Standing still

I should be writing about tenderness. (Apologies @NDLiturgyCenter…) Or I should be washing Anna’s hair. But I’m not. I’m here.
And that’s precisely the point. I am here. I know that this shouldn’t come as a shock, but it occurred to me (finally) today that God doesn’t call us to a vocation and then put us in a place where we cannot practice it. At no time since I started down the road of academic theology have I seen that vocation change. Quite the opposite, in fact. Many times I thought I was doing such a horrible job of my mothering and my academic work that I ought to give up the latter–not being able to relinquish the former, of course, or at least not as easily. Each time, however, something happened to confirm again that I was called to keep doing what I am doing. So I have carried on.
But it proceeds so agonizingly slowly. So slowly, in fact, that I feel like I am standing still. We had a great time having Wesley Hill with us this weekend–great conversations and an interesting conference as well. As I listened to Wes and Lewis talk this morning–about books and people in their respective fields–well, I listened. Didn’t have much to add, except the “Who is that?” and “So, what, exactly, is the argument of that book?” I read. But I don’t keep up. Not by a long shot.
The academic discourses to which I once thought I would contribute have moved on, and it seems like many of the people who are moving them forward are younger than I, with more recent PhDs. Usually when I observe this, it makes me yearn for the day when the kids will all be in school, when I can ‘catch up’, and focus on the academic game. Madness lies that way: I am not going to catch up. I read slowly and write slowly, and that isn’t going to change. And thinking about catching up both stresses me out about a future totally unknown to me and robs me of all the joy of today, of right now.
However it may appear, I am not standing still. Maybe the movement is as yet imperceptible (the Spirit of God brooding over the surface of the water…) but the thing about that calling to be a theologian is that it isn’t just something I will get to do when the kids are grown up a little. It is something I am doing now. I am just not doing it very quickly, or very publicly. My theological conversations happen in the personal realm, not the professional, and I am more likely to be away on retreat than at a conference.
I want to make sense of this. I want to know what this is for. Why have I come down this road? But I can’t. I can only pursue my calling right here, between the hair washing and the laundry folding, and in the hair washing and the laundry folding. I don’t know why I’ve gone this way. But I do know that where I am, God is, and I am not going to find peace by looking elsewhere.
Deo gratias.

On not attending the conference

 I missed a good paper yesterday: “The Word Answering the Word: Opening the Space of Biblical Interpretation” at the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference. Fortunately I have a copy of the paper to hand, and have read it sitting in bed to the sound of Lucy’s breathing as she sleeps next to me. No small talk, no feeling inadequate because I haven’t read that book, or that one either…or published a raft of peer-reviewed articles. This is the best–the very best–of both my little worlds. And I will even get a chance at some Q & A with the author of said paper: Lucy’s daddy.
My first question: “Don’t I remember you talking about Joseph Ratzinger’s concept of tradition in our kitchen in Atlanta?” Really. That’s my opening question, partly because I found the paper thought-provoking and not suspicion-arousing. But, more importantly, I will ask that question (probably in the kitchen) because it tells me something really important about scholarship. I think sometimes that my husband devours books and churns out essays. That’s true, but the essay-churning–if I am right about the conversation at least four years ago in our kitchen in Atlanta–lags significantly behind the book-devouring. Percolating happens.
That’s hopeful. Really hopeful. I don’t devour books, I glide over them like a glacier. And I only churn out to-do lists these days…and Christmas cards, when the time comes. Essays? Not so much. I think about things; I dream of papers I’d like to publish, books I’d like to write. Sometimes I make lists of those, too… But I find all the small spaces in which Lewis seems to get so much done completely occupied. My interstitial spaces, those odd moments in which I might read a few pages or jot down notes, are the spaces in which school uniform is ordered, birthday parties are planned, online Christmas shopping begins, a chore chart is devised, school supplies are organized, and Lucy’s clothes are sorted–she’s grown out of that and that and that…what does she need now? I store information about shoe sizes and coat sizes, teachers’ names and school holidays, doctor appointments and childcare arrangements. Neither in my head nor in my weekly schedule do I find time to divert to scholarship. I know, because I tried for several weeks to take an idea and make it into an essay, using those in-between times. The number of balls I would have had to drop was completely unacceptable.
That’s neither a complaint nor an excuse. It just is. So the idea that percolating is a part of the process for everyone does give me hope. Because one day I won’t have to choose between reading the paper next to my sleeping toddler, or going to the conference to hear it. I will have more time to read slowly and write slightly less slowly. But I won’t get to choose between my 2-year-old (and my 11-year-old, my 9-year-old, and my 6-year-old, for that matter) and some conference or other. Conferences will come again, year after year. But that little sigh I just heard will not be the same the next time the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference comes around.
All the same, I am glad I had a chance to read the paper. It really is quite good.