Understanding God

Trinity Sunday is just ahead. Often we ( perhaps preachers especially) seem to shy away from that day because – although we might not say it aloud – we tend spontaneously to think of Trinity Sunday as a day on which we are meant to understand God and to express to the rest of the Church our understanding of God.

But I don’t think it is that at all actually. The absolutely vital thing is not to understand God. The absolutely vital thing is to rejoice in the truth that God understands us. God understands you. God understands me. And God loves us anyway. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that extraordinary? Isn’t that divine? It is!

Just resting in that understanding – that comprehension that might better be described as love – is enough. It gives freedom. It offers the end of fear. And in so doing, oddly enough – or maybe not – it opens the possibility perhaps to actually understand something of God after all! After all, God has seen fit, in astounding generosity to reveal the very life of God to us. It’s just that the light coming off that revelation is so very bright that it is hard to know what we are even seeing.

I begin to think that it takes decades of human life and thousands of mistakes – otherwise known as sins! – to begin to dare to look toward that light with the hope that the eyes of our soul might begin to adjust to the light and begin to see.

Way back in the book of Genesis, in the first chapters, at the beginning of the beginning, God decides to create us in God’s own image and likeness. What an unexpected starting point that is! And it opens the opportunity to believe that when we finally – in all honesty and truth begin to understand ourselves (as individuals and as communities and as a species even a little bit) – we can begin then as well to understand (maybe?) something of who God is. If we dare. If we are willing to sit with the desire to know God, and let it become a quest of ours, not in our spare time, but deep down in our gut as one of our most vital human callings.

Wise people who have lived long before us and followed Christ and listened to the Gospel and felt the Spirit and seen God as Father/Mother alive in the world have sat with that question. It took the Christian Church the first four centuries after the Resurrection to be able to agree on how to speak about who Jesus Christ is. And then it took another century to be able to do something of the same about the Holy Spirit. So then, way back then but only after hundreds of years of the whole Church wondering about these questions together, we came to an agreed way to speak about the Trinity, about God as one God in three Persons. And then almost right away most of us were confused again. But at least we had language to talk about the work of God in the world and the inner life of God as well.

So I am wondering if we look at that Christian understanding in the Creeds of who God is, can we receive some light about who we are and who we are meant to be in God’s eyes? In other words, to return to where I began: can looking toward God’s identity as God has shared it help you and I to see ourselves through God’s eyes – and maybe then to see something of the magnificence of God’s love for us?

Now some paraphrasing or saying things of the faith in my own little way.

Though the outward works of the Trinity are works of all 3 Persons in God, thus sayeth the faith, God the Father is spoken of as Creator. God the Father brings things that were not into being. We are made in this image and likeness. Here then is a fair question: what do we bring into being? What do we – working with the raw materials we are given in life – in some sense of the word ‘create’? Many of you have helped to make new humans. Bravo! There’s a really good example. Maybe in your chosen line of work you have brought about a new way to get something done that needs to be done? Maybe in the kitchen at home, in your own little oven, you have brought to be Toll House cookies or brownies that – in your circle of family and friends at least – are acclaimed as the best of the best? I want you to really to think about this: what do you create in your living? What do you make in your life that reflects in some degree and sense the goodness of creativity of the Creating God?

God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, the one who took on flesh in the Incarnation and lived a fully human life and died a painful human death, is named as the Savior, as the Redeemer. I could express that in these words: Jesus is the One who will not leave anything or anyone broken behind. He cradles the broken by the side of life’s road – as the Good Samaritan did in one of his best stories – and cares for them with all the tools he has until they are whole and well again. To those blinded, he reveals the sight they have. By the deaf he is heard. He stays with the mute until they find their voice. And he enters the room, or the tomb, of those who have died and he trembles with the fullness of life until they live again. So you and me: where are the places in our lives where we possess a faithfulness and a care profound enough to keep us by the side of the suffering until suffering is over? Where in our hearts is there – at least sometimes in life – the willingness to sit with those in pain as long as they need us, even when we have no idea how bad the pain really is or how to relieve it? When and where are we able to be healers even if we don’t trust ourselves to get it right? We stay simply because the others ones, the broken ones, need us – and after all, we too know what it is to be broken.

And God the Spirit, the 3rd Person, is sometimes so mysterious to us as to be rarely mentioned. But the Creed calls the Spirit ‘the Lord, the Giver of Life.’ The Spirit was there at Creation, active as the wind. And we might say that the Spirit is the One who activates us, who makes things happen that otherwise would not happen; the One who energizes us in every season of our living. That’s an incomplete description, but all three of these are only partial, as they only can be. But again it is worth asking. If those words capture something of the Holy Spirit and you and I are created in the Spirit’s image, where do we bring energy? Where do we breathe new life? Or to put it in terms of Jesus’ description of the Spirit in the Gospel of John’s sharing of the Last Supper: where do you and I remind our friends, our family and total strangers of the truths of Jesus? Where do we act as Paraclete – as comforter, counselor, advocate, friend to others – without end, with indefatigable energy? This may in some sense be the hardest question. Maybe we can only answer this one late in life. Maybe we will only know when we stand ourselves face to face, heart to heart, with God revealed and loving us forever.

