Song of Songs

“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away…the winter is past…the time of singing has come!”  (Song of Songs 2:10-12)

Tomorrow, Ashley and I leave for Virginia, where we will commence our Honeymoon Road Trip through Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. We will be visiting friends and family in the area as well as St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Whitemarsh PA, where I will be guest preaching. I love the fact that the lectionary readings for this Sunday include a portion of the great love poem, the Song of Songs, the same portion that was read at our wedding more than a year ago. I was initially hoping to preach on this biblical love poem myself, but when I realized that I would be away, I asked the Rev. Dr. Arthur Holder to preach in my stead. He has taught graduate-level courses and translated ancient commentaries on this mystical text, so you are all in for a real treat. The biblical poem has been a major source of inspiration for artists and mystics over the centuries, including my favorite artist Marc Chagall, who painted a series of pieces on the Song of Songs (including the one above). I encourage you to read it before Sunday – it’s only 8 short chapters. Perhaps the Song of Songs will inspire you to create something new, holy and beautiful.

Letting Go of a Violent God

Does anyone happen to recall the first message proclaimed to the neighborhood on our beautiful new message board, after of course the “God Bless Our New Message Board” announcement? What was the first message Paula wrote? She wrote, “The God you don’t believe in doesn’t exist.” A very provocative statement. What does it mean? I think it means that the juvenile understandings of God which we learned and absorbed growing up and which many of us have come to reject are actually understandings of God that are worth rejecting; understandings that we would be wise to lay aside as we grow up and mature. You know that bearded, white-skinned, robed deity sitting on a throne in the clouds that you no longer believe in? Well, that’s good because that God doesn’t exist. Or perhaps I should say, that God image falls drastically short in conveying the infinite God who is beyond all understanding. Much of the spiritual journey involves letting go of our old and limited understandings of God and reaching out for new and wider understandings as we make new discoveries and have new experiences. In fact, I think one of the main differences between atheists and mature believers is that mature believers, who often reject the same God whom atheists reject, have reached out for a new understanding of God that makes more sense with reality and their experiences; while atheists tend to say, “Well, since that god I learned about in Sunday School doesn’t exist there must be no god at all.” Atheists throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak; while mature believers keep the baby while constantly replenishing the bathwater.

And forgive me for extending this metaphor, but some of that bathwater can get pretty nasty and that baby won’t get clean; that baby will get sick. What I mean is that our belief in God needs to be informed by mature and sophisticated understandings of God; otherwise, our faith will become unhealthy and sick and we will be part of a toxic religion.

Our story from the Hebrew Bible this morning, which is one of the most powerful and disturbing stories in the entire Bible and perhaps in all of western literature, recounts the spiritual journey of Abraham who lays aside an old understanding of God and reaches out for a new one, just as he lays down his sacrificial knife and reaches out for the ram in the thicket.

Abraham held an understanding of God which he learned and absorbed from his family, his parents, his culture and his neighbors in the ancient Near East. We have ancient Near Eastern textual references to the practice of human sacrifice and specifically child sacrifice. These texts imply an understanding of God as a deity who demanded that innocent blood be shed, a deity that required his followers to demonstrate their devotion by sacrificing that which was most precious to them. And what is more precious to a parent than a child? Anyone who may have participated in human sacrifice in the ancient Near East, including Abraham, would be someone who believed in a God that doesn’t exist. And thanks be to God that that God doesn’t exist.

We as Christians know that that bloodthirsty god doesn’t exist because God revealed himself to us fully as a vulnerable, non-violent human being who died on a cross not to satisfy a bloodthirsty deity – God didn’t kill Jesus—but rather to satisfy a bloodthirsty humanity. In Christ, God says to us very clearly that whenever and wherever there is religious and political violence—violence done in the name of God—that the God revealed in Christ is on the side of the victim, not on the side of the perpetrator. This realization comes to Abraham as an angel and then Abraham sees in the eyes of his beloved son Isaac, a new understanding of God. He realizes that God is not the violent and bloodthirsty deity; we are. God is the self-giving victim who lays down his life in order to free us from our addiction to violence.

