the blessings of living in balance: thoughts about the holy trinity...

This coming Sunday faith communities are asked to consider the blessings and presence of the Holy Trinity:  in our lives, our prayers, our thoughts, our actions and our world. My hunch is that for most of us, this sacred mystery is rarely a conscious part of our living - myself included. Like Carl Jung once said of his own spiritual formation:  when I asked my father (a pastor) to tell me about the Holy Trinity, at first he became flustered, then frustrated and finally
flabbergasted as he shouted, "I can't really explain it - it is very important - so just believe it and shut up. (paraphrase is all mine.) Like so many older Christians who still attend worship, some may have heard about the Trinity from time to time on Sunday mornings, others may actually "confess" it weekly at Eucharist (albeit with their fingers crossed behind their backs) while the rest of us hold a vague recollection from a confirmation class long ago and far away and nothing more. But do we consciously consider the Trinity's wisdom and love in our lives and celebrate it as a part of our spirituality? Probably not so much...

As this week unfolded, however, I sensed a call to give myself more time than usual to sitting in prayer and study with this perplexing spiritual truth - and I am glad I did. Because the promise of the Trinity points us towards a way of living that is grounded in God's grace. Eugene Peterson calls this the unforced rhythms of grace in the spirit of Jesus.  It is a radical trust that knows from the inside out that love is greater than all death. The Holy Trinity evokes a pattern for our ethics by honoring that before the beginning of time we were all bound together in creation:  bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. But never in the shame-based morality that has come to define too much of conservative religion nor the empty moral relativism the plagues more and more of contemporary liberal spirituality. 

Rather, the Trinity is an expression of radical and extravagant hospitality. It is depicted best in art as a dance - most often among three women - and for me this suggests a boldly relational way of doing politics, organizing our economy, speaking to one another as well as shaping how we do spiritual formation. The Trinity encourages us to question the self-absorbed habits of the status quo and challenge the snarky cruelty that saturates so much of what passes for public discourse. Richard Rohr recently shared this insight about living into a Trinitarian reality:

The way to arrive and remain within "the force field of the Holy Spirit", which is one way of describing consciousness--is both very simple and very hard: you've got to remain in love, with a foundational yes to every moment. You can't risk walking around with a negative, resentful, gossipy, critical mind, because then you won't be in the force field. You will not be a usable instrument. That's why Jesus commanded us to love. It's that urgent. It's that crucial. That love, as contemplatives learn, can begin in the mind or can be inhibited by the mind. You may have heard this quote--sometimes attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt:

Watch your thoughts; 
they become words.
Watch your words; 
they become actions.
Watch your habits; 
they become character.
Watch your character; 
it becomes your destiny.

Contemplation nips negativity, hatred, and violence in the bud. It begins by retraining your initial thoughts, because if you let the mind operate in a paranoid, angry, and resentful way, you aren't going to get very far. You're not going to see clearly. At the same time, if you spend your time only in contemplation without moving toward positive engagement, you end up with what many call spiritual constipation. I am afraid it is quite common.

In Karen Armstrong's A History of God she notes that the while the origins of the Trinity began over a battle between competing understandings of Jesus, the early Cappadocian Fathers who later constructed the Trinitarian creeds did so with a sense of awe and grace for they wrote with the conviction and artistry of poets.  The Holy Trinity, you see, is fundamentally a poem - a simulacrum - that seeks to evoke a truth greater than mere words and a reality that can only be expressed through art. Walter Brueggemann underscored this insight when he wrote Reality, Grief and Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks. God's grace breaks through our grief, he observed, when the sacred imagination becomes art.  Hope is always a gift from God that is beyond our control. If we honor and embrace it, we grow in wisdom. The core of my message for Sunday unfolds like this:

Guess where Jesus and all the early church theologians learned their poetic and hope
filled vocabulary? From the prophets of Israel along with the songs and sayings of the Psalms and the aphorisms of Proverbs!  In ancient Israel there were three groups of teachers:  the prophets, the priests and the sages (wise men and sometimes women.)  Today’s unique insight comes from the later group as recorded in today’s Proverbs 8.  Here God’s hope for the world is personified as Lady Wisdom (as opposed to Dame Folly.)  And Peterson renders this text in a way that demands our regular repetition:

Do you hear Lady Wisdom calling? Can you hear Madame Insight raising her voice? She’s taken her stand at First and Main – or we might say right out on Park Square - at the busiest intersection. Right in the city square where the traffic is thickest, she shouts: “You—I’m talking to all of you, everyone out here on the streets! Listen, you idiots—learn good sense! You blockheads, too—shape up! Don’t miss a word of this—I’m telling you how to live well, I’m telling you how to live at your best. I am giving you the WISDOM of the Lord.

