Published on 04 Jun 2012
Trinity Sunday – June 3, 2012
The Rev. Dixie Black
Christ Church Cathedral
Click Here to listen to an audio MP3 of the sermon
God for us, we call You Father/Mother/Creator,
God along side us, we call You Jesus,
God within us, we call You Holy Spirit.
You are the Eternal Mystery
that enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
even us, and even me.
Every name falls short of your
Goodness and Greatness.
We can only see who You are in what is.
We ask for such perfect seeing.
As it was in the beginning, is now,
and ever shall be.
~ adaptation of Richard Rohr,“Trinity Prayer”
I was attending a Conference on Addiction and Recovery in the late 1980’s when someone asked the presenter how the Christian idea of the Trinity fit into the spirituality of AA. She thought for a moment and replied, “hmmm, we have a single father, no mother in sight, his son and their pet bird. Sounds like a typical dysfunctional family to me.”
Mind you, we were seeing dysfunction everywhere in those days.
That may not be how we would interpret the Trinity, but I think she got the significance of the relationships. The Trinity is not merely an idea to be grasped but a mystery to be experienced and a relationship to be entered into.
The triune God is the paradigm of all relationships, human and divine. The divine ‘persons’ of Father/Mother, Son and Holy Spirit exist in a relationship of diversity, equality, mutuality, uniqueness, and interdependence. Our Isaiah reading speaks of God’s relationship and mutuality with us in the prophet’s vision of the Lord and in the verse “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here I am, send me.”
Our gospel reading from John shows us what Christ desires most for us to grasp is the love of God: the love that sent Christ into the world to show us the face of God; the love that guides us and calls us; the love that invites us to enter into relationship with the God who abides in mystery yet is present with us in the midst of everyday life; the love that infuses us and invites us into new life.
We profess our belief in this trinitarian God every week in the creeds. And as Anglicans, how do we live into this triune spirituality? I’d like to suggest it is through our relationships; our relationships with ourselves, with God and and with others, or on a larger scale, with the world.
Let’s begin with our relationship with ourselves. St. Teresa, in the first chapter of her classic work, The Interior Castle, puts it very well, and in a way that speaks to our current culture of obsession with the perfect body image. She says:
“It is a shame and unfortunate that through our own fault we don’t understand ourselves or know who we are. Wouldn’t it show great ignorance, my daughters, if someone when asked who she was didn’t know, and didn’t know her father or mother or from what country she came? …if this would be so extremely stupid, we are incomparably more so when we do not strive to know who we are, but limit ourselves to considering only… these bodies. Because we have heard and because faith tells us so, we know we have souls. But we seldom consider the precious things that can be found in this soul, or who dwells within it, or its high value. Consequently, little effort is made to preserve its beauty. All our attention is taken up… with these bodies of ours.”
She says we neglect our soul. So how do we know this soul?
Through attention to our inner lives; our thoughts, emotions and feeling sensations. Through paying attention to how we speak to ourselves; is it with kindness, compassion and understanding, or is it with condemnation and judgement? What are our fears? What do our dreams reveal about ourselves, our souls? Do we relate to the world with empowerment, knowing that we can affect our experience by what we say and do? Or do we feel victimized; that if we trust ourselves, or anyone else, or any circumstances that open to us, we will be hurt yet again?
We know our souls by listening to the wisdom of our wounds, hurts, joys and successes. It is not just the facts of what we encounter in our lives, but how we interpret them to ourselves that shapes our self-image.
Our self-image is connected to our God-image. Janet Ruffing, a scholar in Christian spirituality and a senior Spiritual Directors says it like this:
“Automatically, our self-image sets up a correlative image-pair with who God is to us, whether explicit or not. (meaning whether we are aware of it or not)…Development, change, or growth in one’s self-image is a psychological prerequisite not only for a positively construed relationship with God, but also for the radical mutuality with God that Jesus mediates for us.”
Our relationship with ourselves matters.
This brings us to the second aspect of the trinity of relationships: our relationship with God. In the Isaiah reading and in today’s gospel of John, we learn God’s relationship to us is one of mutuality and love.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” tells us of the depth of God’s love for us; a love greater than the love we would feel about our own precious children in language that we would understand.
“so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” This is available to us all. It is up to us to open to God’s offer of eternal life, to open ourselves to the realm of a spiritual reality; to be “born of the spirit” and let go of the grasp of the “flesh” or the material world. There is a mutuality here; God offers, we accept, or not.
Mutuality requires intimacy. It’s important to note here that intensity is not intimacy as in our current culture of fast, fast, now, now, intensity is often mistaken for intimacy.
Janet Ruffing again explains it very well:
“Intimacy with God, like intimacy with significant others in our lives, is characterized by being and expressing one’s self while in the presence of one who is important to us. When intimate self-disclosure is mutual, both partners reveal themselves and receive the other without fusion or flight. A greater stability of loving connection thus becomes possible. For such intimacy to develop, however, feelings of inequality, either related to power or desire for one another, must eventually be overcome.”
Intimacy and power cannot coexist in a healthy, growing relationship.
I like how Mary Oliver expresses this love and mutuality in her poem Wild Geese:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
This last verse of the gospel brings us to the third aspect of the trinity of relationship; our relationship with other, with the world. In deepening our relationship with ourselves; in accepting our experience of life in this world, and in understanding what we decided about ourselves based on that experience, we have more capacity to express compassion and forgiveness toward ourselves and others. We are more able to see how connected we are to other people, other beings, animal, mineral and plant. We are not separate; what affects any other part of God’s world affects us and what affects us affects all. Ultimately, there is no Other.
Circling back to the Isaiah text even provides a way forward: openness to God leads to both self-transcendence—the recognition of something greater than our self—and agency—the recognition that we are responsible people. When that greater something is God, then the call to responsibility is to incarnate the Spirit whenever, wherever, and however we can. Because we believe, we act, and because we act, we contribute to the saving of the world.
I’d like to close with a Celtic prayer of blessing for Trinity Sunday:
Let us pray..
In this new season
may you know
the presence of the God
who dwells within your days,
the mystery of the Christ
who drenches you in love,
the blessing of the Spirit
who bears you into life anew.
Kavanaugh, K. and Rodriguez, O., The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Vol. 2, 1980.
Ruffing, Janet; Spiritual Direction: Beyond the Beginnings, 2000.
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