Walking The Well-Worn Path
WALKING THE WELL-WORN PATH | ELLA HICKEY
As I was nearing the end of my last year of bible college I came across the term “Theologia Viatorum” which essentially means “theology of pilgrims” or “theology on the way”. Hearing this phrase had a somewhat surprising effect on me because these Latin words brought with them a sense of peace. As I grappled with theological concepts, explored the triune God, and tried to make sense of my own beliefs and faith (as you do when you go to Bible College), discovering a term that perfectly encapsulated this journey gave me a sense of solidarity – the realisation that this is a well-worn path.
As human beings, and especially it seems, as Christians, we like to put things in boxes – people, scripture, and yes, even God. This makes perfect sense because when we systemise, categorise, and clarify, difficult concepts are easier to understand, big ideas become smaller, and multifaceted and multidimensional things become uniform and seamless. Unfortunately for us, God is neither straightforward, small, nor static – and neither is The Book which he gave us.
This is where Theologia Viatorum comes in – the suggestion that all theology is imperfect and incomplete, and yet it is a journey we must take. Certainty itself is a journey, there are times when we know, that we know, that we know, and there are times, when we simply do not. I found faith particularly difficult in this season of my life, because I was afraid of doubts, and when my understanding of God was challenged, it felt like the floor of my beliefs had disappeared beneath me and I had no solid place to stand. This is a common experience for theological pilgrims, travellers, wanderers, those who are on their way to a sacred place. The deeper I dug, and the further I journeyed towards what I hoped would be truth and certainty, the further away it seemed.
As we explored systematic theology in my first year of bible college I was like a flower bud opening in the first days of spring, but as the journey continued I felt like screaming because the sun was simply too bright, I was experiencing a kind of blockage in my Christian photosynthesis, information was coming in, but it wasn’t producing faith – instead I began to question everything I thought I knew to be true and the divide between what I was learning, and what I saw and experienced in church was disconnected so the gap continued to widen. This was the beginning of my pilgrimage.
Along the way I discovered theologians – old and new such as Kierkegaard, N.T Wright, and Scot Mcknight, philosophers such as Peter Rollins and John Caputo, authors like Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held-Evans, and even people in my own city, who had been this way before. They recognised the landscape, and they helped me to navigate my way through the narrow and winding streets. They drew a map for me, and pointed out the things I must watch out for, they gave me landmarks to help me understand where I was and where I was going. I felt like I was Frodo Baggins and they were Bilbo, they had been here before. This was a well-worn path.
Theologia Viatorum brought me to a place where I understood that the journey we can go on when we explore and deconstruct our faith, is an inherently good one. It may not be smooth, or straightforward, or easy – but it is one that can ultimately fortify, enrich, and develop our faith to a greater degree than if we never set foot on the road in the first place.
We should not fear what we do not yet understand or be afraid to discover that maybe what we think is right needs a bit of adjustment. Orthodoxy is important, but so is the capacity to be wrong. I think the key is to approach theology with humility, remembering that God himself said “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts”.
Take heart, theology is a process not a destination, and it is a well-worn path.