The Feast of the Holy Trinity ~ Caught up in the Circle of God’s Love ~ On the edge of mystery!

The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity ~ Sunday, May 30, 2021

This is the Sunday when we give praise to God as we Christians understand and know God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For me, it’s all about being caught up in ~ getting lost in ~ finding my true self in the awesome dynamic relationship with our God as we come to know that God is love.

The Christian religion is different from the other world religions in that we see God is  relational in God’s self. Other world religions see God in relationship with creation and of course, with humanity.  As the Bette Midler song suggests, there’s no personal relationship there: “God is watching us—from a distance.”

The all-embracing love of the Father and the Son and the Spirit sustains us each one of us in existence.  We are drawn into the dynamism, exuberance and power of that love.

In God, as Richard Rohr shows us “Everything belongs.” God splashes God’S love on us all with such abundance and exuberance that we’ve discovered that within one galaxy there are billions of suns! You and me included! (Today’s Gospel is from Matthew 28: 16- 20 ~ “I am with you always . . . that includes you and me! )

The Holy Trinity ought to be for a Christian the foundation for a whole new way of being!  But we have made the Holy Trinity into a dry, boring doctrine that we dismiss as beyond our comprehension and therefore, irrelevant to our lives.

William Young’s book The Shack brings the doctrine of the Trinity—the very foundation of Christianity—to life in a clever, imaginative description of how three persons in one God might interact with each other and with us.  It reveals a God who is so easy, relaxed and delightful in God’s self that we are eager to be caught up and sustained in that delight and love.  The image above is the famous Rublev ikon. When I was out west a few years ago, the refectory of the Benedictine Monastery in Abiqui, NW had a painting of this ikon that filled the whole wall behind the Abbot’s place.

Sadly, however, so many of us Christians—Catholic or Protestant—relate to God as if he is eager to trip us up and send us to hell!  If that is what we believe, we’re not going to be very interested in relating to him, are we? We’ll want to stay away as far as possible; to relegate God to the periphery of our lives.

The revolutionary notion of Christianity is that we are the “Thou” to whom God relates!  We are not just part of God as Eastern religions view the divine. We are co-creators of our world.  For me the Father, my elder Brother Jesus and the Holy Spirit are even more real and involved with me than my neighbor Loreto whom my dog Shoney and I used to visit when we walked in the evening as I watched the sun setting.

Here is a story I loved to tell when I’ve preached on Trinity Sunday.

I hope you enjoy it, even if you’ve heard me tell it before.

My first assignment as  a young priest was to Holy Name of Jesus Parish across the street from the Atlantic Ocean.  I have fond memories of that place, not only of the whole parish but also of its geographical and ecological setting.   Today I see it as one of the finest parishes in the continental United States in the wonderful ways in that hundreds of parishioners are involved in 85 ministries.

And so, that first year of priesthood rendered a story that I’ve told on Trinity Sunday almost every year of my priesthood.  It’s about some sea turtles.  You’ll probably be wondering as you read what turtles have to do with the Trinity.  But I’ll save that for the end.  It is a powerful connection.

Indialantic, Florida, summer 1969.  I had just arrived in the parish and was meeting my new parishioners.  Several asked, “Have you seen the turtles yet?”  I assumed they were talking about turtles who came to our beach but I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was.  So I accepted Tony’s invitation, a teen from the youth group I had just met:  “Meet me on the beach at 9:00 tonight; bring a small flashlight.”

I was a little early, so I sat on the steps watching the 2-foot waves lap the shore.  It soon learned what a joy it was to live across the street from the ocean!  I lived there the first three years of my priesthood.  That night was a quiet, dark night; there was no moon.  I took off my shoes and put them beside a small-sized dune.  I could see the light of flashlights bouncing across the sand towards the south  but the beach  was dark to the north.  Apparently, prize turtle-watching happened on the south stretch of beach.  Indeed, the most active area for loggerhead turtle nesting is south of Cape Kennedy.