How am I one who brings new things to be? How am I one who never leaves the broken lying on the ground alone? How am I one who infuses new energy into human life when it has become tired and seems unable to go on?

Considering these questions this Sunday may be a start. But carrying these questions with us on the weekdays between the Sundays from year to year may provide the Divine key to our finally being revealed as genuinely human beings. Only then might we finally understand what God sees in us and why this triune God loves us all with such mad faithful unending abandon. God understands us. And that is, as a place to begin, a beautiful thing.


Closing a day outwardly silent and inwardly raucous

I strode through the island cemetery, eyes in motion

from earth to sky, water to land, past to present, life to death to life

and then, you; you whom I do not know and have not met

you whose life here in its wholeness came and concluded

long before I began that same journey;

there you are, and there I stopped.

7 days

7 days you lived, or parts thereof, in 1936

long ago, if not far away

you lived as we all do:

between wars and recession and prosperity and peace, epidemic and recovery

So long ago. I was stopped though by the angel placed on your grave

by some loving hand and heart, in recent times, after all the time.

Someone remembers still. Someone loves yet. Someone yearns to see you

and to be seen by you. I stopped. I was stopped.

And I shed tears; tears for the worth and the long life of love

and how in that still you live, your seven days becoming days of creation

ongoing lasting blooming in this cool spring

long since your infant life seemed to cease.

I ring tepidly sentimental to my own ear, but that’s not

how it feels; to stand here feels affirming of the strength of life

of the worth of humanity, of the light of divine Love and its

lovely lasting reflection in the human.

Little one, whomever you were and are

pray for us who stride today but who will lie near you

one long bright day, that we may walk in love

each day we receive; and

thank you for your seven. There is

perfection there.

Hold it gently.

June 30 was my birthday. It marked the date on which I became two years older than my father was when he retired in 1990. Two years older than when he retired.

Some years back, I used to choose a kind of theme for each new year of my life, summed up in a few syllables. I always consider everyone’s anniversary of birth to be their own personal new year’s day. I decided to choose a theme for this new year. It is three simple words: hold it gently.

The it is all of it. Life. Health. Work. Hopes. Expectations. Fears. Time. Faith. Love. Memory. Today and tomorrow. You name it. That’s the it.

To hold it is to respect it, to take it seriously, to care for it, to be grateful for it. All of it is gift. As the Apostle Paul wisely wrote more than a few days back, “Everything you have was given to you. So, if everything you have was given to you, why do you act as if you got it all by your own power” (1 Corinthians 4:7 ERV).

Everything (see that list of its a couple of paragraphs back and add anything more you can think of) has been given to you and me. The origin of it all is found in the One who is the Origin of all. You know who that is.

So I want my basic stance to all of it day to day, moment by moment, to be gratitude. I am constantly receiving the sustaining and the renewal of all these fundamental gifts that are given me as graces, not one of them earned. (And not one of them can be earned). I have never held in my hands the currency that could buy any of these gifts. Simply because such a currency does not exist – not US dollar, not bitcoin, not anything else.

So I hold my life, and all that is of it, in thanksgiving, always.

For me this means that my basic job, always and everywhere, is not operation, it is cooperation. (Very un-American). I am not the initiator the vast majority of the time. Even if I am allowed to think that I am. My job is to cooperate with the loving and gentle Hand that is in fact in charge of the whole shebang (https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/shebang). And that is some of the best news I’ve heard over the last 64 years.

Gently. As I celebrate my birthday this year, in this neck of God’s woods we are returning to ‘normal.’ I have said it before and I will say it again: I’m deadset against that move. Normal as we live it in first world nations in the 21st century is sheer inhuman madness, and the best thing to do is to leave as much of it as possible in the rear view mirror. It pushes, demands, cold calls, scams, exhausts and undoes us. That’s normal‘s job description, and he has been pretty damned good at it. Time to retire, old buddy normal. Buy a farm, put a rocker on the wrap-around porch and sit still.

In other words friends, hold it gently. Hold it all gently. Picture yourself, in memory, the first time you held a newborn infant precious to you. With what gentle loving care did you hold that little one? How fully did time stop and that moment be revealed as all that mattered? This year, and beyond, I desire deeply to hold the it that God has lovingly given to me in just that way. How precious it all is. How beautifully precious.

The pandemic has taught me (and you too?) to take seriously something I really already knew. The universe doesn’t owe me another day of life. It didn’t owe me the first one. Or any of the 23,377 days I have lived since. Again, it is all grace. I love the memory of all those days. And this one, and the ones to come, I will hold them gently.