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Posts Tagged ‘feasts’

Wonderful pics from the Solstice, both summer and winter, at the Atlantic’s website.

Yoga practitioners doing their Sun Salutations in Times Square, New York.

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I sang at my husband’s church this morning as part of a quintet; together with a better soprano who has been suffering from bronchitis, we made one big soprano. Most of what we sang was Gregorian chant, along with two simple Tudor anthems by Christopher Tye and Healy Willan’s Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena, a service known and loved by Episcopalians all over the U.S. and Canada. While our retired associate priest tackled the doctrine in his sermon, I chewed my fingernails and came up with my own thoughts.

First of all, forget everything you’ve ever heard about the doctrine of the Trinity. Forget all the limping analogies; forget all the fancy terms like ousia and hypostatis and perichoresis, substantia and persona and circumincessio and circuminsessio (though they are fun words and I like to throw them around). Forget any idea that the Trinity is something we have to explain, something we have to understand, or even something we believe. The Trinity is actually something that we do.

When Christians pray, we pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is active, is embodied, in our particular mode of prayer. Every collect in the Prayerbook ends with some variation on “through Jesus Christ our Lord”; it might help us to remember the Trinitarian reality if they followed that phrase with “in the Holy Spirit”. We pray in the Spirit because, as Paul says, the Spirit prays in us.

Why do we pray this way? Well, yes, we do it because we are taught to do it. But it reflects an experience in which God is simultaneously Out There, infinitely mysterious, utterly transcendent to our understanding; and With Us, incarnate in Christ, manifest in our neighbor, traceable in creation like a director in his film, intimately present to all the details of our ordinary lives; and Within Us, the very Breath of our life and the groaning of our prayer, the self that loves and prays.

What this means is that God, the Trinitarian God, the Christian God, is not merely an isolated ego, one that is bigger and stronger and smarter than all the other isolated egos in a universe full of them. If that were the case, than the God of the Old Testament, the Father of Jesus, would be no more than the biggest and baddest of a whole line of sky-and-storm king-and-father gods, a bigger bully than Zeus or Thor or Baal (no disrespect to any of those deities intended). God is not an ego; God is not one object in a universe of objects; God is not even a supreme Subject to whom we are the subordinate objects. God is a Unity that is also a Community. Human beings, and through us all created beings, find their unity, their wholeness, through participation in a community of equals, and ultimately through participation in God, or what Christian theology calls theosis.

You don’t hear much talk about theosis, at least not in the Western Church. In the East they have never forgotten that the whole point of the Incarnation and of our redemption and sanctification is that we are to become divinised, godlike, to participate in divinity not by our own nature or on our own hook, but as a free gift of God. We’re not in this game to become Nice People who play it safe; we’re designed to be gods. The catch, however, is that the requirement of theosis is kenosis: The self-emptying which Christ makes possible for us through his Incarnation and then through his Passion. The divine Son, the eternal Word, empties self to become human; then the man Jesus, a human being like us, empties self to undergo one of the most painful and humiliating deaths ever devised by human cruelty. He hits bottom, or as the Apostles’ Creed puts it, he descends into hell. And then he rises again, changed, but himself, and alive, fully alive. His trajectory is also ours, right back into the heart of the Godhead.

And just in case you think I’m making that up, here’s the Second Letter of Peter to persuade you otherwise:

By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory. 4 Through his honor and glory he has given us his precious and wonderful promises, that you may share the divine nature and escape from the world’s immorality that sinful craving produces.

That’s 2 Peter 1:3-4 in the Common English Bible translation. The King James Version of that emboldened phrase is “partakers of the divine nature”. Eugene Peterson’s The Message renders it as “participation in the life of God”. There it is, right in the Bible.

God empties self; God shares self; we empty self; we participate in God’s self. The Trinity is the prayer we make, the life we live in community, the dance of our divinisation (perichoresis means “dancing around in a circle”). I have an inkling that the Buddhist idea of shunyata, the doctrine that everything is impermanent, nothing is an isolated self-existent object, everything exists in interrelationship, is somehow related to the doctrine of the Trinity and to kenosis, but I promise to hold forth on that another day.

To wind up, here’s a performance of the Introit we sang at Mass this morning, though we sang it in English. Thanks to Chantblog for the link.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all evermore. Amen.

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O God, Origin, Sustainer, and End of all your creatures; Grant that your Church, taught by your servant Evelyn Underhill, guarded evermore by your power, and guided by your Spirit into the light of truth, may continually offer to you all glory and thanksgiving and attain with your saints to the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have promised by our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen


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Almighty and everliving God, whose servant Thomas Cranmer, with others, restored the language of the people in the prayers of your Church: Make us always thankful for this heritage; and help us so to pray in the Spirit and with the understanding, that we may worthily magnify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

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I took my stand halfway
between awe and love;
a yearning for Paradise
invited me to explore it,
but awe at its majesty
restrained me from my search.
With wisdom, however,
I reconciled the two;
I revered what lay hidden
and meditated on what was revealed.
The aim of my search was to gain profit,
the aim of my silence was to find succor. 

St. Ephrem, First Hymn on Paradise

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Jesus hasn’t just gone away.  He has gone deeper into the heart of reality – our reality and God’s.  He has become far more than a visible friend and companion; he has shown himself to be the very centre of our life, the source of our loving energy in the world and the source of our prayerful, trustful waiting on God.  He has made us able to be a new kind of human being, silently and patiently trusting God as a loving parent, actively and hopefully at work to make a difference in the world, to make the kind of difference love makes.

So if the world looks and feels like a world without God, the Christian doesn’t try to say, ‘It’s not as bad as all that’, or seek to point to clear signs of God’s presence that make everything all right.  The Christian will acknowledge that the situation is harsh, even apparently unhopeful – but will dare to say that they are willing to bring hope by what they offer in terms of compassion and service.  And their own willingness and capacity for this is nourished by the prayer that the Spirit of Jesus has made possible for them.

The friends of Jesus are called, in other words, to offer themselves as signs of God in the world – to live in such a way that the underlying all-pervading energy of God begins to come through them and make a difference.  If we are challenged as to where God is in the world, our answer must be to ask ourselves how we can live, pray and act so as to bring to light the energy at the heart of all things – to bring the face of Jesus to life in our faces, and to do this by turning again and again to the deep well of trust and prayer that the Spirit opens for us.

© Rowan Williams 2011

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