Trinity Sunday, 2018
I think that one of the hardest questions to ask from the pulpit – or from the pews for that matter – is this: How’s your spiritual life working for you?
I suppose it must be true that, in some form or another, this question is as old as the language of spirit itself, and the challenge, therefore, is not exclusive to this, the post-Enlightenment Age, where we human beings tend to find the most helpful resonances in our ability to reason and in empirical evidence. We live in an age where factuality has come to assume primacy of place when considering the nature of truth. It’s tempting to try and locate this kind of quandary of spirit in linear time, which, in itself, might be leaning too heavily upon reason.
So. Welcome to Trinity Sunday, where we will focus on the Spirit. And, hopefully, in some freeing ways.
How is our spiritual life? How do you find our efforts, as a community, toward deepening spiritual consciousness? Does what we do here together genuinely help improve conscious contact with God? And then – and here’s the hard part – do you have a tangible response? One that you can readily articulate?
Are we showing you the way? Are we discussing the right things? Are we helping you to find the right patterns that can help make positive impact in your lives. And, perhaps even more significant, are they the kinds of patterns that can help you make a difference in the world? Do you feel better about the challenges in your life? Your job search? Your sick mother-in-law? Your child who is struggling in school? Your boss who just won’t let up or even think about offering even a small affirmation of your work? How about the environment? Or political landscape architecture?
The challenges are mounting. They grow exponentially, every day.
The enemy (and I strongly resist use of this word, but bear with me) the enemy is developing techniques and devices every day that are designed to give you a completely different story – the story that you are a victim and you can do nothing about it. That the only answer is somewhere outside yourself. The answer lies in better government. Better, more responsible business practices. More recognition from somewhere, something or someone whose approval I crave.
From this question of how your spiritual life is going – from the springboard that it represents – I’m craving to connect with you. I want you to be able to “come out” – to find a way of expressing, “…yes, Fr. Ed, this is working and here’s how…” – or, “…no, this is not working and I don’t have an answer, but I feel moved/invited/impelled by what is being said or not said, to speak and to join in the expression of the kind of living that wants so much to happen in and around communities like ours.”
How about, “I’m doing ok, Fr. Ed, but I’d like to do better…”.
I’m interested – and I know Liz is too – in hearing from you what options YOU think would be worth exploring.
Meantime, let’s talk a bit more about how to try and make some progress. Because, while epiphanies are amazing, I don’t know that we’re immovably bound to wait for them.
As we noted, it’s Trinity Sunday. I find myself interested in this doctrine today – in this moment – I’m feeling that the doctrine of the Trinity can almost be expressed in one word – communication.
Godhead, Christ and Spirit all in this flowy, dance-like rhythm of constant reflection and communication. And how that manifests in us, begs the question of whether we experience the Trinity only in the mind, or whether it has to do with how I know God in myself, AND how that knowledge makes an impact on my communication with you individually or in groups, AND how I then move into the world in the name of God’s loving purpose.
This may begin, then, with each of us finding the permission to be open to communication in ways that allowing the Spirit to enter in and not only inform me, but move me into the world bearing that Spirit.
How is your spiritual life working?
Do you ever find yourself looking for a way to satisfy that voice inside we pointed to a moment ago – that voice that wonders if we can’t do better somehow? Do you have permission to express your doubts and fears – it is, I suspect, the very rare person who has none.
A moment ago we took a fleeting glance at the notion that the enemy is always at work – always developing devices to grab us in deep, emotion-centered places. Trying to make us afraid. And very often doing so in ways that suggest very strongly – or pronounce, even – that we are victims.
There are powerful forces at work in this world. Throughout history such powers and principalities have very intentionally sought to make us and keep us afraid. This is because, when we’re afraid, a powerful change happens in our brains, which has the impact of making our vision – our awareness – become narrowed. And when our vision is narrowed, we can lose, almost entirely, our ability to focus on anything other than that which we have come to fear.
The reason I said I resist speaking in terms of the enemy is, in great part, because such language suggests a binary arrangement. There is me and there is the enemy.
The enemy has taken steps to disempower me by making me afraid.
There’s an interesting example of this that has arisen out of our film program. We show these documentary films on social justice. I’ve come to learn that documentary filmmakers, like anyone interested in promoting their work, seek to stimulate their viewers. It’s not that the content is not worth knowing, but I’ve watched not only the films over the past few years, but also the audience. Our emotions become engaged, and the risk can be high that our responses spiral into a kind of darkness where energies are spent on righteous anger and resentment. There is a seductiveness about it. I’ve just sat through 60-90 minutes of becoming more aware of just how bad things are, and when I express my frustration and resentment, there’s an emotional payoff of sorts, but it very often goes nowhere. I’ve just been told for an hour that I’m a victim – a victim of the politics around gun violence, the economy, systemic racial injustice, climate change, the separation of immigrant children from their families – you name it. And so I am now thoroughly engaged in the deeply intimate and all too consuming dance of enemy and victim. Of conflict.
