Saturday, May 3, 2008

Treadmill Theology

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

It's been a long while since I've made a posting. For the time being, I'm using Blogger to post reflections. I'm working on a website and I pray it will be finished soon. When I say I'm working on a website, I mean I've been busy/lazy and have not done the little work I need to to get my domain (, which my dad very generously donated to the cause of the Network) up and running. I'm rather's been almost a year and I still haven't successfully launched a website. Will power, Bob, will power!

Alright, well, for those of you familiar with the Network of Love format, consider this a quick review. For those of you new to the Network of Love, the "Network," as of right now is reflections written by me, Bob Spoerl. Currently, I am a 19 year old attending St. Joseph's College Seminary on the campus of Loyola University in Chicago. The situation is confusing to an outsider, but what it boils down to is this: I am a college seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In addition to being a major in Philosophy and Black World Studies, I am journeying through the early stages of preparation for diocesan priesthood. As of May 2, 2008, I completed my first year at St. Joseph's, and my second year of college (I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a freshman before transferring into seminary).

I give this information to give you a general idea of where these reflections will be headed. That is, though I will try to make them as universal and inclusive as possible, they will almost certainly have a Christian twist to them. In fact, being a seminarian studying in a Roman Catholic seminary, they may even have a Catholic vibe to them. But please, for all of you non-Catholics or non-religious people, don't be thwarted off by this disclaimer. I tend to believe in the "universality" of the Catholic church and that us Catholics are called to live in this world and spread a message of love and hope in a comforting, ready to embrace all our sisters and brothers kind of way.

Having said all of this, if something I write offends, irritates, or confuses any of you, please, by all means, make a comment to the blog and me. Voice concerns, voice opinions, voice love, voice your voice. (All I ask is that respect and open-mindedness stay at the center of this Network). Other than that, let us begin the Summer 2008 installment of the Network of Love!

The title of this post is "Treadmill Theology." As this title implies, the idea for this reflection came about while I was striding on a treadmill. On Saturday afternoon, I had a little energy to burn and PLENTY of time on my hands having just finished two of my most difficult exams the day before. I figured, instead of sitting around my parents house waiting for dinner to start cooking, waiting to watch my parents start dinner, I would stretch my legs out and get a little workout at a local athletic club. After changing in the locker room, I picked my partner in calorie burning crime, a new and really quite odd looking treadmill. About five minutes into the run, I noticed a man who I had spoken to in passing in the locker room took a spot on the treadmill to the right of me. He made a comment to me about his Brewers and might have asked whether or not they were playing this afternoon. I can't quite remember what he said. I think, truth be told, what was running through my head was, I would rather just run and lift weights and then leave instead of being talked to while on a treadmill. However, thankfully I was given the grace to hear the man out for a minute or two. We started conversing about baseball, and I mentioned it was good to see a fellow Milwaukee Brewers fan after living near Wrigley Field (home of the Chicago Cubs) for almost a year. He laughed and asked where I went to college. I explained my situation and that I was in the seminary. Immediately, his face kind of lit up and he started talking about how he had thought about joining the seminary at a younger age while he was living in Puerto Rico, before he had moved to the United States. From all of this, theological talk ensued.

To pause a moment, I think at this point I was happy to be talking to this man, but still a little more concerned with watching the time on the treadmill than talking to my new found friend. But I was getting better. I figured this talk wouldn't go on for much longer and that I'd be able to cut it off after a few more minutes. However, I am really happy that I let it go on for a little longer than that. What my friend Herman had to say to me in the next half an hour was extremely eye opening, inspiring, and touching. He was one of the most heartfelt and emotional speakers I have ever "run" into (pun intended, thank you very much). But in all honesty, this man was alive with the Spirit of his faith, a human and divinely inspired Spirit that in the brief moment of life that I was able to share with him, struck a chord in my inner being.