Right out of the gate we’re told that God’s wisdom is public – it is not for private consumption just by the highest bidder or the cognoscenti – God’s mercy and the unforced rhythms of grace are for all the people: the idiots and blockheads, the savvy entrepreneurs as well as the addicts, the intellectuals and all the broken, wounded souls of the world., too. That’s the whole point of the opening verse:  can you HEAR God’s wisdom being announced from the center of the city? From Park Square? From the top of the gates to the places of commerce and entertainment? In your newspapers or on TV? It is there. God isn’t far away – God is right here and right now – not aloof in the heavens but smack in the middle of human life.
So let me ask you:  does this sound like anything else you might have heard in the Bible?  The gospel of John is saturated in this type of poetry: In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was in the world, in fact the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t always notice. The Word came to his own people but some of them didn’t want him. But whoever did – those who listened and heard and believed… he made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.

The Christian belief that in Jesus the depth of God’s truth was revealed and lived among us – the Greek actually says dwelt among us, pitched his tent in our neighborhood and became human flesh – begins right here with Lady Wisdom in Proverbs.  But it goes deeper and gets better, too. The wise sages of ancient Israel who shaped the ministry of Jesus and informed the poetry of the early Church, believed and taught that God’s will has existed since before there was time. These teachers understood that not only was there a balance to the created order, but that human beings could live in harmony or opposition to this balance established before there was time. If we opt for wisdom – the way of the Lord – the earth will thrive and our neighbors will experience hope and trust.  The Psalm we’ll sing in just a moment celebrates this truth: O Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark… to silence the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet…

If, however, we chose to live as if we are smarter than God – if we organize our personal and social lives around selfishness, bigotry or fear – we will experience the consequences of disharmony:  war, anxiety, ecological and economic disaster as well as hatred, misogyny and racial bigotry.  Proverbs proclaims that the essence of God’s wisdom is not a secret: it is revealed in how creation is organized and is at the heart of all ethical living.  St. Paul picked up on this second poetic truth about Lady Wisdom being with God since before creation and uses it to describe Jesus.  

Look at the comparison chart between Proverbs 8 and Colossians 1:  Paul used both the wisdom sayings of ancient Israel as well as the poetic tradition of Judaism to help us get a sense of the deepest meaning of Jesus the Christ. Before the beginning of time, there was a holy order created for life. Wisdom revealed it – Jesus embodied it – and our lives can experience it if we ally ourselves with it. God’s wisdom – God’s will – is not a mystery. It is built into our soil and our air. God’s grace limits the chaos of the sea by giving us dry land and God’s wisdom has been shaping all creation since before the beginning of time. Like both Genesis and the gospel of John say:  before the beginning, there was chaos – it was God’s loving wisdom that came upon the chaos to give it order, shape and form so that all life might thrive. And just so that there is no ambiguity, the precise nature of God’s order looks like personal compassion and social justice.

That is the third insight for this opening commentary on Trinity Sunday:  Walter Brueggemann calls the order and fabric of God’s wisdom embodied in these ideas the agency of a generative moral coherence for all of creation. To be wise is to trust God’s path more than our own public relations.  It is to live in harmony and connection with our neighbors, the earth and the Lord.  Foolishness – ignorance – destruction:  these are the opposites of holy wisdom. And the choices we make in life hold ethical consequences as good and compassionate choices eventuate in shalom; but sowing and reaping fear and discord bring us back to the brink of chaos – or worse. 

