Before the book, before the best sellers list (I wish!), before the publisher, before the manuscript, before the research, the reading, the deep thinking, and re-thinking, before proverbial pen is ever set to paper, there is a question. Sometimes just an inkling of a question, an intellectual tickle at the back of your mind that won’t go away. What if…? What might…? How do…?
For most who pick up a book (or open its less-enticing alter ego, an e-book), they have little idea of the behind-the-scenes orchestration and sometimes machinations that go on before those questions emerge as published answers. So, at the risk of revealing that the Great Oz is merely an academic with unbridled curiosity, I am going to pull back the shroud that too often obscures the process of intellectual thinking, writing, and publishing. I’m not so much giving away the (Ph.D.) family secrets as attempting to be transparent about the process. Before the book.
Why? Because I am at my core first and foremost a teacher. A teacher who happens to have a doctorate. So, a teacher who is also obliged to research, write, and publish. But first, the teaching. I have the privilege of helping form women and men for ministry in our church and for our world. I walk with them as they endeavor to exegete, interpret, and actualize the biblical text. And in that process, I hold to two values: transparency and collaboration. I hope to show my students how I came up with an insight—the method behind the interpretation—not just the answer at the end. And I hope to engage in the process with their input. After all, the principles of Catholic Biblical Interpretation uphold the role the community plays in coming to meaning (Pontifical Biblical Commission, Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, III.B.3.) And so, we take Ezekiel 3:3 and Revelation 10:10 to heart and chew on the text. Together.
This blog is an attempt to be public about those two values: transparency and collaboration in the research and pondering of the question. Before the book.
So the question: Where’s Jesus? Actually, I’ve had similar musings but the actual out-louding of the question came from two of my own Sisters. Our congregation held a virtual assembly to explore the concepts of the New Cosmology. As the presenters introduced the breadth of this engagement with science and evolutionary theory, these two Sisters asked, “Where’s Jesus? What role does Jesus play in the New Cosmology?” And in that moment, their questions became mine.
And so I began the pondering that led to this research project generously funded by the Louisville Institute. In summary, my project is attempting to answer the question, “Where’s Jesus?” “Why is that even a question?” you rightly ask. Well, chiefly, because my Sunday School notions of Jesus are no longer adequate. And the findings of science and theology urge a deeper dive into how that question might be answered in the 21st century. For all Christians, but I’m chiefly focused on Women Religious or Catholic Sisters.
Women Religious (Catholic Sisters) are on the forefront of advocating for and engaging with the New Cosmology, which embraces creation as an on-going process but for which concepts like “original sin” and “redemption” are irrelevant (at least according to some who articulate the New Cosmology). Yet these same women have taken public vows that align them with their congregations and the institutional Church and thus with Scripture and Tradition.
The question arises: Is there room for the historical Jesus – and not just the Cosmic Christ – in the New Cosmology? And how might these Women Religious embrace the New Cosmology while also remaining faithful to their original commitments? How do the ideas of the New Cosmology bring new depth, richness, and nuance to our vowed Christian commitment, and how does our vowed Christian commitment take on new meaning given this perspective? Where are the points of confluence and where are the points of tension? This project proposes to do a critical review of the relevant literature, to survey Women Religious, and to invite their participation in a process of creating a new hermeneutic through which to read Scripture in light of emerging science and the New Cosmology.
So there it is. The question at the heart of it all. Where’s Jesus? And along the way to an answer, I invite your thoughtful responses in the comments section. Periodically, either my research assistant, Sr. Rhonda Miska, O.P. or I will offer our reflections on what we’re reading and learning. We invite you to join us.
A note to commentators: I am a Catholic Christian scholar for whom the Gospel directs not only my teaching, but my actions and hopefully my speech. I look forward to your insights, and I ask that in the spirit of Christian charity and courteous discourse you write with love and civility. Hateful or vitriolic speak has no place in thoughtful dialogue.
“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29).
Professor of New Testament Studies
Catholic Theological Union