Herman's theme, as I will call it, for our discussion was how to bridge the gap between the Humanity of Jesus Christ and the Divinity of Jesus Christ. For my Christian brothers and sisters, you all recognize just how complex and difficult this gap really is. The fact that we believe Christ's life to be one of true humanity and true divinity is the cornerstone of our faith. It is also one of the greatest mysteries of this world. I often find myself struggling to wrap my head around such an amazing and profound concept. To think that God would actually take on flesh and walk the earth is to give a lot of responsibility to the human person. It does not, in any way, make us gods, but it does make us intimately closer to God than we ever thought we could be. In a sense, believing that Jesus Christ could seriously be the ultimate sign of love for all of us to capture and live in and through makes us much more prone to fall into the trap of losing humility and to forget about our faults. Herman stressed that we need to realize that we are only human, that we will fall, we will make mistakes, we will go through times of trial. And yet, we must also, if we are truly Christians, realize there is a person who we can draw life from when we are stressed, broken, and losing all hope. To put our trust in Christ and to nail our anxiety and fear onto the cross of Christ, as Herman noted, is to allow the Holy Spirit to fully enter and dwell in our hearts. When the Holy Spirit is our advocate, Christ says all of our prayers will be answered, whether or not we realize they really are being answered.

This is where trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit comes into play. Herman noted that, in all respect to some leaders of the church (he was talking about the Roman Catholic Church, but this could pertain to Christian leaders in general, and, really, leaders in general), they fail to realize that control is not all with them. Some leaders fail to realize that it takes the cooperation and integration of the members of an entire community and---most importantly---a Spirit of service to humbly lead a body of believers closer to the goal in which all members of the group strive to attain. How many times, when we are asked to lead a particular group, do we fully trust the other members of the group to pull their weight? How many times, when we lead a group, do we end up stressed and feeling as if the group is more of a burden than a blessing? I know this sometimes happens to me, and I'm sure that, at times, it happens to many of you. When we lead with sincere desires, we will draw others to follow and, in time, inspire others to lead and map routes we never thought explorable. This reminds me of in the Gospel when Jesus promises his followers that they would be able to build off the work that he started and further what he had begun. "Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these." (Jn 14: 12) Christ lives and breathes our humanity, suffers the death of a criminal, and then rises to the most boundless of heights to the God that watches over all of us. This is what Christians believe and this is what gives Christians a full sense of mission and participation in service to the entire world.

Herman helped me to embrace, in the moment of our treadmilling, the fact that I, as a Christian, believe that God came to this world in the form of a person and left the world forever changed but forever the same. Humanity was and is before and after Christ. But for those who subscribe to the belief that Christ is one part of a three-part God, humanity is forever given a beacon of hope, a light in the darkest of hours. In speaking of the link between God the Creator and Christ the son of God, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit. Herman, as I said before, spoke with impeccable passion about how we have to let the Holy Spirit guide our lives so as to bring us closer to the Divine and thereby bridge the gap between God and people. Referring to the Spirit that would follow his life on earth, Jesus says, "he (the Holy Spirit) will take from what is mine AND DECLARE IT TO YOU" (Jn. 16: 14) WOW! Imagine that, we have the ability to seek the same wisdom that our God has! According to Jesus, the Good Spirit, when we trust in it and work through it with pure and loving motives, can bring us to the ultimate source of life. As St. Paul, a person who found God only through an intense and sudden conversion experience, writes, God "is not far from any one of us." As Herman noted as we concluded our run, finding God comes first with an acceptance that we are not God. After realizing this, we can begin to, using Herman's phrase one more time, "bridge the gap between the Humanity and Divinity of God."

We all have the opportunity to seek and find and grow in love---to ultimately, we pray, find God. Where do we begin to look for something as awesome as the reason for why we live? Might I suggest we use what the Jesuits often encourage us to do (the Jesuits are the religious order who run Loyola University in Chicago), to find God in all things. In other words, do all things "for the greater glory of God." We can do all things for love, or as Blessed Mother Theresa wrote, "do small things with great love." It does not take a monumental epiphany to find God and to serve others. But it does take a realization that there is something larger and more important than ourselves working in this world.

peace and love!

your friend bob spoerl : )

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