The good news is that wisdom comes first: Brueggemann notes that Lady Wisdom was with the Lord first and has been in divine intimacy with God since the beginning of time. She is of the Lord while foolishness and disharmony – destruction and despair – are not present at the start of this story – and only come afterwards as the agents of chaos. These are some of the truths that gave shape and form to how the early Church talked about the blessings of Jesus – even his Cross.  They point to a love greater than death that embraces us sometimes like a Father – or Mother – shows us the way of love like a beloved Child – and speaks to us still from within the world and our own hearts like a Spirit. 

When you let the insights from Proverbs mix with the later ruminations of both St. Paul and St. John, my prayer is that you are starting to sense that any conversation about the Holy Trinity is more like a Zen koan – or poem – than an operating manual or rule book.  Essentially the Trinity points us towards the enormity of grace – a truth that encompasses beauty as well as sin, hope in addition to death and fear – to say nothing about the sacred order of God’s will exacted in reality throughout history. Grace is beyond definition – we can know it, trust it, love it, taste it, experience it, share it and cherish it – but we can never adequately define or limit it. The brilliant Palestinian-American poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, put it like this in a poem entitled, “Kindness” that was used during our Good Friday liturgy.

Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment, like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape
 can be between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness you must travel 
where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, 
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it 
till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for and then goes with you everywhere 
like a shadow or a friend.

The words of Paul in Romans – and the gospel text in John – I sense build upon the poetry of
grace initiated in ancient Israel as they insist that there is a right way to live into God’s wisdom – even in the face of suffering – as well as a morally bankrupt way that leads us towards trouble and injustice.  Paul is telling us that in addition to feelings and poetry there is an ethical quality to God’s wisdom that is counter-cultural: even  our pain can become one of our teachers, he writes, for:  We know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because hope is God’s love being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Please note that the apostle is NOT telling u God’s wisdom is automatic. He is not a fool who claims that all suffering is good because it always leads to endurance blah, blah, blah. Not at all. We now that all suffering hurts – and not all pain is redemptive. What Paul IS saying, however, is that when we trust that God’s grace is the truth that gives moral cohesion to all of creation – when we trust by faith that the arc of the moral universe tilts ever so slightly towards justice to paraphrase Dr. King – then we can let go of anxiety, allowing ourselves be transformed even by adversity because we know that the foundation of everything begins in God’s love..

Let me rephrase Paul’s proclamation like this: because we have been touched by God’s wisdom –and trust God from the inside out – we are now able to be patient in our afflictions just like Christ who endured the Cross. Paul is confessing that once we have experienced true hope born of God’s love – a love most fully revealed on Easter Sunday – then we begin to comprehend the living will of God – the order of creation – so even though parts of our lives are agonizing or unfair, we don’t quit. We don’t deny suffering but we don’t let it have the final word either. The same goes for injustice or fear:  we know it is real, not an illusion as the Buddhists sometimes say, but it isn’t the end of the story. The resurrection is the true end of one story as the Cross exposes – but it also the start of a whole new life, too.  When we live from within the power, truth and love of Easter, the Holy Spirit pours hope into our hearts just as Jesus promised. Troubles can develop passionate patience within us, patience can become the forge of tempered steel on the path of virtue, and anything else that connects us to human solidarity can bring hope to birth because… hope is God’s love being poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

That’s what St. John’s gospel underscores, too:  When my Spirit comes, Jesus said, he will guide you into all truth. The Spirit, you see, is intimately connected to the Father and the Son – the Spirit is how Wisdom and Comfort are communicated to our living flesh – and the Spirit is how we reconnect with God’s harmony, balance, wisdom and moral cohesion in our ordinary lives. No wonder the early church wrestled with finding poetic language for this blessing for four hundred years – and why most of us don’t go anywhere near it today – not only is it nuanced and complicated, it also demands that we make a moral stand against the relativism of contemporary culture.

Let me put it to you like this:  the Trinity – inspired by Lady Wisdom and the sages and prophets of ancient Israel who include our Lord Jesus Christ – tells us that God has given us a guiding principle for life:  harmony, balance, personal compassion and social justice with all creation.  St. Paul would push the envelope and say that wisdom teaches that grace is at the heart of creation as the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus make clear.

But let’s be real:  grace, harmony, trust and moral balance are not the guiding principles for contemporary Western culture. No, if we had to summarize the heart of our values right now, the quintessential American proverb would be something like: “Different strokes, for different folks.” There are variations on this theme:  live and let live – to each his or her own – a man’s home is his castle – don’t rock the boat. But they all mean the same thing and can be boiled down to one word according to the old preacher, Thomas Long… whatever!  

