The late Robert Webber wrote a beautiful book called The Divine Embrace late in life. In it, he talks of the beautiful and seamless marriage of theology and spirituality in the first centuries of the church. In time, theology (dogma) would become a privileged task, spirituality would go underground into the monasteries, and the church would see a tragic disjunction between “God’s Story” and “my story.” Webber argues for a kind of reunion, rooted in Christian worship, where the Story is told and enacted, and where we become participants enjoying union for the sake of mission.
I’m all in on this.
I’ve known many who are skeptical of the “my story” piece, aware (as I am) of a culture of narcissism (Lasch) that is bred when people live independent of a larger, rooted narrative. I agree. However, I see a different kind of narcissism in those who ignore “my story” in favor of “God’s story,” people who fear the slippery slope to subjectivism, who are wary of anything therapeutic, who see the ‘fact’ of the Gospel as trumping the drama of the individual. This latter narcissism is seen in theologically-minded men and women who don’t know themselves well enough to know their blindspots. Their theological endeavors are sabotaged by a lack of emotional intelligence. And without self-knowledge, their God-knowledge is ultimately impoverished.
For me, good theologizing requires the theologian to do deep work on his/her life, to know the narrative twists and turns that mirror the Gospel narrative twists and turns. The major critique of the Pharisees by Jesus was hypocrisy. They were stage-actors, wearing masks. They were clean on the outside, and unclean on the inside. They were straining gnats while swallowing camels. This is what happens when we don’t take a deep look within, not in some hyper-therapeutic sense, but in the long, cherished spiritual traditions of the church (which will include and inform our therapeutic work).
Augustine’s well-known prayer noverim me, noverim te (let me know myself, let me know you) roots me in the tradition while giving me permission to do the autobiographical searching required of a self-less saint. In worship, I’m drawn into the Story, not in order to forget myself, but to find myself. The self I “lose,” of course, is the “old self,” the “false self,” brought into the light during Confession. At Communion, the one who was lost is now ‘found’, in union with Christ. I become myself. In the benediction, I’m reminded that I go with the blessing, to love and to serve. As Webber says, we’re reunited to be re-directed. And I need a lot of re-direction!
God’s story + my story. Maybe theologians and therapists have a future together, after all.