“Believe!"

This is supposed to be a rant, but when I sat down to start writing it, I paused for a moment to check one of my old posts which, from the title, I had an inkling might have already been about what I was thinking about writing today. It wasn't, not exactly, but it was close in tone, so now I've spent the last ten minutes wondering whether I had anything to say. That's the problem, of course. I'm not sure I have anything left. More to the point, I'm not sure there is anything left, not that hasn't already been said, by me or by others, more often than not much better than anything I could ever say.

I had an invitation in my email inbox this morning to come to a conference in April on "Rethinking the Medieval Legacy for Contemporary Theology." I can't go, of course; much too short notice (above all, because I have no idea yet how traveling is going to work with the puppy, plus my husband is out of town around that time and I simply cannot juggle yet another weekend with childcare/catcare/dogcare and manage to get my teaching done; enough said). The real problem is, I'm not sure I'd want to. What would be the point, anyway? Does anybody really want to hear what the Middle Ages has to say to the present? Guess what, we already know all the answers--and don't like them.

E.g. The Middle Ages: "Vices make it very difficult to see God, so get busy cleansing your soul." Us, now: "Oh, but there are no such thing as vices, just developmental whatsits...." Okay, I lost my train of thought there. My neighbor just called to complain about how our toilet seal is still leaking into their ceiling and how I need to have our contractors fix it and now all I can think is how angry I am and how tired of having her complain about stuff in the building. See? Vices. I should try to see things her way, but I just feel got at. Got at. Got at. Got at. By everyone and everything, including invitations to come speak at conferences on other people's agendas. Breathe. This is much too real time for a good blog post, but, you know, real time is all I have at the moment.

Real. Time. I have lost faith in the Middle Ages as the Answer that I was looking for. It isn't there. It was never there, I just hoped that it might be because the art was so beautiful. And I loved Latin. I really, really, really loved Latin. But I never get to read it properly anymore and I'm not sure my grammar is actually up to it because, you know, I have to spend all this time reading in other people's scholarship so as to "stay current." But, guess what? I don't care about most of the things that they think are so pressing. They're not really problems at all, just house-of-cards constructions, held up by faith and a string of footnotes that something really matters in what we do. No, that's not it. Why is my neighbor so bad at laying these bombs on me about how our apartment is damaging theirs? She just pisses me off and then we're both angry, she because her property is being damaged, and me because the failure is in the building, not something that I personally have done.

Now my head is starting to hurt. Oh, God, I want so much to believe again, and I've lost it. "Believe!" Do you know how sick I am of hearing that? Macy's has all these banners up all over their store (I was there buying underwear, not, heaven forbid, actually Christmas shopping!), and I want to spit. "Believe what?," I want to scream. Believe that there is a point to life, to the work that we do, to trying to keep bathroom floors from leaking, to having jobs so that we can accumulate stuff we don't really like or want? There's a medieval lesson for us that is relevant today: "Guess what? Material things won't make you happy." And yet, isn't it worth making beautiful things? Working to make our living environment pleasant and healthy? Oh, but there's always a cost. All that stuff I threw out yesterday? It's going to end up in some garbage heap somewhere. Okay, not the magazines; they'll be recycled.

Recycling spirituality, is that what we want to be doing? A few years ago, I might have been all over wanting to go to this conference. "Yes, of course," I would have said then, "we have so much to learn from the Middle Ages: devotion to Mary, devotion to the Holy Spirit. Our lives would be so much more enriched if we could just learn to pray." Hogwash. We know how to pray, we just don't do it because we don't believe anymore. There's no going back, no reconstructing the world so that faith is actually a real option. I know, I know, we live in an Age of Faith right now. Perhaps more accurately, an Age of Faiths. Nothing is actually true, just provisional. Heaven forbid we offend anybody by spending the next week saying, "Merry Christmas!" Because, you know, it might offend someone who isn't celebrating the birth of the Lord.

I am so angry and I don't know at what. It's not like I didn't know all of this stuff already. What stuff? I've been struggling with belief my whole life, wanting so desperately to believe and yet not being able to. It's funny, I actually intellectually believe fairly strongly. God, creation, incarnation, salvation, death and judgment? Yup, all makes fairly good sense. But I don't feel anything except emptiness and despair. You don't want to hear this, I know. You want me to write reassuringly about how deeply I feel the presence of God (the invitation to the conference said something about my work in "mysticism," odd, since I don't think I've written anything about mysticism, just exegesis and prayer), but, I'm sorry, I don't. I feel the bottom dropping out of everything that I have believed in for decades, about my career and my purpose in life, about the importance of doing good work. And, you know, truth to tell, the last thing most of my colleagues in medieval history want is for our work to be at all relevant. No, that's not quite right. I should say, most of the ones that I know, with only one or two notable exceptions, okay, maybe three exceptions, there aren't very many. Anyway: most of the scholars I know are perfectly happy to keep all this messy stuff about faith and whether we actually believe what we are studying in a primary, as opposed to a secondary, objective way bracketed, not our problem to answer at all.

I'm not making myself clear here. There are too many things that I want to say that I am blocking because to say them really would tear down everything on which I have built my life. Talk about the toilet falling through the floor into your neighbor's apartment. That's it. That is the meaning of life: keeping your toilet from damaging your neighbor's ceiling. "Believe."

I'm going to have to revisit this later, after I call the plumber. Again.

[Update: Okay, now I've checked a few of the entries in the Macy's "Believe" competition, and I feel even worse. "Believe" seems to mean "believe that life is worth living because people are willing to give each other gifts." Which, now that I put it that way, isn't really so bad. But is "believing in the spirit of Christmas" actually the same thing as believing that God became incarnate to save us from our sins, when to judge from the descriptions people gave, nobody seems to believe in sin? Oh, but we're so much better off just believing that everyone is essentially good, right? Well, yes, because we're created in the image and likeness of God. But "essentially good" is not the same thing as "sinless." I'm gibbering again. And really, really wishing I could capture the "spirit of Christmas" this year.]

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