Saturday, November 5, 2016

patch, matchwood, immortal diamond

so that our great tumor might be healed by an even greater medicine
--Augustine, De Catechizandis Rudibus

There is no place like theology graduate school for losing your faith. There is only so much the human mind can handle, before it collapses under the weight of its own prowess for skepticism. Questioning is a dangerous pastime.

But if I were to one day decide that this whole business of faith is a nonsense endeavor, a foolhardy undertaking for people too afraid to face the disenchanted reality that a human being is nothing more than a sack of water (and some trace elements), inspired by electricity, there is one moment that would give me pause:

Father Daley's tears.

Fr. Daley is the sweetest elderly priest, his boxing pastime apparent in his gesticulations as he lectures, his energetic stance, and slight but agile frame. His writing is lucid, wise and utterly astounding, yet he lectures to us gently, describing the rich meat of the early church writers in milky language that we toothless infants can digest. He has the careless toughness of a former generation, raised in wars, and the casually warm manners of the East Coast gentleman.

As he read Augustine's brief passage on the mission of Christ, Fr. Daley's voice caught in his throat. Something glistened underneath his eye. That the human race might know how much God loves us and might know this in order to glow with love for him by whom we have first been loved
These words seem simple and obvious to me, no deep poetry or elegantly romantic insight.

But I am now struck with a sober curiosity: what is this love that can provoke such a wise man to tears? This love can move the sun, other stars, and this priest to tears. I understand now the restless desires of princes in fairy tales to run after beautiful mystery maidens glimpsed in the woods. The love that moves Fr. Daley to tears is that mysterious princess glimpsed in the woods. What is that beauty? I want it desperately. It enchants me.

I may read all the books ever written about God, listen to all the lecturers, sift through all the theological treatises penned from now 'til kingdom come (aka this upcoming Tuesday), but I will never find a more eloquent testament to God than that elderly academic father's voice trembling with tears as he gently recited the syncopated rhythms and breath-tearing rhyme of Hopkins:
I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and 
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond, 
                            Is immortal diamond. 

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