My seminary advisor and New Testament professor spent time “counseling” me in academics. He was the sort of man who could never look a person in the eye, always had his gaze to ceiling, as if in deep thought. This made conversing with him a little disconcerting. It was especially odd when he preached, his gaze ever heavenward. I have a clear memory of him instructing the student body on the correct manner of receiving communion. “Never touch the bowl of the chalice. If you must touch it, guide it from the base of the stem….” Apparently we were touching the bowl and mucking it up with our finger prints… I remember him gazing to the ceiling while he told us off.
In his office, cramped and small, sitting across the desk from him, planning my academic career was no less bizarre. His eyes perpetually gazing some where beyond my head, as he made pronouncements about what classes I should take and why. He was a very well thought of and intelligent professor. He just made me feel like I was, well, not quite up to snuff academic-wise. Smart enough as intelligence goes, but not an academic. At least that is what I got from his assessment of me.
On one occasion he spent time processing my “inability” to ask questions. I never, or rarely, raised my hand to ask a question in class. Truth is I rarely had questions to ask. I just soaked up everything I was taught and read like a sponge. I hadn’t time nor the opportunity to process it nearly enough to question what I was learning. As an introvert, that continues to be how I function – learn, read, listen, think, take time to absorb, and then later…the questions come, the responses.
My professor however had another assessment as to why I didn’t ask questions. He told me it was my Mormon upbringing. As a Mormon I was told what to think not taught how to think. I was told what to believe not taught to ask questions. I suppose there is truth to this. I do remember asking a lot of questions in Sunday School, I don’t remember anyone thinking my questions were valid or good nor do I have any recollection of having my inquisitive mind and thought process reinforced.
I’m pretty sure that had a lot to do with being a young girl in the 1960’s. It’s still true today, but I know that women’s voices are rarely heard over male voices. So the paradigm is not so much MY voice as women’s voices in general. I do have the double bind of being an introvert which means I never speak up in a group, too busy processing data.
The other thing this professor assured me of, I had no mind for philosophy. I took that to mean I really was not the most intelligent person.Not smarter than the average bear, as Yogi used to say to Boo Boo. I was the average bear.
I imagine this is what influenced me to buy, for a $1.98, from a book sale at the seminary book store a book titled, “Philosophy Something To Believe In.” I bought this book sometime between 1996 and 1999, thinking that maybe I could learn something about philosophy even if I couldn’t really understand it. It’s sat on my bookshelf, unopened, forgotten ever since. I’ve moved this book from Illinois to Wisconsin, back to Illinois, to Arizona and back to Illinois and now to Michigan. A few weeks ago I *saw* it on my bookshelf, as if for the first time in a decade. And I took it down and started to read it. I am fascinated by this book – it is no doubt very readable. But it cracks me up, it was printed in 1975, written by Richard Paul Janaro of Miami-Dade Community College. I have no idea why it was at book sale at the seminary. Then again, maybe I didn’t buy it – perhaps it was in one of the boxes that appeared every year as students graduated and moved, leaving behind items “free for the taking?” Anyway, however I got this book I’m glad I did.
In the preface the author states that this is a book about philosophical belief, not a history of philosophy. It is an introduction to the nature of belief; how a number of major philosophers have attained belief; what those beliefs were, relative to a number of ongoing concerns that appear to be with us still; and most important of all, how we may involve ourselves in the act of believing. The book endorses the philosophical processes as source of belief, as opposed to allowing belief to spring from unknown or unexamined influences. The underlying theme of the book is that we do not need to be passive victims to the many undeniable forces, such as media, social customs, or peer group pressures, that can condition our thoughts and behavior. “It is that human beings are fundamentally rational in the broadest sense of the word; they are capable of sustained, reflective thought, as well as profound flashes of insight or intuition.”
Janaro’s thesis and argument appears to be that the reflective and self-examined mind is one that functions philosophically. Philosophy is being reflective, pondering one’s life, and striving to understand one’s motivations and actions. The book is intended to be a springboard for “thinking” and the philosophical tenents of “belief” that rise from reflective thought.
And so I’ve come to realize that my professor was very wrong about me. I may not be the kind of academic he was, but I am a philosopher in my own way. I actively embrace an intentional thought process and reflection. I like to explore and understand the regions of my mind, actions, and motivations. The reflective process is inherent to who I am.
The other day I considered closing down this blog and doing something else. Another blog, perhaps. What I’ve come to realize from reading this book is that this blog is a history of my reflections and thought process for the last six years. Here I have struggled to understand cruelty, prejudice, being devoiced and devalued as a woman. Here I have processed the challenges of working in a small, apathetic parish, several large corporate business parishes, and a mid-sized dynamic creative parish. Here I have processed scripture and how it informs our lives. Here I have pondered how I am being called to live my life as a priest. Here is where I am reflecting on what it means to use my voice in the most authentic way. Here is where I take the time to process what I read, hear, experience. Here is where I reflect on what I believe. From here is where I am able to move out into life, more self aware, more capable of asking questions, more able to understand the world around me and what motivates me.
Seeking Authentic Voice, therefore, is an ongoing process, reason enough to keep using it just as it is.