Overheard II

As one who likes to walk, I often hear little snatches of conversation as people pass by, talking to one another or over the phone. Often they are banal, of course; sometimes they are tantalizing.
    So I am walking and I hear a voice behind me say something like this: “You know how a particular scripture verse can summarize someone’s theology?”
    I’m all ears. Did he just say “theology”?
    Two young men pass me. They are in a race, they keep going, but they turn back to look at me. “I think that’s Victor Austin,” one says. They speed on, and I lose sight of them.
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    What verse would summarize my theology? We clergy used to joke in the Saint Thomas sacristy about the sermon none of us had ever preached. It was to be on a verse from Genesis.
    “My brother Esau is an hairy man, but I am a smooth man.”
    I find I am often having to teach my younger colleagues about things like this (Alan Bennett, “Beyond the Fringe”). But I don’t think it summarizes my theology.
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    There are verses that I could wish summarized my theology.
    Song of Songs: “My beloved is mine, and I am his”—understood as enjoying God as one’s beloved. (Ruth says something analogous when she tells Naomi, “Thy God shall be my God.”)
    Or, if God is not presently being enjoyed, the perfect poetry of Psalm 62 in the 1979 BCP translation: “For God alone my soul in silence waits.”
    Sometimes, though, it’s more like the line from Psalm 44: “Awake, O Lord! why are you sleeping?”
    But maybe this is it, for me; at least, it’s something I often emphasize. From Romans 8: “We do not know how to pray . . . but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” As Herbert McCabe said, it’s a great comfort to hear Saint Paul say that even he does not know how to pray!
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    Out & About. This Sunday, Sept. 29, I am to preach at Church of the Advent in Boston.
    On Sunday, Oct. 6, I am to preach at St. Anne Episcopal Church in DeSoto, Texas, at 8 and 10 a.m.
    At 6:15 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 6, I will give the fall theology lecture at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. The book of Ruth is a “gem of a book” that distills into a charming story some of the main themes of the Old Testament as a whole. I will be looking at it with a particular theological question: do we need a husband or wife in order to flourish as a human being? There will be Q&A after the lecture and then a wine and cheese reception. Free and open to the public: If you live in the Dallas area, it would be good to see you (and invite your friends).
    Finally, the next Good Books & Good Talk seminar will be on Sunday, Oct. 13, on What Happened to Sophie Wilder by Christopher Beha. It’s at 6 p.m. at Incarnation in Dallas, and anyone who reads the book is welcome to the conversation.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."