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.

 

May we all be One

Feast of Christ the King (B)

Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” [John 18:37c] These are the words that Jesus spoke to Pontius Pilate at his trial, the night before his crucifixion. These are the words that conclude the Sunday readings for Year B on the Feast of Christ the King, which Christians celebrate this weekend.

Do we listen?

The truth is love. Love for God, and love for neighbor. Do unto others, and so forth.  Christians know this, but there are times when we struggle mightily to hear Jesus’ voice over the cacophony of our own.

These are pretty tough times for those who listen.

On Friday, November 13th ISIS suicide bombers attacked six densely populated locations in Paris, killing 126 people and injuring more than 300, leading French President Francois Hollande to declare war and commence bombing ISIS targets in Syria. This came one day after two suicide bombings, also the work of ISIS, killed 43 people and injured more than 230 in southern Beirut.

Both incidents were the continuation of a succession of unspeakable and violent attacks on civilians by the terrorist organization, ISIS, but the attack on Paris hit many Americans as if it had occurred on American soil.

Almost immediately an outpouring of heartfelt support blossomed on the internet. And, almost as quickly, social media sites were polluted with the hate-filled opinions, memes, and videos of armchair “experts” on ISIS, Islam, the Syrian refugee crisis, immigration, and Muslim American citizens.

By Monday, I was stunned into silence. The hateful rhetoric worsened with the added voices of “news” personalities and certain politicians. I had no words of my own to describe the depth of shame I felt. This growing pile of garbage—racism disguised as patriotism—exuded a stench that was shockingly similar to what it purported to reject. It did nothing if not to foment more fear and increase divisions between neighbors. If one of the goals of terrorism is to polarize its victims, we are effectively handing ISIS its success on a platter.

I write about Christian discipleship: what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I write about the need to press on, to remain focused and hopeful and unafraid, even, and especially in times of extreme hardship. But this week I felt as if my senses were being crushed by the sight, sound and smell of the world’s flesh being torn and mutilated on social media sites.

My struggle to form a single, hope-filled thought in response to so much hate speech, ignorance and fear-driven rhetoric left me dry. I believe I belong to the truth as lived by Jesus, but I also know that before these truths can be heard, ears need to be able to hear. And it seems to me that everyone is currently cutting off their opponent’s ears.

After 9/11 I wrote to my grandmother, who was 86 at the time and who lived another ten years, and asked her, in light of all that she had seen and experienced since her birth in 1915, to tell me how people managed to remain hopeful through such difficult times. What did people do to keep their hearts filled so that fear could not overcome them? In response to my question, she wrote, “We pulled together and supported one another,  because we were all suffering the same. We helped our neighbors, and we stuck together. And those hard times passed.”

My grandmother’s words consoled and assured me that as dark as those days were, hope remained alive. What she told me was that despite having good cause to be frightened, her generation learned to cope not by pushing away from one another, but by drawing closer together.

Jesus prayed on the night before he died that all might be one [Jn 17:21]. Facing his own death, Jesus prayed for us. In a speech on Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper said, “When Jesus uttered the words “may they all be one”, they by no means represented a vision or a dream. Jesus said these words on the eve of his death. This was not the time for triumphal utopias. The Galilean spring, when the enthusiastic crowds overwhelmed him, was over. They no longer cried “Hosanna!” but ” Crucify him!” Jesus was well aware of this, and predicted also that his disciples would not be one, and that they would be dispersed. What else could he do in this situation than to leave the future of his work in the hands of his Father? Thus, the words “may they all be one” are a prayer, a prayer in a humanly perceived hopeless situation.”[1]

We live in frightening times; it is true. And it is all too easy to succumb to fear and circle our wagons to keep others out. Turning against one another out of fear creates lies and leads to hatred; it separates us, and empties our hearts of hope.

Instead, let us turn towards one another and fill our hearts with the truth. Listen for Jesus’ voice, and may we all be one.

Today’s readings can be found here.

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[1] Cardinal Walter Kasper, May They All Be One? But How? A Vision of Christian Unity for the Next Generation, Keynote speech given to the Conference of the Society for Ecumenical Studies, the St Albans Christian Study Centre and the Hertfordshire Newman Association at St Alban’s Abbey, Hertfordshire, England on May 17, 2003

Love is greater than fear

love over fear

I can’t stop thinking about the community of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. Their witness to the power of love overcoming fear has filled me with awe.

First, because to the great shame of our nation, and as recent events in other parts of the United States have shown, racism against Black Americans continues to rear its poisonous and malformed face in deadly ways. A fearful, self-protective stance would be the expected response, and yet, this is not what occured. Second,  in this beautiful witness to the power of love I perceive the transformative, life-giving movement of the Spirit of God actively mending their brokenness.

This community, victims of racial terrorism that took the lives of nine members of their congregation, has every reason to become fearful and guarded, angry and vengeful. The details of this story have probably been reported thousands of times since it happened on the evening of June 17, 2015, and they should continue to be repeated, talked about, reflected upon, and remembered. Six women and three men were murdered by white supremacist Dylann Roof, who just moments before opening fire on them had joined the small group for Bible study. Yet, days later at Roof’s hearing, we heard the victim’s family members speaking words of forgiveness to him, and offering prayers for his soul. At that point, my husband turned to me and suggested that the real story is not the one about Dylann Roof. Rather, the real story is the way members of this community have chosen to push back from violence in the most counter-cultural way. Instead of falling into the abyss of fear they seem to be rising up through the pain—indeed, an historic pain—as a new creation that is stronger, more loving, and clearly a reflection of the merciful and forgiving God whom they worship.

“I forgive you.” These words hold all the power. But the ability to forgive the cold-blooded murderer of a loved one is incomprehensible to many. Forgiveness takes time, and healing and courage, and usually requires some sense that the other party is remorseful. Some things, it would seem, simply cannot be forgiven. But the inability to forgive can also perpetuate a sense of powerlessness, of being held hostage by the past. Forgiveness is not forgetting. It is not done to relieve the other party. It does not signify coming to terms or pushing one’s suffering to the side. It does not mean the systemic causes leading to the injury escape without correction. In many cases, its strength emerges from the victim’s desire to be free from the prison of hate that caused the pain. Incomprehensible as it seems in cases like this, Nadine Collier, daughter of Ethel Lance, Felicia Sanders, mother of Tywanza Sanders, and Bethane Middleton-Brown, sister of DePayne Middleton-Doctor tell us it is possible to forgive. Unburdened, the one who forgives takes on the healing power of love, which is the basis of forgiveness.

The Christian spiritual practice of forgiveness is an expression of God’s love. I sense that for the members of Emanuel AME Church, forgiveness is as foundational a spiritual practice as regular Sunday worship; it nourishes their understanding of the God who saves and who is love. Further, this community’s witness to the power of love overcoming fear seems to point to a particular awareness of the Mystery of God which can be summed up in the words of Cardinal Walter Kasper, “Everywhere that life breaks forth and comes into being, everywhere that new life as it were seethes and bubbles, and even, in the form of hope, everywhere that life is violently devastated, throttled, gagged and slain — wherever true life exists, there the Spirit of God is at work.” [Kasper, God of Jesus Christ (ch 2 n. 11)]

Because love is—and always be—greater than fear.