If I could say anything about religion, I would say first that it is a matter of direct experience. If God is real, we should be able experience God’s presence. And yet so often we have been given the sense that our Christianity is instead comprised mostly of theoretical concepts of God expressed in the terms of sanctioned beliefs.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with having beliefs, of course, except that, if that’s the prevailing thrust, that starts us off on exactly the wrong foot. Many of us in growing up in the Church were led to conclude that if we had the correct mental beliefs, a place would be reserved for us in heaven. The problem with that emphasis is that Jesus never instructed us to move in that direction. He himself directly and unequivocally experienced a profound relationship with the deepest forces of the universe, and he experienced them in an overwhelmingly personal and loving way. And he wanted us to experience the very same things and to trust their reality.
Although most of us grew up with the idea that faith was basically believing the right things—we’ll call that the majority report—that is not the only conceptualization of our Christian faith. There is a minority report—one that has flourished much more in the East. And that understanding of Christianity puts its emphasis squarely and primarily on experience. And the work that is required is that one prepare oneself for experience by clearing the deck of distractions and (just to shift metaphors) to prepare the garden soil of the self to become the rich and fertile seedbed that will receive and nurture the seed of experience. We do that best by self-giving service, prayer, meditation, and general spiritual growth. In other words, we loosen our grasp of the identifications of the horizontal level of life in order to be open to the vertical. This, of course, cuts against the imperatives of our culture—the demands to succeed over against others and to accumulate as much as one can.
We, then, begin with the realization that we have been totally captivated and under the sway of all of our identifications on the horizontal axis. This is what the tradition calls “sleep.” The call of Jesus is for us to “wake up”—to detach ourselves from the seductions and dramas and attachments of our lives in time as they are experienced by our reactive ego selves. For as captivating and engrossing as these may be, they cannot give us what we most deeply desire.
So today as we celebrate Trinity Sunday, we may be tempted to think of the Trinity as that theological doctrine of the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But while, of course, that is true on one level, stopping there would keep us on the level of mental beliefs. The deeper question might be, “How might the Trinity relate to our experience?”
In the fourth century in Cappadocia–which is the territory that occupies the present day Turkey—there arose a great contemplative wisdom school led by three of the giants of our spiritual tradition—Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus. Moving beyond just their minds and opening their hearts, they touched the power of the archetype of the Trinity. (Perhaps you have heard me refer to these Cappadocian Fathers before.)
What these spiritual adepts of Cappadocia did was nothing short of amazing. They looked more deeply than the individual persons of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and they intuited in the relationship among the three the flow of loving energy that was shared one to another. Not only did they thereby find the code that pointed to the mystery of God, but they also experienced life’s deepest pattern.
What is symbolized here in the Trinity, then, is a mutual outpouring. The Father pours himself into the Son and the Son pours himself into the Spirit, and the Spirit pours itself into the Father—and around and around we go. You may have already guessed the Greek word used for this outpouring. That’s right, it’s kenosis. You will remember that kenosis is the life-giving surrender taught and, even more importantly, lived by Jesus. It is a dying into full kingdom life through the outpouring of love and through surrender to the flow of the divine energy. It is the loosening of the grasp of the identifications of the horizontal level of life in order to be open to the vertical.
But the Cappadocian Fathers took it one step further. They saw in the Trinity the inter-circulation of love, the perfect receiving and the perfect giving of love that they called perichoresis. This is an ever flowing mutually of giving and receiving. And literally translated, it means “the dance-around.”
That, then, delivers us to experience of the Trinity. Whenever we feel ourselves compellingly pulled into the dance of transformation—and called to the fire of unselfconscious outpouring and generous giving of love, we are dancing in the Trinity. Indeed, we are urgently requested to enter this dance of transformation — not just to save our own skins, but because creation itself is an ongoing alchemy of divine love and human life, and our specific and unique participation are required.
But what is it, you might ask, that we have to bring to this dance? Last week on the Feast of Pentecost we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit as it burst forth as tongues of fire over the heads of the followers of Jesus. Much like the transfiguration that illumined Jesus with blazing light on the mountain, the tongues of fire are an indication that we too are beings of light. We are called to bear and then spread the beams of light that we are.
But did you know that light is actually not so much a property as it is a process? The light particle actually has no mass; it exists only in a state of motion, as a stream of action. When, then, we burn with the fire of love, we enter the divine dance of the Trinity.
While I see this in myriad ways in this community, I especially witnessed this divine dance of the Trinity at our Plant Sale. I saw beings of light dressed in green t-shirts, offering themselves in loving surrender to a dance of service and hospitality. And what a dance this was—a liturgy choreographed with loving abandon of communal purpose and dedication.
When I think of this church’s future—Trinity’s future—I see this ecstatic dance continuing and deepening. We have become a community of spiritual seekers who are willing to show forth the flame of divine love in both our worship and our relationships. And instead of ruminating on what we get from being a member of this parish family, we get our dance card punched by asking what it is we can give.
Continuing the dance, then, we shine the beams of light from the substance of our being.