The Rev. William C. Redfield
Trinity Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, NY
Trinity Sunday, May 26, 2013
Sometimes you can only fully understand a theoretical concept when it is somehow lived in the specifics of life. The abstract reveals itself only when it is embodied in life.
This seems profoundly true to me with a concept like, for instance, marriage. While you can articulate all you want about the sanctity and primacy of marriage, it is only when you attempt to live out the rigors of a truly reciprocal relationship in time that you come face to face with the deepest meanings of marriage. On paper, in other words, it’s one thing; lived out in life, it’s another.
I myself could not have anticipated the transformative power of marriage without my lived experience with Cathy over these many years. There was no theory, no book or treatise that could have prepared me for the overwhelmingly power and depth of reciprocal giving that I have found in our relationship. And it has challenged me every step of the way to give more, to receive more, and to open more.
Now I could say that is because Cathy is the kind of person she is; but I know others would say the same thing about their own beloveds, being married to their own partners. The abstract concept or value, then, becomes most real when it is embodied and lived out in life.
That, then, brings me to the Trinity. As a theological concept it relates the mystery of how the one God could be comprised of three parts—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Of course, there have been millions of volumes written about this mystery as well. But if you really want to unlock the theoretical concept of the Trinity and enter into the internal essence of its mystery, then you might want to look at the Trinity as it gets lived out in a particular time and place. This brings us to the experience of the Trinity as many of us encounter it here at Trinity Church.
First, a little history: 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.”
This, 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.
Very must related to this Trinity dance of light and love is the reading from “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers” that was shared on Tuesday of Holy Week:
Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office. I fast a little. I pray and meditate. I live in peace, and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched out his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”
(Wisdom Chant: “Become all Flame”)