The Innerness of All Things

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (C)

The Innerness of All Things, by Ranier Maria Rilke

You create yourself in ever-changing shapes
that rise from the stuff of our days—
unsung, unmourned, undescribed,
like a forest we never knew.

You are the deep innerness of all things,
the last word that can never be spoken.
To each of us you reveal yourself differently:
to the ship as a coastline, to the shore as a ship.

—The Innerness of All Things. Ranier Maria Rilke, From The Book of Hours II, 22.

On the first Sunday following Pentecost, Christians around the world celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Trinity—the union of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as defined by the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Trinitarian language, in an effort to describe the nature of God, expresses the means of human salvation: it is the Creator’s self-surrender through Jesus which infuses all of God’s creation with the power of the Holy Spirit.

According to the gospel of John, while Jesus was gathered with his disciples the night before he died he spoke of this progressive action of divine giving and receiving, and told them to anticipate the Spirit’s taking and declaring the Father’s truth, by way of Jesus, to them.

“Jesus said to his disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” [JN 16:12-15]

The mystery of the Triune God’s self-giving love is irrevocably tied to our reception of the truth, our salvation.

Yet for centuries efforts to describe the Trinity, the three divine persons-in-one, have resulted in analogies such as two men and a dove, a shamrock, a pretzel, a braid, and a three-part harmony, to name a few examples, or explained away with confounding and alienating paternal language that feels more like spiritual somersaults.

Our comprehension of the Trinity must emerge from the Christian experience of salvation; it cannot be forced into a concrete geometric object or intellectual exercise.

And so, our eyes glaze over. Every week we profess our Trinitarian belief, but I’m pretty sure most of us don’t really get it.

One of the problems is that we can’t resist dividing the Trinity into three parts. It’s natural. In order to understand something, we deconstruct it for a closer examination. But we aren’t sure how to mentally reassemble Trinity in a way that truly makes sense to us, so many Christians choose to favor one of the three persons over the whole, thereby depriving themselves of the fullness of Trinitarian spirituality.

“Jesus is my homeboy.” “I only pray to God the Father.” “I feel most connected to the Holy Spirit.”

This is really important: Trinitarian doctrine is not Tritheisim, it cannot be divided. We believe in one God, not three. And as Cardinal Walter Kasper says in his book, The God of Jesus Christ, “Trinity is the Christian form of monotheism.” The Trinity is the inseparable action of the Creator, Redeemer, and Advocate.

This is why I was inspired to lead with Ranier Maria Rilke’s poem, The Innerness of All Things. Although the poet does not mention God or the Trinity, he seems to grasp God’s immanent and wordless infusion in human activity and the flourishing of all creation.

“You are the deep innerness of all things, the last word that can never be spoken.”

This is the one Triune God who creates and emerges and is revealed and can be known in countless and surprising ways. This is our divine Source who dwells at the center of all things, sanctifying, redeeming, inspiring and drawing all of creation towards the divine Three-in-One.

Where Trinitarian language tends to confuse, perhaps the concept of the Triune God actively dwelling in the innerness of all things can provide some clarity.

Happy Feast of the Holy Trinity!

____________________________

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) has been called “the greatest German poet of the twentieth century” (The Economist).

Rilke’s poem, The Innerness of All Things, can be found on page 243 of A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke, by Anita Barrows, and Joanna Macy.  (1st edition. New York: HarperOne, 2009.)

You can find “A Year with Rilke” here, or through your favorite bookseller.

 

A Softness is Touching the Earth

 

Threshold of Spring

Harshness gone. All at once caring spreads over
the naked gray of the meadows.
Tiny rivulets sing in different voices.
A softness, as if from everywhere,

is touching the earth.
Paths appear across the land and beckon.
Surprised once again you sense
its coming in the empty tree.

—Threshold of Spring. Ranier Maria Rilke, Uncollected Poems

Thresholds usher us from one space into another. The seasons of the earth, Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, are crossings that cycle from one to the next. Nature strides across thresholds toward new birth, towards the flourishing of all that lives, towards necessary rest, towards death and resurrection, towards transformation. Always transformation.

We, passive participants in nature’s cycle that we are, experience Spiritual crossings in the same way. Although, perhaps this year we will do so with more intentionality.

How many Easter thresholds must we cross in a lifetime before the example of our life gives witness to what we profess to believe?

Surprised once again you sense its coming in the empty tree.

“Christos Anesti!” Christ is risen!
“Alithos Anesti” Truly, He is risen!

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. Let us each move forward in confidence and seek the flourishing of all that lives, always moving towards our conversion and transformation. We are Easter People, Alleluia! Alleluia!

Happy Easter, Good Disciples!

Your First Word Was Light

Your first word of all was light,
and time began. Then for long you were silent.

Your second word was man, and fear began,
which grips us still.

Are you about to speak again?
I don’t want your third word.

—Ranier Maria Rilke. Your First Word Was Light. Ranier Maria Rilke, From The Book of Hours I, 44

____________________________

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) has been called “the greatest German poet of the twentieth century” (The Economist). I’m going to bypass writing a short biography of the poet and just point you here instead.

Barrows, Anita, and Joanna Macy. A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke. 1st edition. New York: HarperOne, 2009. p 116.
You can find “A Year with Rilke” here, or through your favorite bookseller.

No Miracles, Please

remember barsabbas pastel

[When I wrote and scheduled the following post prior to leaving for school two weeks ago, I intended it to be a gentle comment on divine action. Then Dylann Roof happened. And because he wanted to start a race war, he killed nine black men and women who had welcomed him, their killer, to study the bible with them. The subsequent words of forgiveness spoken to Roof by some of the victims’ family members shows in the most heartbreaking, inspiring, and incomprehensible (for most), way that a different kind of miracle is possible. Hating the hater only brings about more hate. These families have shown us another way.]

What I love about the following poem by Ranier Maria Rilke, aside from everything, is his preference for an organic, and generative manifestation of God’s love in the ordinary over a display of divine power in the form of a miracle. It’s true, the fruit of our spiritual ripeness—shown through acts of love for God, neighbor, and all of God’s creation—is capable of generating new and vibrant growth well beyond our own sphere of influence. I know my part is to choose to be a carrier of the law to love God and neighbor, to actively be Christ, and see Christ in each person I meet, to be Eucharist. It’s not easy. Nobody ever said it would be easy. Still, I try.

No Miracles, Please
by Ranier Maria Rilke

I would rather sense you
as the earth senses you.
In my ripening
ripens
what you are.

No miracles, please.
Just let your laws
become clearer
from generation to generation.

—No Miracles, Please. Ranier Maria Rilke, From The Book of Hours II, 15

It’s not enough to bloom

5th Sunday of Easter (B)

Let’s talk about ripeness. And by ripeness I mean age, but I also mean fruitfulness. Surely we have heard people wax poetic about entering the autumn of one’s life, about earning one’s wrinkles, about aging with grace, about the privilege of reaching a ripe old age. You may even be one of them. When she was about 3 years old, my daughter used to say, “I can’t like that!” about many things that she did not want to accept. And while all of the above sentiments about aging are noble and true, I have to say, “I can’t like that!” no matter how I try. But as much as I would like to remain flower fresh all of my days I accept that it’s not enough to bloom. Aging is a lot like ripening. But before ripening can occur there must be fruit. And before fruit: a flower, and before the flower: a vine, a seed, and soil.

In John’s gospel, Jesus analogizes his relationship with the disciples to a vine and branches [John 15:1-8]  As branches, the disciples are nourished by the life-giving sap flowing through the vine. They grow and produce fruit. The fruit of the disciples is their action. They do the work of Christ. They cannot do this work on their own; they cannot leave the vine and survive. A branch that does not produce fruit indicates separation, disease, or the need for hard pruning.

Mystical metaphors such as the vine and the branches powerfully illustrate the mutual abiding between the Father and Jesus, and between Jesus and us. The image portrays Jesus as the conduit of divine direction between the vine grower (God) and the branches (us). Through these metaphors we grasp the reciprocal nature of Jesus’ consciousness and our responsibility to act upon it.

Earlier this month I spent a day tending to the flowering trees and shrubs in my garden. The long and harsh winter left many of them damaged with broken branches. I also noticed suckers and vertical shoots—non-producing growths that divert important nutrients from the healthy branches—emerging from the trunks. I know that carefully pruning away dead and useless growth encourages new growth and increases flowering. I am doing the same thing in my spiritual life: snipping away what does not bloom in order to open new spaces for regrowth.

Sour_cherriesBut it is not enough to bloom, is it? A tree heavy with blossoms may represent the peak of its beauty, but its showy fragrant flowers are designed to produce fruit. In the spiritual life the bloom is the time of conversion, that period of elation that comes with high inner consciousness and spiritual awareness. Neither the flowering tree or the spiritual high of conversion is sustainable; although they return, both must subside. The test of the bloom is the fruit that follows. If a bough of cherry blossoms is cut from the tree and brought inside one’s home, the space fills with fragrance but the blossoms will never produce cherries. If a person experiences a spiritual awakening while on a weekend retreat, yet Monday looks no different from the previous Friday, that person cannot produce fruit. But, let the cherry blossoms remain on the bough, let the petals fall, and let the fruit grow, ripen, and become food. Ripeness is the fulfillment of the bloom. The ability to nourish another is the revelation of its life’s work. This cannot happen unless it remains.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” [John 15:5]

We are the branches of the true vine. Conversion and the call to discipleship can, and do, occur again and again if one remains on the vine. But branches don’t simply rest and admire their own glossy leaves and flowers, and neither can we. We are expected to bear fruit. And, we are expected to ripen. It is hard to watch the petals fall. It can be uncomfortable. I can’t like it and I wonder if I ever will, but I do understand.

The poet, Ranier Maria Rilke, describes this necessary discomfort in the following poem:

In the Drawing Room

They are all around us, these lordly men
in courtiers’ attire and ruffled shirts
like an evening sky that gradually
loses its light to the constellations; and these ladies,
delicate, fragile, enlarged by their dresses,
one hand poised on the neck-ribbon of their lapdog.
They are close to each of us, next to the reader,
beside us as we gaze at the objets d’art
they left behind, yet still possess.

Tactful, they leave us undisturbed
to live life as we grasp it
and as they could never comprehend it.
They wanted to bloom
and to bloom is to be beautiful.
But we want to ripen,
and for that we open ourselves to darkness and travail.

—Rainer Maria Rilke

From A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke, edited by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.  1st edition. New York: HarperOne, 2009. p 106.

Today’s readings can be found here.

A poem for all days

book-heartToday is my birthday. Since I’d like to make it to 100, I now have nearly as many birthdays left to celebrate as have been given to me. This may seem trite, but looking back it is clear that life is a series of lives, chapters, so to speak. And for these and their marked up, underlined and dog-eared pages, I am grateful.

I’ve mentioned before my admiration, actually, my love for the words of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. He has been recognized as the most “lyrically intense” German poet, and while my knowledge of German poetry actually begins and ends with Rilke (perhaps I need to get out more), I have to agree. The editors of the book, A Year with Rilke (which everyone should have in their library, by the way), have chosen a perfect poem for today, and for all days:

Lyrical intensity, indeed.

Being Ephemeral

Does Time, as it passes, really destroy?
It may rip the fortress from its rock;
but can this heart, that belongs to God,
be torn from Him by circumstance?
Are we as fearfully fragile
as Fate would have us believe?
Can we ever be severed
from childhood’s deep promise?
Ah, the knowledge of impermanence
that haunts our days
is their very fragrance.
We in our striving think we should last forever,
but could we be used by the Divine
if we were not ephemeral?
—Sonnets to Orpheus II, 27

God Speaks, Easter People

Easter

I am, you anxious one.

Don’t you sense me, ready to break
into being at your touch?
My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings,
Can’t you see me standing before you
cloaked in silence?
Hasn’t my longing ripened in you
from the beginning
as fruit ripens on a branch?

I am the dream you are dreaming.
When you want to awaken, I am waiting.
I grow strong in the beauty you behold.
And with the silence of stars I enfold
your cities made by time.

—God Speaks. Ranier Maria Rilke, From The Book of Hours I, 19

Not only His longing, but ours. We are faced with one choice: to be an Easter people and step into the light, or to roll the stone back to its place and extinguish hope.

I will choose the light. Happy Easter, people!