Now we may be thinking that we are not addicted to violence and hopefully that is true, but we live in a world that clearly is addicted to violence. And we are all connected to and, in some ways, complicit in systems and social structures that continue to violently oppress and victimize vulnerable people. We are all probably somewhat horrified by this story of Abraham almost sacrificing his son Isaac, wondering how could someone even consider committing such a heinous act? And yet before we judge him, let us consider how many Isaacs have been sacrificed for us, for us to enjoy the many benefits we take for granted. When I read this story, I also wonder, ‘Where was Sarah, Isaac’s mother? What was she doing? Why didn’t she try to stop Abraham? Did she not know what was going on? If so, does her ignorance excuse her?’ Does our ignorance excuse us? Our ignorance of the many young innocent lives that have been sacrificed for us, for this country? In a couple days, we will celebrate our nation’s independence from an oppressive English monarchy and we know that many young Isaacs were sacrificed on the altar of the very freedom we enjoy today. And we honor them, we acknowledge Christ in them and in the many sacrifices of our nation’s founding fathers. And yet don’t we also lament? Lament the fact that so many innocent people had to die as a result of humanity’s addiction to violence? Don’t we lament with the psalmist who asks, “How long? How long? How long must violence triumph?”

We lament the fact that we are still addicted to violence and that many of us still understand God to be a very violent and bloodthirsty deity. Many Christians believe this. Many Christians in positions of great political power believe this. How long must this violent theology triumph?

Our Genesis reading this morning invites us to lay aside our old understandings of God as a violent deity, to lay them aside as Abraham laid down his sacrificial knife, to “lay down our sword and shield” in the words of the African-American spiritual, “down by the riverside.”

And as we hopefully do lay down our sword and shield and let go of our old understandings of God, I wonder what new understandings and images of God we are being invited to pull out of the thicket of our sacred Scriptures and our life experience. The God image that I have been pulling out with you at this pulpit ever since the Feast of the Ascension is the perichoresis: the circle dance of the Triune God; the same circle gathering that embraced Abraham and Sarah and then bubbled up within them as a giddy, joyful, and communal laughter and which gave birth to a baby boy named “laughter”: Yitzhak, Isaac, the very same boy that Abraham was about to sacrifice before he laid down his old understanding of a violent God. And it’s in Isaac, I see an invitation for all of us to pull out a new and life-giving understanding of God.

And I’m not alone in this. Out of all the characters in Genesis, the one character whom the early Christians thought pointed to Christ most clearly was Isaac. And although Isaac appears to be very passive in the biblical text, the Jewish rabbis described him as deeply pious and prayerful. Isaac would often meditate and pray and walk with God in the evenings. There’s even a Jewish myth of him studying Torah with his great grandparents in Heaven. And also, according to the Jewish rabbis, Isaac was not a young boy when he was bound to the altar by his father Abraham. Based on a close reading of the text, the rabbis conclude that Isaac was 37 years old when his very elderly father Abraham tried to sacrifice him. So just try to imagine a man who is over a hundred years old trying to bind a 37-year-old man with ropes to an altar. Since an elderly Abraham would not be able to overpower his 37-year-old son, the rabbis suggest that Isaac realized what was going on and instead of running away or even fighting back, he actually offered himself as the sacrificial victim. Now why would he do that? I don’t think he would do it because he was masochistic or suicidal or naïve to pain and suffering. If Isaac was indeed a man who spent decades in prayer, laughing and dancing with his God, then I like to think that he already held a mature understanding of God as one who is always on the side of vulnerable victims and always vindicating them, even when those victims appear to be at death’s door. I like to think that Isaac was so deeply rooted in the radical vivaciousness of God that he could stare death in the face and laugh, knowing that God would ultimately protect him and vindicate him, even if he were to die. Christian existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who wrote a whole book on this story of the sacrifice of Isaac called Fear and Trembling, said, “The only intelligent tactical response to life’s horror (death, violence, bloodshed) is to laugh defiantly at it.” That’s exactly what I imagine Isaac doing, Isaac whose name means “laughter.”

This idea of Isaac having an understanding of God that gave him the courage to laugh in the face of death is an idea that I see expressed most beautifully in a painting by a Russian Jewish artist named Marc Chagall. I got to see the original painting at the Marc Chagall museum in Nice, France. And I brought a photograph to share with you that shows how huge the painting is because I’m standing right next to it. And if you look closely at Isaac’s face, which is upside down, you see two things: he is smiling and he is winking. He is winking at us, as if to say, “I am so confident in the loving vivaciousness of my God that I don’t even need to fear death, even at the hands of my father.” In Isaac’s wink, I see the God revealed in Jesus Christ, who could also stare down death and the grave and then re-emerge laughing. And Isaac’s wink invites me and us to continue letting go of our violent god images and to keep pulling out of the thicket of our Scriptures and of our lives the radical vivaciousness of God that can empower us to face death and violence and all the other wages of sin because we are participating in God’s free gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. And that is a God we can believe in because, my brothers and sisters, that God does exist.

The Binding of Isaac

My favorite artist is the 20th century Russian Jewish artist Marc Chagall; and I’m grateful that I have had the opportunity to visit the Musée Marc Chagall in Nice, France twice. The last time I visited, I asked Ashley to take a picture of me by one of his works, partly to show how enormous his paintings are. This painting, which is from a series called Message Biblique, portrays the Binding of Isaac or the Akedah (which is Hebrew for “Binding”). It is one of the most powerful, challenging and disturbing stories in the entire Bible and perhaps in all of Western literature in which Abraham is called by God to sacrifice his beloved son Issac. And I get to preach on it this Sunday! Yipee! Marc Chagall’s painting has been helping me ruminate prayerfully on this text for a while and I’m looking forward to hearing what the Spirit will speak through me about the Akedah this Sunday (:

After this Sunday, you will get to hear the Rev. Dr. Arthur Holder preach on the Song of Songs (the great love poem of the Bible that also inspired several Chagall paintings) and then a sermon from Br. Jude from the Society of St. Francis while I’m away on vacation for the next two Sundays, traveling through New York, where I will hopefully be able to view some more Chagall paintings at the Met.

Moving into Ordinary Time

After basking in the glory of the Resurrected Son during the seven weeks of Easter and then teeming with the creative power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and then most recently laughing and dancing with the Triune God during Pentecost tide, we now move into what is called “Ordinary Time.” This is a time when we are invited to see the presence of God in our everyday, ordinary lives; and I can’t imagine a better way to move into this time together than by discussing something as ordinary as bread. This Sunday, the Rev. Elizabeth DeRuff will be our guest preacher and she will talk to us about the holiness inherent in growing wheat and making ordinary bread, which we together make sacred every Sunday at the altar, through the power of the Spirit. The question for us to consider is: would we like to grow wheat on the property of Redeemer, wheat which we could then give to our excellent bread bakers (Joan and Carol Ann) to make into our Communion Bread? How amazing and wonderful would that be? Think about it. Pray about it. And just as God asked us Sarah in our reading from last Sunday, so I ask us, “Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?” (Genesis  18:14).

Upcoming Guests

Upcoming Guests

As a sacred space for sharing diverse views, it makes sense for Redeemer to routinely host guest speakers and preachers; and summer is a perfect time for this! Mark your calendars so that you don’t miss the following brilliant guests!

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The Rev. Elizabeth DeRuff

On Sunday June 25, Elizabeth will be our guest preacher. She is the President and Chair of Honoré Farm and Mill, a public charity focused on restoring vitality to wheat and the land upon which it grows. She also works as an Agricultural Chaplain, launching The Farm to Altar Table Project and Staff of Life Flour. If you are interested in baking Communion Bread and/or in growing wheat for Communion Bread (perhaps even at Redeemer), then come hear her preach and get to know her!

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The Rev. Dr. Arthur Holder

On Sunday July 9, Arthur Holder will preside and preach on the world’s first great love poem: the Song of Songs. Dr. Holder served on the faculty at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and then served as the Dean of the Graduate Theological Union. He is a medieval scholar, a professor of Christian Spirituality, and one of my favorite priests. My only regret is that I won’t be here to hear him preach, so I’m hoping someone can record him.

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Br. Jude Hill

On Sunday July 16, Franciscan friar Jude Hill will preside and preach. Br. Jude is a Jungian Analyst who also works for the San Francisco Night Ministry as a Night Minister on the streets from 10pm – 4am. He is also an associate priest at the Church of the Advent of Christ the King in San Francisco and in his spare time repairs and restores old clocks. When I asked him to visit, he said, “I’d love to come. Probably a few of us will. We travel as a pack!  One of us will preach and I’m happy to celebrate. Love the people at Redeemer.”

The Sound of One God Laughing

The Trinity is not so much a concept that we can explain as much as it is an experience in which we can participate. Every moment of every day we are invited to become part of the Trinitarian flow and to join in the perichoresis, which means what? Circle Dance! One of the most famous icons in Church History depicts this circle gathering of the Triune God. The icon is generally attributed to the 15th century Russian artist Andrei Rublev. The three persons are not so much dancing as they are sitting and gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes around a table. The Father is on the left, dressed in gold, representing heavenly perfection. The Son, in the middle, is clothed in blue, the color of divinity, and brown, the color of the earth, and is holding out two fingers representing the divinity and humanity that coexist in him. On the right is the Spirit, draped in green, representing fertility and fecundity. The 12th century female mystic Hildegard of Bingen expressed the healing power of the Spirit in plants and vegetation, by using the word veriditas, a poetic combination of the Latin words for “green” and “truth.”

If you look at the front of the table, you see a rectangular hole. “Art historians say that the remaining glue on the original icon (which is in Moscow) indicates that there was perhaps once a mirror glued to the front of the table,” inviting the observer to join the circle. We are invited to sit at the table with the Trinity, as beloved sons and daughters, as brothers and sisters of Christ. We are invited to be nourished and refreshed and transformed by sitting and resting in this circle of love. I sometimes like to imagine the three of them all turning their gaze towards me and you with tender love, bringing us into their fold and transforming us into one of them, because they see the divine in us. They see themselves in you and me.

For some of us, this might feel wonderful as well as slightly awkward. Sometimes we can feel somewhat uncomfortable when someone gazes at us for a long time, especially someone we might not know too well. We might even find it challenging to gaze for several minutes into the eyes of someone that we do know well. We might get a little uneasy and want to look away and maybe we laugh nervously. Or when it comes to imagining the Triune God gazing at us in love, we might even laugh in disbelief at the idea that we are inherently lovable, that the divine dwells within us, that God wants to make Godself known in us and through us.

This laughter of disbelief is similar to Sarah’s laughter in our reading from Genesis; a laughter of disbelief in the radical and seemingly impossible love and fecundity of God, laughter in response to something profoundly absurd, in response to a promise that does not make sense and that refuses to remain confined by our limited knowledge of reality.  Like the Trinity, many of the promises of God are not so much concepts to be explained as they are experiences in which we are invited to participate through faith.

Another name for Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity is The Hospitality of Abraham. This scene portrays the three visitors whom Abraham hosts by the Oaks of Mamre: the three angels that prefigure the three-personed God. As the text says, Abraham stands beside them, under the Mamre tree, waiting on them as a generous host to his guests. But the visitors invite him into their circle by engaging him in conversation. They ask, “Where is your wife, Sarah?” thus inviting her into the circle as well.

In Sarah, they see a generous, loving and powerful woman in whom they seek to channel and embody their divine power. As they enjoy the delicious cakes that Sarah made in record time, they promise that Sarah will soon be a mother and not just any mother, but the mother of the whole nation of Israel. How could she, an elderly woman, not laugh in disbelief at such an absurd statement? It would be like me saying that Church of the Redeemer will soon become the biggest church in the diocese. [Yeah, right.] The three-personed God says to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”

When you gaze at this icon and imagine God gazing back at you in love, what promises do you hear him say to you? Are they hard to believe? Do they make you laugh? If so, I ask you, “Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”

Sarah is so endearing to me as she seems so embarrassed about her laughter that she denies laughing at all. And God says to her, “Oh yes, you did laugh.” But in these words I do not hear judgement or condemnation. I don’t hear God saying, “Guess what? You can’t lie to me. I’m God. I know everything. You laughed.” I hear God doing something that he often does in the Hebrew Bible and that is play with words. In fact, this whole passage can be seen as one long pun on the word “laughter.” I hear God saying to Sarah, “Oh yes, you did laugh. And I’m going to teach you the true meaning of laughter. I am going to convert that laughter of disbelief and isolation into a laughter of communal joy and delight and ecstasy. I am going to teach you about the laughter that flows eternally within the divine circle dance.” 14th century German mystic Meister Eckhart wrote these words:

Do you want to know

What goes on in the core of the Trinity?

I will tell you.

