Spirituality from the Heart vs from the Head
Recently, one of my students came to my office after class and asked me to tell him why I chose to become a teacher and a theologian. That was a moment of grace for me because I realized that the question was not about intelligence but about my heart. I told him my story and my journey which began in Nigeria and how it has led me today to a Lutheran University here in Indiana.
Then he proceeded to asking me the following question "Professor, why are you a Catholic?" I told him how when I was a young convert to the Christian faith devotion to Mary meant so much to me. How praying the rosary and doing my little devotions to the Holy Face of Jesus, my devotion to the Infant Jesus, my membership in the Legion of Mary when I converted to Catholicism gave me a sense of purpose in life.
I realized that the narrative I was giving him was really meant for me. I had forgotten the core of my faith identity. It was not about systematic theology but about my pious devotions. I realized that those devotions were missing in my work as a theologian. In my work as a theologian, I have been trained to speak of a God I have not encountered. The one I have encountered, I have not had the courage to share with others. Why is this the case? When I was a religious, my work as a missionary was most effective when I told people the joys and pains of my faith life. It was how I was able to connect with people, whether they chose to embrace the Christian faith or not was left to the Spirit. But now that I have become an academic, I am realizing that academia considers faith sharing something for sentimentalists. Is it because we have become victims of the fallacy of the Enlightenment that privileges the rational and suspects anything from the heart? Could this be why the best of our works as theologians simply end up on the shelves of institutions consulted only when one needs to do an academic research? Are these not signs for us to change our theological methodologies or should I say expand them?
As I read the works of Pope Francis and his prioritization of Mercy, there is something I am becoming more aware of and it is this: Mercy is not an academic word. It is embodied. It involves an ordering of one's life in such a way that one’s whole-self evokes compassion and love for the other. It is embodied spirituality. It is trans-rational and involves radicality of purpose.
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