I enjoy reading mystery novels. They always have a way of engaging my mind, as well as my emotions, and while they are certainly recreational reading, they are usually more purposeful than a mere diversion. Because good mysteries, the classic ones – think Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, P.D. James – are not merely an intellectual puzzle to be solved, but they diver deep into the muck and mire of human nature. In fact, Miss Marple, one of Agatha Christie’s beloved sleuths, credits her ability to solve mysteries that seem to elude the local constabulary to her keen observation of life in her small English village. She has seen and known the follies, the failings, and the strengths of humanity “up close and personal” in her neighbors. And at the conclusion of these mysteries, the pieces do not generally fall into tidy categories wrapped up in neat packages. While the murderer is found out and usually bought to justice, there are often open questions, characters whose somewhat lesser sins and crimes slide out from under official notice, and those who sacrificially take on the sufferings of others.
In many ways, God is a mystery, and never more so than on Trinity Sunday, and when we contemplate the three-in-oneness of God. In some ways our language for each Person of the Trinity is direct, and personal. We speak of God the Father, like a loving parent, the Source of all goodness. We say God the Son, referring to God coming into human life, God “with skin on”, in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. And we speak of the Holy Spirit, closer than life and breath itself. All so familiar, direct – and yet we also know that it barely penetrates the depth of who God is, and how these Three Personas (hypostases in Greek) are woven together in an inner reality of love, mutuality, and inter-dependence. The mystery of God is not a wall to keep us out, but a labyrinth of love, drawing us deeper and deeper into the heart of God.
That labyrinth is a life-long journey which begins at baptism, as we are washed in water in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, as we join Christ’s death and resurrection to God’s New Life, a mystery of power and joy. Along the way we are nourished by Christ’s own Body and Blood in the Eucharist, the meal that draws us into Communion with God and with our fellow believers – the whole Body of Christ though out the world and history. Our life in God given shape by our reading of the Scriptures – our own personal daily devotions and our public reading and reflection in worship. And the mystery of God’s life in us is tried and tested, challenged, confirmed, and enlarged as we live the reality of our faith in the world – where we are often carried to places and situations that we could never have imagined or anticipated. And always, always the mystery of our life in God is undergirded by prayer, which weaves us into the fabric of God’s love and truth. No matter where we are, no matter what we are doing, no matter what time it is - work time, sleep time, church time, exercise time, house-work time, driving, child care, or going out time – it is all God’s time. As Christians we don’t have separate categories of our lives, we don’t put our faith in a box, it’s not confined to Sunday mornings and bed-time prayers. One of the mysteries of God is that life is whole, one, a unity – at least that’s how God sees it, and what it is at its best.
St. Paul describes it in the letter to the church at Rome: “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ the Messiah…and celebrate the hope of the glory of God. That’s not all. We also celebrate in our sufferings, because we know that sufferings produce patience, patience produces a well-formed character, and a character like that produces hope.” In other words, there is nothing that happens to us in life that is outside of God’s loving embrace and cannot be turned to God’s purposes. How is this so? It is part of the mystery that is God who is the creator and author of all life. And because all life belongs to God, our lives and our faith are to be outward-facing, encountering the other, God at work in one another, being vehicles of hope and healing and love. And we are called to work with God to repair the world, grounded in real people’s real concerns. We are to make sure that our hope and love has “skin on”; we are, after all, apprentices to Jesus the Master who is God Incarnate.
And the Spirit who is closer than life and breath? That sounds so quiet, so docile – yet just last week in the celebration of Pentecost we spoke of the Spirit coming like flames of fire, in speech that is strange and glorious, like a rushing mighty wind that blows where and how he will, without asking our permission! The Holy Spirit is powerful, and intimate; fiery, and like soothing ointment; sometimes a stiff gale, and yet constant and tender. When the wind of the Spirit is blowing, often all we can do is hoist our sails and go, if we are to go with God who sustains and inspires the world, a mystery both incomprehensible and inviting, “a deep but dazzling darkness” as the poet Henry Vaughan has said.
How do we, then, ordinary people, trying to follow Jesus, trying to do the best we can, connect with, and enter into the mystery of God the Three-in-One, the Holy Trinity? We do it best by prayer. Not a prayer that tries to describe or puzzle out or encompass every aspect of God or every bit of Trinitarian theology, but a prayer that is simple enough and roomy enough to hold us, and the world, in God’s embrace. And here is one such prayer:
Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth:
Set up your kingdom in our midst.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God:
Have mercy on me, a sinner.
Holy Spirit, breath of the living God:
Renew me and all the world. Amen.~ N.T. Wright
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
May 22, 2016