June 11, 2017 – Trinity Sunday
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)
There is a place of still waters I like to go to. I found it on the banks of the Deschutes River in Oregon when I was about 10 or twelve. My family was camping beside the river on the Warm Springs Reservation. That stretch of the river was known for its trout fishing. Dad and I loved fishing, but he was a fanatic. Fishing for my father was primarily about the fish, and a close second was the exercise of hiking as many miles along a river as possible. After he caught one trout he was off to the next likely location. I am sure I exaggerate, but at my age of 10 it seemed like this.
On this particular day it felt as if we had cast and hiked for miles. Dad’s creel contained the proof. Then we came upon a cut in the bank with a small eddy. It was shaded by the alders and brush that grow along the river’s edge. The water was crystal clear. The rocks and sand below were plainly visible. Now and again a bit of twig or an occasional bug floated by. And best of all there were several trout, nose to the current, idling in the backwater enjoying the shade. When my father was ready to move on I asked permission to stay behind. He agreed and would meet me on his way back.
Once Dad had moved on I sat and watched the water, May flies, trout, and the filtered sunlight glint on the water. I also listened. Once the silence settled into that space it began to settle into me. In the silence I experienced something profound. I realized I was not separate from what was there; I was a part of that scene. Then my heart was overcome with the sense that the little grotto was filled with the presence of God. Looking back on this from the vantage point of nearly 70 years of life, it seems a little strange for a 10 year old boy to think all of this. But that is my point. These thoughts were as yet unformed. They were only born sitting beside the waters of the Deschutes River.
I have never physically been back to that natural sanctuary, but I go there almost weekly – in my heart. For almost sixty years my heart has re-experienced, delved ever more deeply, and tried to capture the experience and what it means in words. I’ve come to realize that no matter which decade of life I may be in, the words I chose to frame what was actually a mystery are only provisional. The struggle to find these words helps me to reconnect with the inexplicable.
This coming Sunday is known as Trinity Sunday. This is a different sort of Sunday from all the other Sundays of the Christian year. The others focus on the record of mighty works and wonders of God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. On Trinity Sunday we try to look directly at God, thru the lens of the doctrine of the Trinity.
Over the years my focus has moved from the doctrine and now explore the human experience of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Speaking of Jesus in the way the first disciples came to speak was not easy for them. They experienced Him in a way that challenged their preconceived notions of human and divine. Trying to express their experience in words stretched their vocabulary and their use of it. Trinitarian language evolved as they struggled with that experience of Jesus. Their hearts told them He was more than human and in some way inextricably enmeshed in God’s being.
By the beginning of the 5th century this experience of God and Jesus had been cast in the words of the historical creeds. It may be best to understand these creeds as icons, something we use to see thru to a greater reality. Our creeds are signposts that point us to a God who mystifies and captivates us all at the same time. When they have done their job we find our way to our own shaded and holy grotto in which we can sit in the presence of the Divine.
Trinity Sunday is not about fully understanding the God behind all of creation. It is about acknowledging the mystery of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; one God. That acknowledgement is joy itself.
First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday
Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 228)