May 29-30, 2010, Most Holy Trinity, Cycle C
At our last GOF gathering session on Prayer and Personal Devotion, we started by reflecting on the fact that, as Catholics, all our praying is Trinitarian in nature. One indication of that is that we start most of our praying using the sign of the cross while saying:
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
But, as with any prayer that we say over and over, we have to be careful that the images and metaphors of the prayer do not get turned into idols. Unfortunately, for most Catholics, that is exactly what has happened to the metaphor of Father, Son, and Spirit when used to reveal the Trinity. Instead of understanding that metaphor as a window to the larger, deeper reality of the nature of God, for many of us, the Trinity IS an old white guy with a long beard, a 30 something Jewish carpenter (with blue eyes and fair skin no less), and a bird.
There is no denying that the idea of a Trinitarian God is mind boggling. It is a mystery that not even Jesus attempted to define or describe. Without it there is no Christianity. Theologian Elizabeth Johnson observes that before Christians could begin to think of Jesus as God, they had to move towards a trinitarian understanding of the God of Israel. They didn't do this by theological speculation but rather by reflecting on their experience and the experience of Jesus. I suggest that we would do well to do the same. What is our experience of God here in this parish of St. Isidore over the past few weeks of baptisms (4 so far and 2 more this weekend), first communions, and confirmations? What is our experience of gathering together to celebrate the Eucharist, to experience Catholic formation at GOF, to volunteer at Cor Unum, and in the various committees and councils here in this parish?
One of the ways that we resist the human tendency to turn living images of God into dead idols, is to use a variety of images, sometimes even contradictory ones, to remind us that no one image or metaphor is the reality. For example, at the song in prayer section of our GOF session two weeks ago, I suggested reflecting on a trinitarian metaphor of Singer, Song, and breath. So the Father is the one who sings creation into being, the Son is the Song the Father sings, and the Spirit is the breath the Father uses to sing the Son. So maybe the next time you make the sign of the cross, pray:
In the name of the Singer, the Song, and the Breath.
Or in the context of this sacrament-loaded May here in our parish, how about this metaphor: The Father is the womb, the Son is the water, and the Spirit is wind or breath. The reality that the image of Father in the familiar metaphor is pointing to is Creation. The Father is the source of all creation and creative action in the world. This was based on good theology but lousy biology. At the time this image was being formed, people thought that the male had the only active role in conception and the female was simply a passive receptor. So womb is a much more evocative symbol of source of creation today. Our experience of being creatures points to the existence of a creator. It is fitting that from early times, the Church has looked at the baptismal font as the womb from which Christians are reborn, as Jesus told Nicodemus.
Water is so critical to the continued existence of life. Water nourishes us, cleanses or renews us, and refreshes us. But it can also flood us, destroy our homes, and drown us, as we were reminded several times by the news this week. That association with death is the primary symbolism of the water of baptism. Being baptized is dying to our false selves so that we might rise to new life in Christ. As we hear in the prayer of blessing over the baptismal waters, God willed that water and blood should flow from Jesus' side on the cross, and this is the birth of the Church.
Wind or air or breath is also critical to life. Without breath, there is no life, there is no song. But, again as we were reminded by the news this week, the wind can be terrifyingly destructive, taking away life. As one commentator put it, what is more calming and peaceful than the rythmic breathing of an infant in its crib. My wife suffers from sleep apneia and I can tell you from personal experience, nothing is less calming or peaceful than listening to the periodic interruption of breathing in the dark and quiet of the night. Experiencing the Spirit requires we use our human capacity to indirectly experience things that cannot be directly experienced. Just like the wind or electricity or gravity, we cannot see the Spirit. The only way we know that wind or electricity or gravity exist is by the effects. The same is true of the Spirit. The next time someone tries to convince you that believing in a God you cannot see is nonsense, ask them to show you electricity, or if it is foolish to believe in it when you cannot see it. Every breath we take reminds us that we are alive. Every time love moves us as we look at, or think of, a spouse or a child or a parent or a friend, we experience the effects of God who IS love.
Our trinitarian understanding of God grew out of the lived experiences of the early Christian community. We share those experiences. And having been blessed with this understanding, everything we know about God and how to live as humans is changed. If God is trinitarian then there is no concept of God without the concept of other. And there is no understanding of other without the requirement for mutuality. If God is trinity and we are made in the image of God, we cannot worship God alone. If God is trinity and we are made in the image of God, we cannot ignore the sufferings of others. If God is trinity and we are made in the image of God, we cannot understand God as judge, and we must understand humans, individually and collectively, as God's delight.
In the name of the Womb, and of the Water, and of the Wind.