The Dance of Trinity

Today’s Scriptures all point to the Trinity, even though the word itself isn’t in the Bible.

Genesis 1:1-2:4    Six centuries before Jesus was born, an unknown poet-priest imagined God at the beginning of time: hovering over the void, creating life out of chaos.  Sun, moon, and stars are born; the earth is formed, with its mountains and seas; plants spring up, animals begin to roam the earth, and human beings are created.   When we read this particular verse (Genesis 1:26), we hear God saying that we are made in the divine image – but we often fail to notice that God is speaking in the plural voice: Let us make humankind in our image.  Here, in the first chapter of the Bible, is the God of Trinity.

1 Corinthians 12:1-13:13  In the first century, St. Paul used a powerful metaphor to describe the church – he called it the body of Christ, where each member of the body contributes to the life of the whole.  But there’s another metaphor in this passage, a metaphor which may be even more helpful to us as we try to understand the Trinity: Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries, but the same Lord; and there are different energies, but the same God, operating in everything.  The Greek word Paul used was energeia  (which is the root for our own word “energy”).  Paul can use the metaphor of the body, and speak of the divine energy that flows through it, because the Corinthians are already experiencing the energy of God’s Spirit moving through them.  This passage ends with its most famous sentence and its major point:  Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)   The word for this energeia, in every language, is Love; and the Christian word for the energeia of Love is Trinity. 

The early church:  By the fourth century, Eastern theologians had found another metaphor to describe how God’s energy works: perichoresis  (a word we can loosely translate as “circling around”, and the root for our own word, “choreography”).   If you ever saw the movie, “Zorba the Greek”, you’ve seen a perichoresis because modern Greeks still use the same word for their ancient folk dance.  In perichoresis the dancers join hands and move in a circle, stepping faster and faster as the music speeds up –  until, watching from the sidelines, by-standers can no longer see individual dancers, only the moving energy of the whole circle.  Searching for a metaphor to describe God’s nature and activity, the Eastern theologians looked at perichoresis and said, “That’s what the Trinity is like.”

The Trinity is a harmonious set of relationships bound together by the energy of love.  But the Trinity is not consumed by its own life and relationships; Trinity moves in the world, and acts on the world, sharing its energy with the world.  So look again – within this relationship of love within the embrace of Creator, Spirit and Jesus –  there is more room.  There is space for everyone, even for a whole cosmos. No one needs to be on the sidelines of the Trinity – all are invited to join the dance.

There’s room for all of us here….

Everyone who has ever loved someone knows this dance of love.  Whenever we love, whoever we love – whether a baby, a parent; a beloved friend, a spouse; a neighbor or co-worker – we are connecting deeply with that person.  We share our life’s energy with them; we dance alongside them.   And often, when we love, our love becomes so deep and so full that it spills over into the lives of our families and friends, and they dance along with us.   Whenever we truly love, we invite new people into the dance.  That’s perichoresis, and that’s how the Trinity works.

Come join the dance!

There’s an Episcopal Church in San Francisco that feels in many ways like a Greek church, and it has a Greek name – Sr. Gregory of Nyssa.

St. Gregory’s is never empty.  Around its upper walls of St. Gregory’s there is a parade of saints, each participating in the never-ending dance.  These saints come from every century of the church.
 http://www.saintgregorys.org/saints-by-name.html

On Sundays at St. Gregory’s we find the congregation, today’s dancing saints, circling the altar as they worship. These saints come from every part of San Francisco, and beyond.
 http://www.saintgregorys.org/

On Fridays at St. Gregory’s we find members of the congregation again, now circling the altar to distribute food to the neighborhood.

  http://www.saintgregorys.org/videos.html

What a powerful demonstration of God’s love for all – and what a powerful metaphor for the God of Trinity!

But you don’t have to go to San Francisco to join this dance. The dancing God of Trinity is found wherever there are communities of people joined together in the dance of love, moving together, using the energy of love for peace, harmony, and justice.

The dancing God of Trinity leads us to pour out our love for each other, just as the Creator, Son and Spirit share their mutual love.   When the God of Trinity leads us in the dance, every member of the community has equal worth and equal place. No one is left out, and others are always invited in.

If God is a dancing community, so is St. Benedict’s, Los Osos!  The dancing God of Trinity –  joyful, dynamic, interactive, sharing, loving, serving –   provides the model for our own dance.   Every Sunday we come together to practice perichoresis.  When Sunday’s music comes to an end, we are sent forth to dance in the world –  to bring healing and hope to others, and to invite others to join the dance.

So once again, as we do every Sunday, let’s join the dance of Trinity:

Come, join the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun –
the interweaving of the Three: Creator, Spirit, Son.
The universe of space and time did not arise by chance,
but as the Three, in love and hope, made room within their dance.

