The end of another week has come here in Leuven. For me, it is also the end of an intense yet enlightening experience. For the past two weeks I have been in German class for 8 hours a day, and probably studying it for 4 hours each day on top of that. Dropping oneself into a foreign language course in a foreign land is not something I would really recommend. In fact, I don’t know if I could do it again. I am satisfied with the amount of German I learned; but it certainly was not easy. However, I believe that God had a little more in mind for me from this class than just learning German. This is usually the way He seems to operate with me.
The real gift of the class for me was the other students. It was the first time in a long time that I found myself around such a variety of people, with different ages, backgrounds, areas of study and well, personalities. There was one young woman studying Classical Greek and Latin, who even wanted to be able to speak Latin herself (which is fascinating because for all intents and purposes it is a dead language---of course she would disagree!). There was another young man majoring in physics, who could wax eloquently about the most abstruse and esoteric problems like he was speaking poetry (it brought me back to my days of mathematics). There was also a pilot, who midweek left the class because his airline needed someone to fly to southern Africa somewhere. And there were two philosophers: one just finishing up her degree and another just beginning. There was also an architect who loved to talk about acoustics, a soon-to-be doctor, a research biologist and a young historian who practiced Medieval Marshal Arts (that means real big swords and stuff like knights used to use!). Then you had the ole priest, me.
When we had pauses during the class we would talk about cultural differences, we would engage each other’s subject matter, we would philosophize, and with the guidance of a few Belgian hops (mostly after class), we would even try to solve some of the world’s problems. What struck me the most in the midst of these exchanges was that this is perhaps how the best theology can be done. In the midst of God’s people: some believing, others never having heard of God, and even others professing belief in no God at all. And in the midst of varying levels and areas of expertise, where science and language and history and faith could all intersect, agree, disagree, stimulate and even bore, but each could have its own place and yet each could be intimately connected to the other.
I am not one who believes that knowledge should ever be judged solely on its usefulness and practicality. Certainly people have to work and an education is helpful in securing a job. But I believe that education and knowledge, and for me especially theology, touches the soul, changes a person, and is as much a journey to the depths of the heart as are relationships and faith. And it seems to me that the best way to allow knowledge to affect one’s soul is not simply to have each faculty and subject isolated and restricted to its own place. But rather, to have them intersect, communicate, dialogue, challenge and enhance each other. I suppose it is much like the people of my German class did for me. So I say thanks to my German class members as yet another week passes here in Leuven. Thanks for touching my heart. Thanks for a good first two weeks.