Dear Donagh, Thanks for your website, and I love the new picture gallery. I loved especially the picture of Glencar waterfall with the Yeats poem. I've been using these pictures as a meditation….
I'm not sure how to put my question…. I don’t feel serious about leading a spiritual life and yet it’s my whole life. I haven’t studied it properly and there's so much I don’t know. I talk to [a priest] quite often and he tells me about all the documents and books I should be reading. He lends me books but I don’t get anything at all out of them. I find them very heavy, I just feel ignorant in the end. He gets irritated if I question anything and he tells me I should be more systematic. He’s always quoting Latin things and then saying I won't understand them anyway…. I love the Gospels, especially the parables. Is there a short course I could do where they wouldn’t be spouting heavy stuff at me all the time? I really do want to study more. A correspondence course would suit me, because I'm working…. I live in Cork. Again I love your website because I keep finding surprises in it. Keep up the good work. Many thanks. Karen
Dear Karen, Thanks, I'm glad you like the site, and that you enjoy the photos. I enjoy taking them, and it’s a pleasure to show them to other people.
Your question made me think about the parable of the treasure in the field (Matthew 13:44). The Kingdom of God (= the presence of God) is like that, Jesus said. The man who found the treasure (or the pearl, in the next verse) hadn’t been systematically looking for it. It was a surprise to him. If he had been looking for it, he would not have been surprised to find it; he would have felt it was the least he could get for all his digging and searching. He would be a surly farmer thinking that the world ought to thank him for working for himself. There would be no joy. But because it was a surprise the man in the parable was filled with joy. Then, because of his joy he was able to part with all the other things he had, and the treasure became his whole life; the joy of that chance discovery filled his whole life. It’s an illuminating image of the spiritual life. It’s about grace, the surprise of an undeserved gift, and not about systematic labour.
Other parables have a similar lightness about them: the net (Matthew 13:47), the leaven in the batch (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20)…. Only a little leaven was needed, and it was enough to raise the whole batch. Theologians, I think, used to feel it was their duty to put a ton weight of depressing commentary on the faith - though things are improving a little now. I knew one who was clearly bored out of his tree by it all. There were no adventures for him, no discovery, no joy; he had all the answers, no questions, and you could see that he never fully engaged with theology at all. He never had the courage to doubt anything, all his doubts had been driven into the unconscious, where they sapped his energy to believe anything really. What was left on the surface was boredom and dogmatism. Don’t take much notice of such people, or they will saddle you with the heaviness they feel themselves. You need to meet people who can meet your particular interests; that's important for keeping your interest alive.
Yes, I can recommend a good course. The Dominicans in Tallaght run a Distance Education programme that has several modules: spirituality, Scripture, theology, philosophy. Here’s a paragraph from their literature: “While the main work of each module is done from home and at each person's own pace, there is a network of student support to offset the 'loneliness of the long-distance learner'. Thus every student is linked with one of the twelve centres around Ireland, and each centre is stocked with basic reading resources, as well as having a local co-ordinator who liases with the students. There are two study days in a number of the centres during the fifteen-week module, and an academic tutor who is available via e-mail on a weekly basis to help students with their study. Participants are also encouraged to meet informally during the course of the module, on the belief that theology flourishes through such interaction and discussion.” Ask them about the spirituality or the Scripture module.
The Priory Institute, Tallaght Village, Dublin 24.
Meanwhile, Karen, more power to you! And may your life be full of surprises!