I share this as a means of illustrating how the victim/enemy construct is one example of a binary arrangement. And how it’s very much in keeping with the worldliness of the world we live in. Ours is, in many ways, a binary world. Either or. Black or white. Right or wrong. Left or right. Positive or negative. And for a long long time, male or female.
The enemy is developing devices every day.
How’s your spiritual life?
It’s not just in response to social justice documentary films that we can become thoroughly engaged in the binary dance of conflict. What about those challenges in your life? Your job search? Your sick mother-in-law? Your child who is struggling in school? Your boss who just won’t let up?
How’s your spiritual life going in relation to these?
Is your answer, “…I’m doing ok, Fr. Ed, but I think I’d like to do better…”?
What we’ve done in our film program is make concerted effort, as some of you are aware, to be prepared to offer our churned up viewers, not just a safe place to express their concerns, but to also have some tools available to help us all figure out what to do about the matter. Sometimes it’s all about “doing”. We try to offer information as to how each and every one present can get involved with efforts local, national or global toward positive change. But this is hard. It can be discouraging to only have in your hands, month after month, the names and contact information to “your legislators”. Sometimes someone present has specific information about other hands-on-helps that need strengthening, but regularizing the putting together of that information is both time and labor intensive.
It begins with the opening of the energetic door that allows the presence of the spirit-of-acts-of-loving-kindness to enter, ala Mother Liz’s suggestion.
I suspect the same is true no matter the binary conflict.
When we are able to take a break from the conflict long enough to allow for what we Christians might call “the hand of God”, we very often make way for what 12-steppers might call “solutions we didn’t know existed”.
When I’m wrapped up in a struggle, my natural, human inclination is to try to wrest control. I clench, spiritually. That’s also very much in keeping with the worldly world we live in. Trying harder is always the answer.
Which is not to say we can just coast and let God or the energetic world progress unattended to. We have the gift of volition and its use is necessary if we are to flourish in the worldly world – the world I like to call the horizontal plane – where we must become proficient in navigating things like physical matter and linear time. But as we travel the horizontal plane, we sometimes encounter conflict. Authentic or inauthentic. Of our own making, or that which has been thrust upon us, by forces external to us, as a device to keep us distracted or steal our energies. It’s when we encounter such conflict that maybe, just maybe, we have come upon that place where the horizontal plane and the vertical plane intersect. The vertical plane being the point of entry of the Spirit.
What happens when we’re able to stop expending our energies – our spirit, if you will – on the conflicts of our lives?
What happens when we stop and make room for a third element, making the dance one of victim, enemy and spirit? Now it is me, the illness, the loss, the anxiety and uncertainty, the un-affirming boss AND God.
OK, that’s pretty good, but it’s still not quite there yet.
A classic interpretation of the Trinity uses what Wittgenstein would have called picture-thinking. Godhead, Christ and Spirit are all in constant motion together – like a dance of three. In constant communication and interrelated reflection and guidance.
It’s the constant movement that puts legs on how we might better understand what is a classically nebulous doctrine.
How do I bring the spirit into the mix? I’ve opened up lines of communication, with energetic forces, enough to help me realize that I must stop putting all my energy into a conflict. I’m now no longer trapped in a binary system. Now what?
If the Trinity is, on some level, constant movement, how about I try moving. Not so much in reaction or even response to the conflict. Not moving my home, or changing my job or stuff like that. But movement that bears traces of the presence of that sprit I’ve just made room for.
If Jesus said, “upon these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” – the two commandments being to love God, neighbor and self, in perhaps another flowy, dance-like rhythm of constant reflection and communication – yes, another image of the Trinity – I wonder if it’s safe to assume that even something like the doctrine of the Trinity is subject to that which guides all the law and the prophets.
So, then, do I get up and do something? Do I do something that will serve God, neighbor and self? Do I take Jesus’ words seriously? When he speaks of loving God neighbor and self, the original vernacular – 1st century Aramaic – he uses a form of the word “love” that equates with “acts of loving kindness”. And will that be what beautifully and energetically lifts me out of the mire of my all too limited, binary arrangement I find myself tossing my energy toward?
How IS your spiritual life?
The Rev. Edwin Chinery
May 27, 2018