Saturday, June 14, 2014

Paths to Trinitarian Life and Prayer

This essay was published nine years ago in the "Proclaiming Gospel  Justice" section of the late lamented magazine The Witness's online version. It remained up on the Web long after the magazine and its A Globe of Witnesses online incarnation ceased publication, until fairly recently.  I found a cached copy of the essay this week and reproduce it here. Thanks again to The Witness and its then Editor, Ethan Vesely-Flad, for offering me the opportunity to reflect on the challenging topic of the Trinity in the light of the scriptures from Year A of the Lectionary.

We are in Year A of the Lectionary again and I am preaching this weekend (in an Episcopal parish south of Boston). I may crib from myself a bit in the sermon... For now, study and prayer!

Andrei Rublev (15th c.), "Trinity"


 Paths to Trinitarian Life and Prayer
 
by Jane Carol Redmont

 
Friday, May 20, 2005

The Witness
Lectionary Reflections for Trinity Sunday (A)
 

Readings for Trinity Sunday, Year A, May 22, 2005

  • Genesis 1:1 - 2:4a
  • Psalm 8 (or Psalm 150)
  • 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
  • Matthew 28:16-20

 
Most of the preachers I know think of Trinity Sunday as Preacher's Nightmare Day. How to keep the sermon from degenerating into a doctrinal lecture? How to do justice to such a complex and vital doctrine in twelve minutes -- or even twenty? What is the connection with the scriptures? Why is the doctrine celebrating God's dynamic and relational self so easy to freeze or to ossify? What has the Trinity to do with the sufferings of our world? And where does any of this leave, lead, or involve the people of God, the true celebrants of this feast? (Preachers are only there to help open a few windows.)

Dorothee Soelle, the German theologian, poet, activist and mystic who died just two years ago, often wrote of how difficult she found it to speak about God.

Equally often, she quoted the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart's saying that God is "that which is most communicable."

This day's feast reminds me of both her statements.

It reminds me also that Soelle once wrote "We can only speak about God when we speak to God."






It matters how we understand the ecology of God. We need the insights of icons and books, of ecofeminist and Orthodox Christians, of scientists in dialogue with theologians and ethicists.


These words are one of our windows for the day: one of the major paths to understanding the mystery of the Holy Trinity goes through prayer.

I say this not to avoid doctrinal discussion (well, perhaps just a little) since our understandings and formulations of God do matter. They matter to us as a Christian community, and perhaps more importantly, they matter to the broken world in which we live and to its healing. It is interesting (and, I think, no accident) that in recent ecumenical conversations, in fresh theological reflection in both Eastern and Western Christian traditions, and in the work of ecofeminist theologians from the North and the South (Ivone Gebara of Brazil comes first to mind) a renewed understanding of God as Trinity has gone hand in hand with increased attention to God's creation: attention to the environment, to the interdependence of earth, waters, skies and the sentient creatures who dwell there, attention to the impact upon them of human decisions, institutions, and societies. It matters how we understand the ecology of God.

We need the insights of icons and books, of ecofeminist and Orthodox Christians, of scientists in dialogue with theologians and ethicists. And nothing can replace the time that this kind of reflection requires nor our commitment to this mindful exploration.

But at some point, sooner rather than later, we need to hear and speak the poetry of God's mystery. And we will need, at some point, to do so in the second person, "you," speaking to God.

The feast of the Trinity is the gate through which we pass into the long season of the Spirit-filled year. God is alive. God is present. We have just spent the season of Easter remembering and proclaiming this reality, and at Pentecost last week we prayed it with particular intensity, remembering the multiplicity of human experience. Let not the celebration of Trinity, in its honoring of speech about God, lose its speech to God.

So to God we turn, today, even if we see only fragments, or through a glass darkly.

When God is "you," we can plead, argue, listen, fall silent. We can praise or lament. And we can gaze -- at creation in nature, at icons, at the faces of those we love and those we do not love enough.

This contemplation is not of and for the few. The Holy One who is also Multiplicity, and who remains One, is "that which is most communicable." We are not, with this God into whose life Jesus has invited us, in the domain of the spiritually privileged. "We are all mystics," Soelle reminds us.




Take the risk of speaking to God, of approaching or letting yourself be approached, in the boldness of the Spirit and the terror of these times. Alone, or, as this Sunday, in a praying community. In song, in silence, in poetry, in gesture.




Take the risk of speaking to God, of approaching or letting yourself be approached, in the boldness of the Spirit and the terror of these times. Alone, or, as this Sunday, in a praying community. In song, in silence, in poetry, in gesture.

Amos Wilder, the biblical scholar (brother of Thornton Wilder, the playwright and novelist) wrote nearly thirty years ago:

It is at the level of the imagination that the fateful issues of our new world-experience must first be mastered. It is here that culture and history are broken, and here that the church is polarized. Old words do not reach across the new gulfs, and it is only in vision and oracle that we can chart the unknown and new-name the creatures.

Before the message there must be the visions, before the sermon the hymn, before the prose the poem.

The scriptures today do not offer us a formula. They offer us vision, imagination, paths into Trinitarian life and prayer.

"Hallelujah! Praise God with timbrel and dance and strings and pipe." Hear and read and sing the Psalm. Hear it anew. ["Praise God and Dance" from Duke Ellington's Second Sacred Concert, which premiered at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1968, is a setting of Psalm 150.] Engage in that praise, directly, with cymbals and trumpet and and voice.

Today's Epistle is doubtless in the lectionary because it is one of the few places in which an explicitly Trinitarian greeting appears. But notice other words from this letter to the church at Corinth. "Do you not realize that Christ is in you?" "Do what is right." "Live in peace." What invitations come with the Trinitarian blessing?

Read and hear the words from Genesis both dramatically and reverently: stars, sky, earth, swarms of living creatures, waters of the sea, fish and human creatures, and -- hear, O busy, overscheduled ones -- God's sabbath rest, and the earth's, and ours. What response will we give to this when we go forth into all the nations?

Pray the feast. Let the feast live in the people of God.

1 comment:

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