On Tuesday and Thursdays, Hilary Sherratt and I write letters back and for to each other, public letters to one another in which we tease out faith and theory and life and episodes of Gossip Girl, and invite you to join us in the comments. You can read the letter I’m responding to here. Dear Hilary,
Tomorrow, I give my thesis presentation. Unlike the nebulous and anxiety-laden two hour defense next Monday afternoon, this is only a ten minute précis delivered to underclassmen and other professors interested in what I explored as my topic. We assemble in a small lecture hall, poor quality pizza served in the back, and ramble through five presentations and try to convince people that what we've done is interesting. (As it turns out, I'm privileged in this regard. I'm presenting alongside Samuel and Grant, as well as Caroline, whom you remember, and someone else, a filmmaker with a striking, unique eye to detail.)
For the past week, I've been scrambling trying to figure out what I'll speak on. My thesis, as you know, is at times painfully unique. Since my first chapter is a mini-manuscript on patristic and medieval exegesis and the remaining three chapters my own exercise in commenting on Scripture in the manner of those gone before, I haven't really proved anything. I haven't explored a particular idea or a particular person, I have advocated a method of approaching Scripture and have produced a work that reflects the perspective. But how exactly do you talk about that in ten minutes?
I've settled on painting. I'm nearly done producing a 48" x 36" canvas that reflects, I think, the complex manner by which we are to approach the Word. And in the process of this I have been working through our wonderings about peace, about being seen by God, about being madly, wildly in love with Him. I am realizing that the thing I am trying to explain, in ten minutes, through a canvas, through a strange, ridiculous thesis, is that the whole of Christ must be the principle by which we exegete. That the Word, in His incarnation, His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, His coming again, is the means by which we must read the whole of creation, to understand the whole of the cosmos.
And I have ten minutes. I want so desperately to know exactly what to say, and how, so that this gigantic perspective I have can be imparted by single word as gift. But it's too much and the task is too impossible. I have known that this task is my life, so how to condense into such a short time? And I hear the clang of presumption in the words; for, the answer, like much of what we have come to speak of, is rooted in trust.
What does He say?
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
So burn a little prayer for me. Light a candle that my words shall slow into those melodies of Him, that I shall trust in the Artist and let the art be enough. Burn a little prayer for me in the Lady Chapel, in the space of, "Be it unto me according to Thy word," that, by His mercy, I can speak no more than these things:
For in him we live, and move, and have our being,
And he is before all things, and by him all things consist,
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
He has made every thing beautiful in its time: also he has put eternity in men's hearts, so that no man can find out the work that God does from the beginning to the end.
Alleluia, alleluia, world without end. Amen.