Tony came along and we walked south and the waves washed further up the shore.  He quietly explained that loggerhead turtles grew to about 38 inches and had huge loggerhead_emily_mannionheads with short necks and powerful beaks that can break open mollusk shells.  He said they weigh from 200 – 350 pounds.

We were silent for a while.  I noticed that the flashlights were all turned off; apparently the sea creatures are spooked by light.  A dark night is best.

“What will we see?” I asked.

“The huge creature will lumber slowly up the beach to reach an area above the high water line. The tracks she makes resemble caterpillar or loggerhead-turtle-4331tank tracks.  She will then turn around facing the ocean and use her rear flippers to dig a hole. Sometimes she will not leave any eggs and fill in the hole again to fool us turtle-watchers.  There are sometimes egg poachers around. But if she does lay eggs there will be about 100-126 white-colored eggs about 2 inches in diameter.”

We soon saw some turtle tracks, leading out of the surf up the beach.  None of us used our flashlights, keeping some distance and, interestingly, even the children kept silent,  as if there were a spell over us.

That was my first experience of turtle watching.  I had many more.  But there was one night I will long remember.  It is that night that I have told in my Trinity Sunday homilies all these years.

I was alone that night — no companion, no other turtle-watchers. The moment opened up for me to be a profound mystical awareness, a moment I still remember vividly.  I watched the giant turtle lay her eggs and slowly make her way back toward the surf.    I moved  a little closer as she came to the edge of the water.  It was really dark.

I felt drawn to her by some compelling or impelling force.  I wanted to follow the turtle! As it disappeared beneath the waves, I was drawn to follow her, to enter  the unknown world beneath the sea.

But I hesitated.  I pulled back.

I was on the edge of mystery.

The turtle has its own mystery; the turtle is at home in two worlds — land and sea.  We also live in two worlds — the physical and the spiritual, the seen and the unseen.  For a brief  moment, I was drawn to follow the turtle down beneath the waves. But actually  I was drawn into the mystery of the life of God which the feast of the Holy Trinity celebrates for us.  And there, too, I hesitate.  I pull  back.  I prefer to get close, but not too close.  I prefer to stand upon the shore, to walk along with my toes only in the water, not to plunge in.

The shoreline is  highly symbolic.  It is the liminal space (the margin) between land and sea.  As such, it is a powerful space, a place of mystery in its own right,  as any liminal space can be.  I have stood on several of the shores of the world and it’s always a powerful experience.  Perhaps the shoreline runs down the middle of my soul.

So, what do we make of this feast of the Holy Trinity? 

In having this feast the church is telling us we live on the edge of mystery.  We live on the edge of God’s wonderful life — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This is not to be solved like a Perry Mason or Agatha Christie mystery.  In religious experience, a mystery is to be lived and to be unfolded as we uncover its multifaceted dimensions, as we allow it to envelop  and sometimes enrapture us.

The immensity of God’s love is a mystery for us, for sure.  But we should not be afraid of mystery.  We should not be afraid to immerse ourselves in the mystery of God as the turtle immersed herself in the mystery of the ocean.

The day will come, sooner or later, for me and for you to let go of our hesitancy and fear and to fall into the ocean of God’s love.  To no longer live on the edge of mystery but to be immersed fully in  the mystery of God’s love — Father,  Son and Holy Spirit.

I had the experience a couple of years ago when I got off the shore and onto a dive boat. After three years, I finally got my Scuba certification, and like the turtles went below the surface of the Atlantic ocean for the first time and entered a brand new astonishingly beautiful, silent world!

There’s a similar story told about the great St. Augustine who lived in the Fourth Century. The story or legend goes that he was walking on the beach contemplating the mystery of the Trinity when he saw a boy in front of him who had dug a hole in the sand and was going out to the sea again and again and bringing some water to pour into the hole. St. Augustine asked him, “What are you doing?” “I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole.” “That is impossible, the whole ocean will not fit in the hole you have made” said St. Augustine. The boy replied, “And you cannot fit the Trinity in your tiny little brain.” The saint was instantly confronted with the mystery of God.

