Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Today is trinity Sunday, when we look at and celebrate the fact that God is one but also somehow three. But today, rather than focusing on the whole trinity, I want us to spend some time focusing on the third person of the trinity, the Spirit, the one who is most neglected, least understood and often ignored by Presbyterians in particular who feel that anything that touches on the spirit is somehow too “catholic” and therefore is scary or unorthodox or too “mysterious”. Presbyterians are traditionally the most cerebral or thinking oriented of all of the denominations. We are the only one that insists that its pastors learn to read both Hebrew and Greek so that we can read the Bible in its original languages. We are one of the few denominations that have a four year master’s of divinity program rather than three. Our study focuses on history and historical critical biblical interpretation. We study, study, study. And we are taught to preach sermons that are very serious and very well studied. That’s what it is to be Presbyterian. And this works great with our understanding of two persons of the trinity. We can intellectually understand God the creator, the one who is ultimately in charge of everything, who creates, who bends, who acts through history. We can intellectually understand the teachings of Jesus and his commands to follow through the concrete actions of caring for one another. We can understand at a head level that keeps it all above our hearts, above our souls, above our spirits, these two persons of the trinity.
But the Spirit, the third person of the trinity cannot be understood this way. So, many Presbyterians tend to ignore the spirit except as an intellectual concept, as an idea about something that is part of the trinity. We feel suspicious of anything that touches religion that is experiential. And there are good reasons for this. We don’t want to be controlled by our feelings, we don’t want to be out of control. We know that being out of our heads and into our feelings or experiences can and does lead people astray. We know that most cults tap into feelings. We know that the Pentecostals are all about the experience of the mystery, of the divine and we choose, intentionally, not to be Pentecostals.
But we have gone too far. There is a reason why Presbyterians are called the “frozen chosen”, and while we may laugh at this name, there is far too much truth in it.
We are called to love God with all of our being – all our strength, all our mind, all our soul, AND all our hearts. And that means engaging the mystery at times, inviting in the third person of the trinity, the Spirit, spending time with this third Holy person and listening for what the Spirit may have to say to you.
It’s not that this is easy…including for me. I had a friend who was very involved in more traditional church service styles such as are practiced in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. We had several discussions about how important and meaningful the rituals of those practices were for him, and for me how much they felt like “magic” actions – unreal, pretend and lifting up pastors as capable of doing divine magic in some way. But still, I heard how important this was for him, and I found myself reflecting more on the mystery because of our conversations. While it may not be easy for Presbyterians, engaging the mystery, spending time with the Spirit, is deeply important.
So, how do we do this? Well, Spirit experiences tend to be more mystical, as I said. Getting ourselves into a place where we can sit and listen for and to the Spirit is not as easy for us as listening to someone talk about God, or studying God through Bible study, or singing about God. But inviting the Spirit into our life necessitates taking time to listen. We can do this through lectio divina – and other forms of guided meditation. And St. Andrew’s regularly offers many other ways of connecting to the Spirit. We have the labyrinth, which invites an active meditative practice of listening for the Spirit. Tai chi can also lead us into this as well as music and art, all of which we offer and practice here. We offer meditative prayer daily during lent and during advent. We have Taize services and healing services, which again invite us to sit and listen. Sometimes simply creating a different space – one with candles or scents such as incense or flowers, involving more meditative music such as is used in Taize services invite us into a new space of listening for the spirit. Our retreats tend to be more Spirit focused. Today because our focus is on the Spirit, we are using candles and we are singing Taize chants. This may feel uncomfortable for some of you. If so, I think that is a good thing – a gift. Because the Spirit does not leave us comfortable, but challenges us to grow, to move and listen and hear in a different way. It calls us to listen with our hearts rather than with our heads, to love God with our experiences as well as with our attendance, to connect with the third person of the trinity, the one we often ignore, because that third person is also God – and also calls us to us and invites us into relationship with Godself.
I encourage you strongly to attend a Taize service if you haven’t. I encourage you to come to our meditative prayer times during lent and advent. I encourage you to find ways to daily spend time listening and connecting to the Spirit who loves you and calls for connection with you. Walk the labyrinth. Journal. Walk in the parks. But spend time, not only with God the Father (or parent) and God in Jesus. Spend time with the Spirit as well, for Jesus sent us this advocate to be with us and in us and to speak to us when we listen.
Oommen and I are in the same weekly lectionary group. A couple months ago, he said to us, “the less we understand, the more true it is”. The less we understand, the more true it is. And again, I think he is pointing out that the deep truths, the deepest truths are things we experience in mystery – are truths we encounter through our hearts and actions rather than just through our thoughts and conversations. Not that our thoughts and conversations aren’t important. They are, too. But they may not lead us as strongly or clearly into the heart of God. If we connect with God only intellectually, we are missing the heart connection to God. And, just as with our human relationships, it is our heart connections that lead us to each other, that bind us and make us strong together, more than our head connections.
Towards that end, I would like to invite you to sit for a few minutes of silence, to listen for God today in the quiet. When thoughts come into your head, listen, let them go and listen some more. The quiet time will be ended with the hymn printed in your bulletin.