Long makes the case – and I agree – that our laissez faire relativism means that there is NOT a coherent vision for how best to live in the world. He says:  It’s as if each of us has been handed a little box of puzzles pieces that conveniently snap together in any number of different ways. So if the picture I end up assembling of what I think my life should look like ends up being wildly different from what you piece together, big deal! Different strokes for different folks. Why would anyone even expect that any two puzzles would end up looking similar? Whatever, right?

Biblical wisdom in Proverbs – and the mysterious poem we call the Holy Trinity – suggests otherwise.  They point to a consistent vision for life – God’s shalom – that is just, loving, compassionate and trustworthy even in the midst of suffering and instability.  Small wonder that the best artistic depiction of the Holy Trinity is not a static portrait of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: it is three women dancing!  Usually a Crone – in old age – a child – in innocence – and a mother – bearing life as they all dance in unity and harmony. They are NOT all alike. They are not automatons forced into a one size fits all ideology or spirituality; rather they each have sacred and unique gifts that they bring to God’s dance – and their expression is a joy to behold.

Dear people of God, I don’t think that it is coincidental that Lady Wisdom in Proverbs is
feminine.  Nor do I think it is accidental that one of her descriptions at the close of today’s reading could be translated either as God’s helper in creation – a master worker who advances the will of God in the world – or – a little child. Apparently the Hebrew root, ‘aman, is enigmatic – and ancient scholars are split on which way to go: it could be master worker – divine helper – but it could also be little child who delights in the creativity of God – suggesting to me that a principle of “pleasure and playfulness is built into the structure of God’s sacred order of compassion and justice.”

And I have to tell you, I like both options – architect helping the Lord as well as little child laughing with delight. It makes me think of the words of Jesus:  “unless ye become as an innocent child ye shall not enter the kingdom of God.”  Having just spent last weekend with my grandson, Louie, I am totally down with the personification of God being a giggling, little girl delighting in awesome diversity of the human race.   Think about that one for just a moment, ok? Besides holding a newborn infant to your chest while she sleeps, there may not be a more sacred sound in all creation than that a little child’s infectious laughter. We were out at Hancock Shaker Village checking out all the “baby animals” last Saturday.  And man, you should have heard my little dude laugh – especially as the baby chicks strutted about and the piglets wallowed in the mud – it was pure innocence. Complete joy. Total trust.

Wisdom’s followers – people of the Holy Trinity – have been called to be playful just as much as we are to be compassionate and just. In this we learn to live in harmony with God’s will and share it with all our neighbors in a sacred dance. So let me give you my take-away for Trinity Sunday – it is one I am still learning after all these years and I have to work it every single day – but it is the forever time-tested, spiritually un-contested, ethically never-bested and unquestionably12-Step suggested way to live into God’s grace and wisdom in your everyday, walking around, ordinary lives:  it is indubitably the practical way to make the blessings of the Holy Trinity the core of your existence.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

We are not always in control of events – there is pain and war and fear and death – most of which we cannot change:  let it go and leave it to God.  There are also other realities that we can change if we claim the courage to go against the grain:  we can make time for prayer, we can interrupt our addiction to fretting, we can say no to those who would devour our soul or compromise our compassion:  and as we do it God’s peace becomes our own. And of course there is the wisdom – the Trinity – the grace of God that helps us know the difference.

The question I asked myself over and again this week is what I ask of you now: do you want to live in anxiety or the peace that passes all understanding?  Do you want the Trinity’s promise of serenity, courage and wisdom or Dame Folly’s chaos, fear and violence?  Beloved, the choice is ours. Yes, I wrestle with this everyday – but incrementally over time I continue to know from the inside out that the more I trust, the more God’s love is poured into my heart by the Holy Spirit.  And there isn’t any better news than that – so let the promise of the Holy Trinity come to those who have ears to hear, hear.

1.  Trisket @
3.  Robertz Lentz @
4.  Divine Feminine Trinity @
5. Shall we dance @
6. Celtic trinity @
7.  Christ dancing @


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