coming Sunday with such knowing. The prophet Jeremiah begins his witness by recognizing God’s encompassing knowledge of him.  God’s word to him was breathtaking in its sweep: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4b).  His task was to meld in his life God’s call with faithful choice.

Likewise the reading from the Psalter speaks of the intimacy of knowing and being known.  “For you, O LORD, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.  Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb” (Psalm 71:5-6).
God’s knowing of humanity—as a whole and individually—suffuses the biblical tradition.  God’s capacity to be interior to us, closer to us than we are to ourselves, as Augustine writes, grants insight about our dignity and God’s perduring love.  Learning verities like these is transformative, and this is what we think about in seminary.  Come and join us!

Molly T.  Marshall