O Holy One! O Holy Mystery beyond any word I can speak, O Great Beauty beyond any image I can conceive, O Tremendous Power beyond any experience I can convey, How can we speak of You? You are beyond our knowing, and yet we know that you are with us – and with us so fully that you are nearer to each of us than we are even to ourselves. O God! May I surrender myself to You as fully as You, in your grace, empty Yourself into all Your Creation, just as You empty Yourself through Christ. May this soul, this body, this mouth open to the movement of Your Spirit. Amen
Grace means that God meets us where we are. Grace also means that God does not leave us where we are, but helps us moves beyond that. The reality of this “G” word, who we gesture towards with this “G” word is beyond our understanding … totally beyond, beyond, beyond … But that doesn’t mean that we puny little humans are totally at sea. Thank God.
Grace means that God, you could say, humbles God’s self, to come to us in ways that we can relate to. God is in relationship with us. God is in relationship with and within all Creation. So, when people are available to it God shows them the face of God that they need to see. These faces give people something to see, to relate to, to be drawn into. And it lets people have something to share with each other, to tell each other about, to sing about, to organize our lives around. This is how we as Christians have the idea of the Trinity. The Great Mystery Beyond All Names has come to us in three ways, with three faces: The Creator, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Or, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The Creator: We can be drawn into relationship with God through nature, through the vitality and the rhythms that pulse through the wild, the cycles of life and death and new life, the patterns in the mesmerizing mathematics of the cosmos, the question of the origin of it all.
God as Father, God as Mother is about the God who gave us life … also the God who guides us through life
So God the Creator is also present through moral law – that’s why the Torah – the Laws – revealed to Moses is so important. Our yearnings for a just and peaceful ordering of life together can lead us to a God who is present in human history, a God who is active in people’s struggles for justice and peace.
This moral order also means the ways that our actions have consequences that can hold us to account, the ways that the states of our hearts, the wellness or the illness of our spirits can feed others or poison others, can distance ourselves from God or can draw us closer …
These are aspects of what we call God the Father.
God as Son, God as Christ: This is the most human face of God, God who has come into the human condition, God who is in flesh, God who loves us, who loves with us and suffers with us, God who forgives us, God who challenges us to grow into more loving and humble and courageous people. God comes as Christ to help us with the struggle to be well, to be whole, to be faithful in all that our human lives can bring. In Christ we can see the sacrifice God makes to love us despite the brutality with which humans seek to sever themselves from God. Christ is the way God comes to redeem humanity.
Maybe the biggest way that Christ helps us is to show us that we need not be afraid of death. And so we need not be afraid to live boldly on behalf of what is true and good.
So next is the Holy Spirit. God has come to the faithful and God comes to us as the Holy Spirit.
Now this is more challenging to put into words – which is a good thing. People use the image of wind for the Holy Spirit, or the image of fire. It’s got a very power affect on things but, it’s mysterious.
The Holy Spirit is a great power that moves beyond the physical realm. The Holy Spirit moves us beyond the physical realm. It gives us inspiration, insight. It’s the aspect of God that connects people into community. It flows through people in acts of creation and acts of healing.
The Holy Spirit, I think, is best saved for last, in the Trinity, because of this ecstatic quality to it. It moves us past the bounds of our limited selves, there’s a mystery at work here.
That’s what each facet of the Trinity does, it draws us out and into a deeper relationship with the Mystery of God.
As a matter of fact, the early Christian thinkers who developed this idea of the trinity said that this ecstatic movement is what God is doing through these three manifestations. God empties God’s self into Creation, into Christ, into the Holy Spirit. And the relationship between the three is one of a dance: perichoresis is the old word, which means literally: a round dance, a circle dance. The Father and Son and Holy Spirit whirl together in a circular dance.
That sense of movement is really important, that each of the three leads to the other.
Rev. Dorothy Knudson shared with me her insight after an argument between two people in a bible study: different people are attracted to different parts of the Trinity. There are Creator-God people into nature, or Law-giver/God of justice people. There Christ people, people who are madly in love with Jesus above all else. And there are Holy Spirit people. (Dorothy diagnoses me to be a Holy Spirit person – there’s some truth to that). And that’s all well and good … except when we act like we’ve somehow got a fix on the true nature of God. So we’ve got Creator people arguing with Christ people while Spirit people are off in our little corner all blissed out or something. That’s sad because when we’re stuck in those ruts we’re missing out on the dance between the three parts of the trinity.
One way or the other, we humans tend to get attached to our ideas about God. We can get especially attached when God has actually been present for us in those forms. Wow! You want to tell everybody. You want to share it. You want to sing about it. Of course! We should. But it doesn’t help to force others to be drawn into God in exactly the same way. That’s just not how God works.
So this old wisdom is really important, the wisdom that’s built into the concept of the Trinity. These three primary forms that God assumes for us lead beyond themselves. They draw us in. They draw us out beyond the boundaries of our limited sense of ourselves and other people and the world. They lead us deeper into a relationship with Holy Mystery.
So, let me end with the prayer I opened with:
O Holy One! O Holy Mystery beyond any word I can speak, O Great Beauty beyond any image I can conceive, O Tremendous Power beyond any experience I can convey, You are beyond our knowing, and yet we know that you are with us – and with us so fully that you are nearer to each of us than we are to ourselves. May we surrender ourselves to You as fully as You, in your grace, empty Yourself into all Your Creation, just as You empty Yourself through Christ. May our souls, our bodies, our mouths open to the movement of Your Spirit. Amen
(Readings: John 1: 1-4, 14; Philippians 2:5-7; Psalm 146; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13.) (Bonus blog-post reading: Pseudo-Denys the Areopagite: “We must dare to affirm (for it is the truth) that the Creator of the universe himself, in his beautiful and good yearning towards the universe … is transported outside himself in his providential activities towards all things that have beings … and so is drawn from his transcendent throne above all things to dwell within the heart of all things, through an ecstatic power that is above being and whereby he yet stays within himself.”)
(Delivered June 18, 2017, at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg)
Featured image: “The Cosmic Christ” By Sister Rebecca Hinas