28 April 2010

of nazianzus

Once I had heard of Gregory of Nazianzus (ca. 329-390), I knew that I would never forget him. During my opening semester of seminary I remember a church history class which helped us survey (among other things) the early church fathers. Gregory was an interesting figure, at the same time disturbing and understandable - his approach to the faith somewhat inspiring, somewhat off-putting.

One of the reasons is this: Gregory (who was not alone in this perspective) desired nothing more in this earthly life than to be left alone to his contemplation and study. Christopher Hall has said of Gregory, ". . . he hoped to avoid the responsibilities of leadership." Robert Payne describes him this way "He loved God, and then the art of letters, and then men - in that order."

When I first ran into this (as one beginning the journey into seminary, knowing that I would be entering into church leadership) I was repulsed by the notion that such a godly and spiritual person could withdraw from the work of the church - which, of course, is the community at work to love others for the kingdom. Was this not disappointing that one should not use his calling and giftedness for the benefit of God's people? How could this supposed church father groan against the desires of others to place him within pastoral leadership?

Then I entered into church leadership. And suddenly, all of the desires of Gregory of Nazianzus came crashing down upon me. For, so often I long to enter into prolonged study and reflection only to be pulled away into other things. And then there seems to be the long and never-ending debating and meeting and checking and running . . . that strain at the heart's desire to explore the richness of God's presence. Yes, I now have a more profound appreciation for Gregory's heart than I previously held. Because I too have encountered the absurdity of resurrection truth and excitement meeting up with people concerned only for trivial matters.

One must wonder today - perhaps like Gregory often pondered - how in the world the church has taken this notion of a renewed and transformed world breaking in to the present and made it into our own performances and self-driven piety which seeks nothing more than its own position and power.

In the end, Gregory took a deep breath before looking around and jumping into the work of the church. At least for a few years. If he hadn't, we probably would never had known of his existence. And even though I empathize with him now more than ever before, I also see the need to work for the church as it is . . . not as it should be. After all, that is why there is so much work to be done at all.

1 comment:

Pat said...

Wow, and there's the rub--"I also see the need to work for the church as it is . . . not as it should be." Working for the church as it is can really take its toll. At times it seems like there's no light at the end of the tunnel in the church becoming what it should be. But then I find myself wrestling with thoughts of "But am I, even as right as I think I am, trying to force people into my way of thinking and doing even when I feel that I'm doing what God is calling for? If so, that's not right." But where is the line between trying to elevate people in their thinking and forcing them to go where maybe they're not ready and willing to go? Maybe I try too hard. Because God gives me a vision of His Church, that doesn't mean it's meant to come about in my timing. And that's were frustration comes in. Having a vision of something greater and not being able to see it to fruition is daunting. I wrestle with all of these questions and more and as a contemplative I find at times when these thoughts overwhelm me, it is in quiet that I am strengthened.