Monday, May 19, 2008

Of oysters and ballerinas

Come, join the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun—
the interweaving of the Three, the Father, 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, newborn 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, the Father, 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.

--Richard Leach

Every pastor I know struggles with how and what to preach on Trinity Sunday. And no wonder: it's the only Sunday of the year set aside just for a doctrinal statement, and we're trying to put words around the unsayable, in order to express that which is ultimately unknowable.

It seems to me that the question gets at something elemental in our lives as people of faith: we have a hard time expressing what we really believe, deep in their souls. It's perhaps more an issue for Christians, since (in comparison to followers of Judaism and Islam, the other Abrahamic faiths) we seem to define ourselves intellectually...perhaps more by belief than by practice, more by creeds than by deeds.

And then there's the problem of how to deal with the homiletical, liturgical, and communal concerns intrinsic to the question. So it's really no wonder that we struggle with Trinity Sunday.

Time to change the "angle of approach," as Krista Tippett would say. My own personal leaning is to examine the Trinity in terms of a dance, as our community did on Sunday, and as our hymn of the day (above) suggests.

It was one of those days that the Holy Spirit turned the whole into much more than the sum of its parts. I'm going to try to give you a flavor of that experience. I know that it won't quite work, but it's worth listening for the way the Spirit helped the voices to "rise and shape in song this joy, this life: the dance of Trinity."

We gathered for worship singing a lively, African song:

Come all you people, come and praise the Most High. (3x)
Come now and worship the Lord.

Come all you people, come and praise the Savior.

Come now and worship the Lord.

Come all you people, come and praise the Spirit.

Come now and worship the Lord.

We spent some time and energy on the presentation of the Genesis creation reading. We had two excellent lectors, and interspersed a hip-hop refrain, complete with dance moves, at several points in the text (led by our children):

Creation sings your praise! This is the day the Lord has made!
Rejoice! Rejoice! And again, I say rejoice!

--Dave Scherer, AGAPE minsitries

Then Wonderful Colleague enlivened the relationship of Creator and Spirit during the children's sermon. Gathering them around the baptismal font, he told them to put their hands in front of their mouths and say "RUACH!" (Hebrew for "Spirit") and feel the movement. (enthusiastic response) Then they did the same thing over the waters of the font, recalling God's voice moving upon the waters in Genesis. So, in the story of creation, the Ruach moves upon the waters, the Logos brings creation into being, both proceeding from the Creator. (Reader, do you hear that dance music cranking up?)

The children's choir sang and played chimes:

The Lord is great! Everybody sing: praise the Lord, alleluia!
The Lord made us! Everybody sing:
praise the Lord, alleluia!
God made the beasts, the birds in the tree,

the fish in the water, and God made me!

Then Wonderful Colleague preached. He talked about how much we like to define things, to wrap words around them so that we may understand that which we cannot understand. Someone once remarked to him that for us to try to describe God is like an oyster trying to describe a ballerina: there are problems both of comprehension and description.

LOVED that. (Reader, are your feet starting to tap now?)

But, he continued, our inability to wrap our brains around God doesn't mean that we are separated from God. He spoke of that enlivening presence all around us: in the quiet moss on the rocks, in the strength of the rocks themselves, in one the dance.

We sang the hymn at the top of this post.

We shared the meal, and experienced the presence of Christ (AND the Great Cloud of Witnesses), while we sang:

Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty,
early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

We blessed our high school and college graduates with the following prayer:

Holy Trinity, you call us to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give these graduates faith to go out with good courage, knowing that your hand is leading them and your love supporting them through Jesus Christ our Lord, Bless and watch over these graduates in all that is to come, in the name + of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We received the benediction from the Adult Choir, reminding us of places in which God is present:

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.

Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.

Deep peace of the shining stars to you.

Deep peace of the gentle night to you.

Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.

Deep peace of Christ, the light of the world, to you.

And were sent forth into mission with the sending hymn, sung to the same tune as the gathering hymn (Reader, it's OK to get out of that chair and move if you need to dance now...):

Go all you people, go and serve the Most High. (3x)
Go now and work in the world.

Go all you people, go and serve the Savior.

Go now and love in the world.

Go all you people, go and serve the Spirit.

Go now and speak in the world,

Please note the typo at the end of that one, which actually appeared in the worship folder. A comma instead of a period, which I thought I'd corrected. But, to paraphrase the lovely Gracie Allen, it seems that I was trying to put a period where God had put a comma. The comma was supposed to be there, I think--to leave us open to participation in those ventures of which we cannot see the ending, to call us out with good courage.

We can't, in the end, say anything truly and comprehensively definitive about God. If we could, as Wonderful Colleague says, our "God" would be too small, and probably made in our own image. BUT:

We can live our lives as part of the Trinity's dance of creation, of love, of renewal, of life.

We can give ourselves to that rhythm, let our hearts follow the arc of that melody, and live in the joyful mystery of it all.

We can find out what happens after the comma, after the last phrase of the music that we have in our hands and hearts as of this exact moment.

Thanks be to God! Let's dance!


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

It sounds like a vibrant experience.

Cecilia said...

I read this a few days ago. I found it to be so powerful. You are quite the theologian, CG!

Pax, C.

Songbird said...

This sounds like fabulous worship.
Thanks so much for your kind comment at my blog!

Scott R. Davis said...

very lively poetic dance rhythm to the poem that you shared. May God bless your family. Remember that Jesus loves you. scott