And so, dear friends . . . .

Follow a turtle!

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Before we sign off, let’s ask, what about the baby turtles?

They hatch in sixty days and are completely on their own.  The hundreds of condominiums on the Florida shoreline are in themselves a threat to the newborn because the little ones are drawn to the light and away from the ocean where they should be.  There are laws that only a few lights are to be on the sea-side of roads and these are to be covered.  Like so many other little babies they are endangered.  May we protect them all!

Now, before you go, here’s a cute music video about “Caretta, the Sea Turtle.” Click Here.  Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full Screen.

And here are today’s Mass readings Click here.

And to complete our feast day celebration, here’s a lovely rendition of Holy God We Praise Thy Name.  Click here

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

 

Have you been to the mountain?

mount-everest-himalaya_1105_600x450

The Second Sunday of Lent ~ February 25, 2018

Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountaintop and there they have ~ well ~ a “peak” experience extraordinaire. 

I’d like to begin once again with some notes from Scripture scholar William Barclay. He says that tradition has it that this event took place on Mount Tabor but it’s no more than 1,000 feet high. Barclay suggests it’s more likely, that the transfiguration event took place on snow-covered Mount Hermon that’s 9,400 feet high where there would be more solitude.

Then he explains the significance of the cloud. In Jewish thought, God’s presence is regularly connected with the cloud. It was in the cloud that Moses met God. It was in the cloud that God came to the tabernacle. Here, the descent of the cloud was a way of saying the Messiah had come. All the gospel writers speak of luminous cloud which overshadowed them. All through history the luminous cloud stood for the shechinah, which was nothing less than the glory of the Almighty God.  In Exodus,  we read of the pillar of fire that was to lead the people away from their slavery.  “And the cloud  covered the tent of meeting and glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34)

The transfiguration has a two-fold significance,

First, it did something significant for Jesus. He had made the decision to go to Jerusalem, which meant facing the Cross and his death. On the mountain he received the approval of Moses and Elijah. They basically said, “Go on!” And he received the wonderful affirmation of his Father, who basically said, “You are acting as my own beloved Son should and must act. Go on!”

Secondly, it did something significant for the disciples. They were shattered that he was going to Jerusalem to die. Things were happening that were breaking their heart. What they experienced with Jesus on the mountain, even though they didn’t understand, gave them something to hold on to. It made them witnesses to the glory of Christ; they had a story they could hold in their hearts until the time came when they could share it.

Now here are my reflections . . . .  .

It’s a great story.  It contrasts with last week’s story of Jesus in the desert when he was tempted by the devil.  Today Jesus is receiving a wonderful affirmation.

Peter, James and John are genuinely high in this morning’s gospel story.  First, they’re on a mountain – that’s exhilarating already, and secondly, they see Jesus transfigured before them in dazzling glory. This is a wonderful spiritual high, lest you get the wrong idea.  For Peter, James and John, this is as good a high as it gets – seeing the Son of God in his true glory.  They’re blown away.

Peter, speaking for all of them, wants to stay there, at least, a while longer.  But it doesn’t happen.  They have to come back down from the mountain.  We might say they had to return to reality, but that’s not accurate. The vision of Jesus in brilliant light was reality too.  It wasn’t imaginary. It wasn’t an illusion. It was a real moment in their lives.

We experience wholesome highs, too.  A particularly rewarding achievement, an especially fulfilling moment in a relationship ~ a time when, for whatever reason, the world is bright, life makes sense, and most of the pieces of our lives fit together.

Such a moment can happen in our spiritual life, too.  A retreat or some other spiritual experience can send us soaring.  At such moments, we may feel the immense joy of God’s love and an intense personal affirmation .  But the experience inevitably fades.  We “come back to reality.”  But, again, that’s not accurate.  The spiritual high was also reality; it becomes folded into the rest of our life, like salt that gives zests to the taste of food.

Imagine that you are in Jesus’ company, along with Peter James and John as they are climbing the mountain.  You are about to have your own mountain top experience.