In the core of the Trinity

The Father laughs

And gives birth to the Son.

The Son laughs back at the Father

And gives birth to the Spirit.

The whole Trinity laughs

And gives birth to us.[1]

 

Sarah no longer tried to understand or explain God’s impossible promise. Instead, she stepped into the circle dance and experienced the laughter that flows endlessly between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. “God has brought laughter for me,” she says, “Everyone who hears will laugh with me.” We all know the difference between laughing at someone and laughing with someone. Here that difference is underscored in the text, which describes Sarah as initially laughing to herself, in isolation, in disbelief, in resistance to the promise. After her encounter with the Triune God, she laughs with everyone, everyone who knows her and hears about her. Her God-given laughter deepens and expands her community. And just as the Holy Trinity laughs and gives birth to us, as Meister Eckhart says, so too does Sarah laugh and give birth to her son, Isaac, Yitzhak, whose name in Hebrew means, “laughter.” God-given laughter brings new life while deepening and widening the community.

Scientists who have studied laughter have concluded that the main reason we laugh is actually not in response to jokes or comedy. Only about 10% of our laughter is in response to jokes. The rest of our laughter comes from interacting in a seemingly mundane way with those whom we love and whom we feel loved by. We laugh at each other’s beautiful and vulnerable humanity. This communal laughter is the God-given laughter that Sarah experienced, the laughter of the Trinitarian flow, the divine circle dance. The laughter we experience when we see a friend whom we haven’t seen for a while.

Former Episcopal Priest Alan Watts said, “A priest once quoted to me the Roman saying that a religion is dead when the priests laugh at each other across the altar. I always laugh at the altar, be it Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist, because real religion is the transformation of anxiety into laughter.”[2] Real religion is about reconnecting with God and participating in the Trinity, who transforms our anxious, isolated, and nervous laughter of disbelief into the fruitful and joyful laughter of the beloved community, the kingdom of God. This is what Jesus called his disciples to proclaim in Matthew’s Gospel and what Paul boasts about in his letter to the Romans: this open invitation to participate in the divine circle dance. It is true that many may respond to this invitation with disbelief and condescension. In some ways, we are still indeed sheep among wolves. But the invitation remains for everyone to have their laughter of derision converted into the laughter of the dancing Triune God.  “In the core of the Trinity, The Father laughs And gives birth to the Son. The Son laughs back at the Father And gives birth to the Spirit. The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us.” As we experience holy and Trinitarian laughter together here, what will we give birth to? Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?

[1] Matthew Fox, trans. and ed., Meditations with Meister Eckhart (Rochester VT: Bear and Company, 1983), 129.

[2] Alan Watts, In My Own Way: An Autobiography (New World Library: Novato CA, 1972), 57.

Perichoresis?

Perichoresis?

Do you remember what it means? It is the Greek word that I have referenced in my last three sermons. It is the word and image used by the Cappadocian (Cappa-doh-sh-ian) Fathers of the 4th century to describe the Trinity. It means “Circle Dance.” There is an Episcopal church in San Francisco that actually incorporates a circle dance into the Eucharistic liturgy. Appropriately, this church is named after one of the Cappadocian Fathers: St. Gregory of Nyssa. Perhaps someday we can perform a circle dance together on our outdoor prayer labyrinth. In the mean time, we will continue to form a circle around our indoor altar and participate in the Trinity through the power of the Holy Spirit, who makes us all sons and daughters of the Father. We will continue reflecting on the inexhuastible mystery of the Trinity this Sunday in the last of a series of sermons that I like to call the “Circle Dance Sermons.

Experiencing the Trinity at Standing Rock

Back in November, I had an experience that made me think, “This is exactly where I am called to be and what I am called to do right now as a priest.” It was not celebrating Eucharist or hearing confession or even serving the poor. It was the experience of participating in a dance. The night before Carol Ann and I and hundreds of other clergy stood in solidarity with the water protectors at Standing Rock ND, I stood by the sacred fire and listened to the “rumbling thunder sound” of the drums being played at the Oceti Sakowin camp. Nicholas Black Elk, who was a Lakota medicine man and Christian mystic, said, “The voice of the drum is an offering to the Spirit of the World. Its sound arouses the mind and makes [us] feel the mystery and power of things.” I remember feeling the mystery and power of things while hearing those drums pulse through my body, compelling me to move and to dance. In Black Elk’s words, “my legs seemed to be full of ants.”[1] Other people there also felt this pulse and began to organically and vulnerably reach out their hands to one another as we formed a dance circle that revolved around the fire. I specifically remember watching the smoke rise to the bright Dakota stars while my body moved naturally (and yet sometimes clumsily) to what felt like the heartbeat of the earth, or even the heartbeat of God.

I felt like I was fulfilling my call as a priest in that circle dance almost more than anywhere else. I initially thought that maybe it was a somewhat patronizing and condescending sentiment in which I felt that I, a privileged white male priest, was representing the church’s affirmation of Native American rights and indigenous spirituality, but I’ve come to realize it was something deeper than that. I felt deeply connected and even related to the Lakota Sioux through the bodily sharing of this earthy heartbeat. There is indeed something very powerful about being part of a prayerful and playful circle dance.

I reflected on this circle dance when I later read the words of Nicholas Black Elk who spoke about the spiritual significance of circles for Native Americans. He said, “You have noticed everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round […] The sky is round […] the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a [human] is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.”[2] Black Elk then lamented the fact that the Wasichus (us) had placed most of the Lakota in square boxes, much to the detriment of their spiritual growth and thriving.

I share this experience with you today, Trinity Sunday, because it is the mystery of the Trinity that invites us to let go of our tendencies to put God in our little boxes. In our tradition, it is the mystery of the Trinity that invites to dance and play and allow ourselves to be moved by the mighty drumbeat of God’s pulsating heart. The mystery of the Trinity invites us all to be poets and mystics as we reach for colorful metaphors that can help deepen and expand our understanding of the infinite God. I am sure you have heard many metaphors for the Trinity. Some of my favorites are water, which is one substance that can manifest in three forms: solid, liquid or gas. Or there is the metaphor of the egg, which contains the egg yolk, the egg white and the egg shell and yet is all one egg. Then there is of course the three-leafed shamrock, which St. Patrick used to explain the Trinity to the Celts back in the fifth century. All of these metaphors are limited, but I trust the creativity and the playfulness behind them. What are some other metaphors that you’ve used to understand and explain the Trinity?

What is the metaphor for the Trinity that I have mentioned in my last two sermons? It is the same metaphor that I felt I embodied with others at Standing Rock around the sacred fire: the metaphor of the perichoresis: the circle dance. In the fourth century, a group of theologians called the Cappadocian Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Basil of Ceasarea, Gregory of Nazianzus and a woman named Macrina the Younger) described the Trinity using the image of a dance. They refused to put the Triune God in a box. Instead, they put God in a circle.

And this is significant because with this circle image, we do not necessarily emphasize or hierarchize one person of the Trinity over another. Rather the circle image emphasizes the relationship between the persons of the Trinity. And that might be the most important message of this greatest of mysteries: that God is Relationship. God is the love that flows between persons or even between entities in the great cosmic dance of all that exists. Atomic scientists and astrophysicists are discovering this power of relationship in subatomic particles and in stars, in quasars and in quarks. The atom is “most simply understood as the orbiting structure of three particles—proton, electron and neutron—in constant interplay with one another” (Rohr, 70), three particles in a kind of perichoresis, a kind of circle dance. And do you know where atomic scientists say that the power of the atomic bomb is found in the atom? Do you think it is found in the proton? The electron? The neutron? The power is not in any one of them alone but rather in “the interaction between them,” the relationship.[3] That is the source of nuclear power, which can change everything. It is no mere coincidence that Robert Oppenheimer named the final stage and site of the detonation of the atom bomb Trinity.[4]

God is the relationship that flows eternally like an endless waterwheel between absolute self-giving and receiving. Other faith traditions describe God as loving. We do too but the mystery of the Trinity pushes us a step further to identify God as Love itself. God is the love that exists within community. That’s why we talk about God being present here among us right now. Where there is love, there is God. And Christ’s promised presence in the bread and wine of the Eucharist is given to us so that we might train ourselves to see the presence of God, to feel the perichoretic pulse, in all loving relationships.

Part of why I think I felt like I was truly living into my call as a priest in the circle dance at Standing Rock is because I felt I was embodying with others the perichoresis, I was part of the dance. And that is the point of the Trinity. It is not so much a concept that we can explain. Metaphors are helpful and fun, but the Trinity as a theological and philosophical concept quickly becomes gobbledygook whenever we try to explain it and put God in a box with our limited language that can only capture the foam on the surface of life. The Trinity is not so much a concept that we can explain but an experience in which we can participate.

Cistercian author Carl McColman writes, “As members of the mystical body, Christians actually partake in the divine nature of the Trinity. We do not merely watch the dance, we dance the dance. We join hands with Christ and the Spirit flows through us and between us and our feet move always in the loving embrace of the Father. In that we are members of the mystical body of Christ, we see the joyful love of the Father through the eyes of the Son. And with every breath, we breathe the Holy Spirit.”[5]

We participate in the perichoresis whenever we gather here in love, in prayer, in reverence and thanksgiving for the sacraments. We are invited to feel the Trinitarian flow and the perichoretic pulse, which is more powerful than anything in the universe because it is the Source of the everything in the universe. It is the Source of “the Big Bang” or the “Let there be Light” moment that brought all creation into existence. It is the Source of the exploding power within atoms. That is why author Annie Dillard says, “On the whole, I do not find Christians […] sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT…. we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For… God may draw us out to where we can never return.”[6] That is the perichoretic pulse. Will we let it beat within you and move us to dance with the Triune God? To dance as a part of the Triune God? To dance as the Triune God? This might sound heretical, but this is deeply orthodox. We are invited to experience, participate in and eventually become the Trinity.

But how? I want to briefly offer one practice and then invite you all to ask three questions altogether, questions you may have about the Trinity or about what I have just said.

The practice is an ancient one that goes back to probably the fourth century, around the time of the Cappadocian Fathers. It is the practice of making the sign of the cross, which we often do throughout our worship. We begin at the head, saying “In the Name of the Father.” And although we begin at the head, our first move is to get out of our heads and into our bodies, where we can experience the perichoretic pulse more powerfully. We go down to our belly, our solar plexus and that is where we say, “and the Son,” the embodied one. And last Sunday, I explained that we cross ourselves when we receive the asperges in order to remind ourselves that we are Christ’s. And what I meant by that is that we are Christ’s own, we belong to Christ. But the other meaning of what I said is equally true: We are Christs, in the plural. We are anointed ones. That’s etymologically the meaning of “Christian.” We are all “little Christs.” We are called to embody the Source of love.  And then we move to our left shoulder and sweep across our chest saying “and the Holy Spirit.” And I then often like to end at the heart, thus integrating the trinity of the mind, the body and the heart. By doing this, we our blessing ourselves and implanting in our muscle memory the connection between the vertical and the horizontal, our vertical relationship with God is connected to our horizontal relationship with others. It is by being part of the circle that we become part of God and it is by being part of God that we become part of the circle. So let’s try: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”[7]

[1] John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks: The Complete Edition (Bison Books: Lincoln NE, 2014), 151.

[2] Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, 121.

[3] Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (New Kensington PA: Whitaker House, 2016), 72.

[4] Rohr and Morrell, The Divine Dance, 70.

[5] Lay Cistercian and teacher Carl McColman, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism: The Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality (Newburyport MA: Hampton Roads, 2010), 165-166. Cited by Rohr and Morrell, 64.

[6] Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 52-53.

[7] Rohr and Morrell, The Divine Dance, 105-106,199-201.

The Trinitarian Flow

Last Sunday was such a joy! I particularly enjoyed the presence of so many children and even a doggy. I’ve been reading Richard Rohr’s new book on the Trinity and he talks about how naturally children and dogs exhibit what he calls the Trinitarian flow. He writes, “Children and dogs are filled with natural hope and expectation that their smile will be returned. They tend to make direct eye contact, looking right into you, just grinning away. This is pure being. This is uninhibited flow. Surely, this is why Jesus told us to be like children. There is nothing stopping the pure flow in a child or a dog, and that’s why any of us who have an ounce of eros, humanity or love in us are defenseless against such unguarded presence. You can only with great effort resist kissing a wide-eyed baby or petting an earnest dog. You want to pull them to yourself with love because they are, for a moment—forgive me—  “God”! (Rohr, The Divine Dance, 81). Learn more about the Trinitarian Flow this Sunday, which is Trinity Sunday.