Come, see the face of Trinity, new-born in Bethlehem;
then bloodied by a crown of thorns outside Jerusalem.
The dance of Trinity is meant for human flesh and bone;
when fear confines the dance in death, God rolls away the stone.

Come, speak aloud of Trinity, as wind and tongues of flame
set people free at Pentecost to tell the Savior’s name.
We know the yoke of sin and death, our necks have worn it smooth;
go tell the world of weight and woe that we are free to move!

Within the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun,
we sing the praises of the Three: Creator, Spirit, Son.
Let voices rise and interweave, by love and hope set free,
to shape in song this joy, this life: the dance of Trinity.

Text: Richard Leach, 2001  Music: Kingsfold

To hear the music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQ55zGuti04

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

     

Walking the Way of the Spirit


The road through Death Valley

The First Sunday in Lent – March 5, 2017

Last Sunday, we stood on the mountain of the Transfiguration, looking ahead to the light of Easter.  This Sunday, we are standing with Jesus in the desert, looking ahead to Pentecost…

But why Pentecost?  It’s still three months away!  

On Pentecost we’ll remember how the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ disciples. There they were, gathered in the upper room, waiting as Jesus had told them to do.  But they felt abandoned and they were afraid.  They were afraid that Jesus was never coming back.  But suddenly the Spirit came upon each of them –  reassuring them that Jesus was still with them, and giving them courage for the future. (see Acts 2:1-4)

Did you think that they remembered Pentecost because it was such an exciting spiritual experience?  I don’t think so –  they remembered it because they knew that Jesus, the man they had known so well, was now present through the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has Jesus’ personality, which points constantly to a compassionate and loving God.  (In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is even called “the Spirit of Jesus”. See Acts 16:7)  

That Spirit would now work through the disciples, by pointing the way forward.  Even today, the same Spirit who pulled Jesus into the desert, who filled the disciples with courage,  is pulling us into the future.

The God of Relationship

The God of Relationship, the God of compassion is also the God of Becoming, the God of dynamic change, who is calling us to become  co-creators of the future.

Can we  – you and I – really help create the future?   On Maundy Thursday we’ll remember the Last Supper, when Jesus began to tell his disciples about the coming Spirit. And he said to the disciples (who didn’t believe it any more than we can believe it about ourselves), “Because of the Spirit, you will do greater things than I…”  (see John 14:12)

How the magnet works:

In his book, The God of Becoming and Relationship, Rabbi Bradley Artson tries to explain how prayer works.  He remembers when he was a very little boy, playing in the field behind his house.  He’d take his magnet out in his pocket, sit down on the ground and begin to run his magnet through the dirt.  All the bits of iron, that were resting in the soil, unseen by human eyes, began to cling to the magnet.  The magnet took on a “tail” of filings, each of which was being oriented internally to the pull of the magnet.

For Rabbi Artson, this is what happens whenever we pray: God is pulling us forward, the Spirit is shaping us internally, and we are being pointed towards God.  Process Theology calls this pull the “lure” –  God calling us forward, into acts of love, compassion, and justice.

Lures in the desert:

Fish swimming in a river look up and see food floating above them.  But not all the “lures” above them are actually healthy food.  Some of the “lures” have been cast there by fishermen, hoping to catch their own dinner.

The Spirit “lured” Jesus into the desert.  We might even say, as Mark’s Gospel tells us, that the Spirit “drove” – or even propelled – Jesus.  That’s the same Spirit that came to the disciples on Pentecost!  (See Mark 1:12). 

But there were other “lures”.  the Tempter also “lured” Jesus in the desert, with offers of bread to satisfy his hunger, political power over the world, and spiritual power that would draw all eyes to him.

How did Jesus resist the Tempter?  His life had already been shaped by the faith passed on to him by his parents, by his village synagogue, and by his reading of Scripture.  Notice how Jesus responds to each of the Tempter’s offerings: he quotes Scripture:

We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Do not put the Lord your God to the test. (Deuteronomy 6:16)

Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God. (Deuteronomy 6:13)

Now, in addition to his faith and his Scriptures, Jesus is also being guided by the Spirit, who takes him to the desert to show him the direction God has for him.

With faith, Scripture, Spirit, Jesus knew the direction towards God – and he knew when he was being “lured” in the wrong direction.

There are lures all around us:  We are called forward by God, and we are also tempted –  how will we know which “lure” to choose?   We need the ”magnet” – to be lured, pulled, and shaped by the Spirit

So many choices, so many “lures”

Do you know about the “lures”on your smart phone?  First, make sure that your screen – with all its attractive “apps” –  is on; and make sure that your sound is off!

Then look at all those choices before you:

  • You could play Solitaire…
  • You could look at Facebook…
  • You could text a friend…
  • You could surf the net…
  • You could turn on your timer to see how long this sermon is going to last….
  • Or, tomorrow morning around 5 a.m., you could use your cell phone to send out your latest “tweet” – so all the world will be talking about you, and glory and honor will abound for you all day long.

Did you know you have a compass on your phone?

  • Find your compass…
  • Now find “North”….
  • Now imagine that “North” points you to Jesus…
  • Now imagine that this “app” will lead you through Lent and all the way to Pentecost.

There are “lures” all around us

Last night I was explaining this wonderful sermon illustration to my husband Rob, who was looking at me with that look I’ve known for more than 60 years – which says, “You’re off base, but I’m too polite to say so.”

But humoring me, Rob looked at his compass – and suddenly he found that his “North” wasn’t pointing in exactly the same direction as my “North.”  Now he was interested –  depending on where he was standing in the room, “North” was swinging back and forth.

What was going on?

Whenever Rob came near something metal the compass wavered.  And when he came near the iron étagère, his compass really started swinging…. And he finally told me, “Well, cell phone compasses are notoriously unreliable!”

Rob’s right – a cell phone compass is not the most reliable way to find “North”, and we couldn’t use a cell phone compass in a desert where there’s no service.

Fortunately, we don’t need modern technology to walk the Way of Jesus – we only need what Jesus had:

  • the scriptures,
  • a faith community,
  • and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Walking the Road of Lent

A Pathway into the Presence of God
The Sunday of the Transfiguration: February 26, 2017

Today we find ourselves on the Mount of the Transfiguration, looking at Jesus standing in the blazing light of God.

From this mountain, from this light, Jesus will walk all the way to Jerusalem, where the cross awaits him.  Beyond that cross another blazing light, the light of Easter, waits for Jesus – and for us.

But to get to that light, to get to Easter, we’ll have to walk the same road Jesus walks.

On Sundays, the road of Lent will bring us stories of disciples – not the familiar disciples like Peter, James and John,  but others who met Jesus along his way: a man born blind, a Samaritan woman, Nicodemus the teacher, Martha and Mary of Bethany.  The Gospels tell us that each of them, when they met Jesus, asked the same question we ask when we meet Jesus for the first time:

“Who is this man Jesus, and do I want to follow him?”

On weekdays, the road of Lent can lead us into a world shaped by different values – the values lived and taught by Jesus.  These steps were originally outlined by St. Benedict in the 6th century, and adapted by Sr. Joan Chittister in the 20th century.  Following these steps brings the answer to another question Christians always ask:

“How can I learn to live like Jesus?”

Over the centuries, St. Benedict’s steps have been a pathway into the Presence of God for millions of Christians.  Even today, as we practice each new step, we will feel the Spirit of God gradually re-shaping our lives, and eventually leading us to our own Easters.


On to Step 1:
Contemplation through Prayer

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 1


Contemplation through Prayer

St. Benedict teaches: prayer is a state of mind.

Sister Joan Chittister teaches *

Prayer is putting on of the mind of Christ, so that we can learn to see the world as God sees the world.

Prayer is more than reciting private prayers, more than participating in community prayer, more than asking God for things – even the good things we hope for ourselves and others.

Benedictine prayer is not designed to change God’s mind.  Prayer is meant to change us – to open us to the in-breaking of the Spirit in our lives, to stretch us beyond our own agendas to take on the compassionate heart of Christ.

Prayer is not only for consolation and courage, it is for challenge as well, helping us recognize that since life is infused with the Divine, we are capable being stretched –  with God’s help.

What simple practice has helped you “put on the mind of Christ” ?

What new practice may help you go further ?


On to step 2:
Contemplation through Lectio…

 

 *   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).

 

 

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 2

   Contemplation through Lectio

St. Benedict teaches: Scripture forms us in the mind of Christ.

Sister Joan Chittister teaches: *

Lectio  (the reflective reading of a sacred text) gives us a pathway into Scripture, and regular lectio teaches us how to see the world through God’s eyes.

In lectio, we can meet…

  • the boy Samuel (see 1 Samuel 3) and realize that God has been calling us, too…
  • the girl Mary (see Luke 1) and realize that we, too, can find the courage to say ‘yes’ to God..
  • the first disciples (see John 1), and find that we, too, want to know ‘where Jesus lives’.

Read a passage slowly, silently or aloud (Benedict himself would have read it aloud).  Take a few minutes for silent reflection, and identify the words or phrases that draw your attention.

Read the passage slowly a second time, and listen to the text again.  Ask yourself, “How does this story speak to my life today?”