Perhaps you’ve lived in a valley all your life or are pretty much confined to the view that four walls bring you.

In the valleys, your view is limited; you cannot see either the sunrise or the sunset.  On a mountain top, your horizon gets expanded.  You can look far into the distance and see the sunrise if you are looking east, or the sunset if you are looking west.  Life in a valley can be boring, dull, monotonous.  Life as viewed from a mountain top can be exhilarating and engaging.

You may never have a mountain top experience like Peter, James and John have had.  Even ONE mountain top experience  ~ one “peak experience” as Abraham Maslow likes to call them can be life-changing.

Any close encounter with God can be life-changing.  I remember one I had in 1976.

I was making a private retreat.  My retreat director assigned me a scripture on which to meditate.  I was to take a full hour to reflect on the  account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert from the gospel of Mark.  Nothing came the first time.  Nor the second.  The third one connected. One brief experience (it lasted only about 15 minutes) has changed my relationship with Jesus forever. 

I had the experience that Jesus was quite close to me; in the meditation I got close enough to wrestle with him.  Yes, wrestle with him!  If that happened in my mind’s eye,  then it was and is possible to think of myself very often as that close to Jesus.  (I felt quite certain that I did not conjure it up because I never would have dreamed of myself in that situation with our Lord.)

How about you ~ have you ever had a peak experience?  Have you had more than one?  Then you understand what I am talking about.  You know that such moments can be life-changing.

What does it take to have a peak experience?

It can happen just in the faculty of our imagination ~or a dream ~ that special place inside us where we can be led to new and wonderful things, things never seen before.

It requires openness ~ a sense of adventure, a willingness to leave our comfortable place to climb a mountain.

Now imagine that you are accompanying Jesus and Peter, James and John as they climb the mountain . . . .  And you see Jesus become radiant.  Dazzling.  Incredibly beautiful in his appearance ~ his face, his hands his hair, his robe.

And then hear the Voice from above proclaim to you and the others:

“This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.  Listen to him.”

How would you feel?  Would you be  afraid?  Would you be filled with joy?  Would you fall to the ground in worship?

Let’s focus on one point of the story.

Jesus received a tremendous affirmation from his heavenly Father who was heard saying,  “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”

This was a moment of affirmation for Jesus.  Surely he needed it; he could feel the weight of his mission upon his shoulders.  He had an intuition that his life would enter upon tremendous suffering and that death was soon awaiting him.  He also received affirmation from Moses and Elijah and then, Peter, James and John, in turn, were affirmed that their choice to follow him was essentially correct.

How about you — how often do you receive affirmation?

How often does your spouse or a friend or your boss praise you for something that you did or for who you are?  Probably not very often. How often do you have a sense that God is affirming you?

Affirmation is very important.  It was important for Jesus; and it is important for you and me. Bishop Robert Barron, writing a commentary for today’s Gospel in the Magnificat liturgical magazine, said that what Christianity was all about was deification. The Fathers of the Church were fond of saying God became man that man might become God.  

And that one readily thinks of this theme when one meditates on the Transfiguration of the Lord. For one brief shining moment on the mountain, God revealed the transfigured humanity that will mark the denizens of heaven beautiful, elevated, dazzling, outside the confines of space and time. St. Thomas Aquinas said that the Transfiguration is meant to give all followers of Christ, making their way through the difficulties of life, a burst of hope. Deification is what awaits us, proclaims our evangelizing bishop!

As I conclude, I encourage you to make the intention to be open to joyous experience of your own when such moments come.  When they come, embrace them ~ accept them.  Try not to resist or deny them as many of us do.  Surrender to the moment and experience it as deeply and richly as you can.

I pray for God’s affirmation for each of you.  Hear him say: “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter. “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter.

Now give someone a really good affirmation before the day is over.  And, before you go, here’s a wonderful hymn to give to honor our Lord “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Click here.

the Gospel of Mark Revised Edition / The Daily Study Bible Series / William Barclay

The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 209-11.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer