Well, here I am. It’s two days until the conference, five days until we leave St Andrews and eight days until we arrive in Montreal. And I’m quivering more than an autumn leaf in a breeze. Sorry, I couldn’t think of a better analogy. The point is that I’m nervous, mostly because of the conference. I’m presenting a paper as a lowly MLitt amongst PhD candidates and I’m also introducing one of our keynote speakers and emceeing the discussion time afterwards. Egads.
Of course, I have to do this and do it well. I’m convinced that my vocation involves public speaking in some way or another and if I want to prosper in academia or as a teacher/preacher, I need this kind of practice. There’s no other option. I’ve just always gotten stage fright (whether on stage or at a lectern) and I’ve never quite been able to shake it.
But life isn’t necessarily about shaking it (if that happens, great – if not, oh well). It’s about assuming a role and working at it until it’s nearly flawless. By pretending to be something, you eventually become it. You’re rarely ready for the tasks set before you – but you have to pretend that you are in order to do them.
I remember reading an article by Catherine Pickstock about the medieval Roman rite of Mass. She guided the reader through the liturgy and, among other things, showed how the very structure of the Mass was designed to help the participants assume a multiplicity of roles, enabling them to hold in tension the paradox of certain simultaneous realities: they are both lowly, penitent sinners and also the redeemed and forgiven. God is transcendent, yet he is also imminent. Resurrection is a present reality and a future hope. All these things, Pickstock argued, are held in tension as the worshipper enters into the drama of the medieval Roman Mass.
But is it not a fake drama – you are changed by entering into it and the drama, likewise, is changed by your participation. The liturgy is the guide to your next unsure steps, the framework which enables you to do what you are incapable of doing and to shape you in a way you are unable to shape yourself. By being, you become; by becoming, you are. It is not the distance of Platonism which denies humans any real role in shaping reality. The word is near you; you need not ascend to heaven, for heaven has descended. The Incarnation makes it possible for humans to have a real role in the divine shaping of the the world. The divine Word uttered into the earth is also the human Word which perfectly bears the tension of being and becoming. The Word steps into us and we step into the Word; by being what we are not, we become who we are.