Read the passage a third time, and once again listen to the story.  Then ask yourself, “What do I believe God wants me to be…or do? Is God inviting me to change in any way?”

Conclude with prayer (not a prayer of words, but a time of remaining open to the Spirit who has spoken to you through the Scripture).   Make a record of the thoughts, images, and insights that came in your time of prayer.

Our society is anxious and restless, fearful and angry – but we can learn to be contemplative.  In the midst of chaos, if we build the Jesus-life in our own souls, if the Scripture is in our hearts, if we are faithful to lectio, we can see where God is: everywhere.

 

If you keep a lectio journal – and review your notes from time to time –
you will being to see where the Spirit of God is leading you.


On to Step 3:
Community…

 

 

 *   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).

 

 

Walking the road of Lent – Step 3

  Community

St. Benedict teaches:  life in community keeps us on the path.

Sister Joan Chittister teaches: *

Our society is profoundly individualistic – but we can learn to live in community.  Community is the place where we can work together to create a just a gentle world.

Life in a spiritual community calls us to walk with each other, hold each other up, and bear with each other. In community, we encourage each other on our common journey.

In community, we learn to step back to make room for the needs and gifts of others.  Life in community means that others will see our weaknesses, but also welcome our gifts.

In  community, we can discover the effect of a spoiled ozone layer on everyone else – and then work to save others as well as ourselves. In  community, we can see the evils of sexism, with its unnatural limitations on both women and men – and then work to move the community toward genuine equality. In community we see the lie of over-zealous  patriotism – and then can work to make our own nation more kind.

Community is always the place where we can work together to create a just and gentle world.

What is your true spiritual community?

 What does your community give you?  What do you give to it?


On to step 4:
Humility…

 

*   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 4

   Humility

St. Benedict teaches: life in community requires humility. 

Sister Joan Chittister teaches: *

Our society ranks people by the power they hold – but we can learn to live by the Gospel.

The Gospel tells us that arrogance is destructive of the human spirit.  Humility calls us to let God be God in our personal lives, and so to take our proper place among all the creatures of the earth.

Humility says that we must all learn

  • to listen and to hear…
  • to negotiate rather than to force…
  • to trust rather than to terrorize…

Where do we practice humility?

  • in our faith communities…
  • in our neighborhoods…
  • in our nations..
  • in the world around us, with all its creatures…

 

What practice could help you get away from “me” –

so you could open yourself more fully to others?


On to step 5:
Mindfulness….

 

 

*   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).

 

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 5

   Mindfulness

St. Benedict teaches: mindfulness helps us live in the “Now”. 

Sister Joan Chittister teaches:  *

Our society drains our energies – but we can learn to be mindful. We practice mindfulness whenever

  • we become aware of what is around us,
  • we become conscious of little things and their beauty,
  • we are touched by quiet things and their power.

When we practice living in the “now” we can gain a new perspective on life: yesterday loses its hold on us, and tomorrow loses its allure.

Mindfulness not only calms the storms of life, it gives us back the energy that endless worry and constant calculation drain away.   Mindfulness concentrates what has become scattered and brings us home to ourselves.

 

What helps you live in the “Now”?


On to step 6:
Balance and Simplicity…

 

 *   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 6

  Balance and Simplicity

St. Benedict teaches: simplicity brings balance in a non-stop world.

Sister Joan Chittister teaches: *

As we live with 24-hour workdays, an unending flow of information, and nonstop busy-ness, the Rule of Benedict mandates the measured life.

Our society is complex and confusing – but we can learn to be simple:

  • we can refuse to have one thing more than we need…
  • we can refuse to keep anything we are not using…
  • we can give one thing away for every one thing we receive…
  • we can reverence creation.

We can learn to balance our days, weeks, months, and years:

  • through prayer and lectio…
  • through work and leisure…
  • through solitude and community.

Balance and simplicity can bring us back into the presence and peace of God.

 

 

What do you need to let go of to bring more balance to your life?

On to Step 7:
Obedient Listening….

 *   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 7

Obedient Listening

St. Benedict teaches: listening leads to critical discernment.

Sister Joan Chittister teaches:

Whenever we are overwhelmed by the messages our culture sends, obedient listening helps us filter those messages through Gospel channels and the voice of Jesus.

Obedient listening evaluates everything , not in the light of what is good for me, but in the light of what is good for all of us.

Obedient listening brings the standards of the Gospel to the issues of our times.

 

 

What are the “standards of the Gospel” for you? 

 How can you filter the media through those Gospel standards?

 


On to Step 8:
Stewardship of the Earth…

 

For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister, OSB.
Harper San Francisco, 1990