Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Trinity Explained, A Halting Effort

I did not send out an edition of News and Views last week as Lorna and I were travelling to our cottage in P.E.I.—the Island province of Canada for readers who are not Canadian.  One American friend wished me” a good summer on the lake” when I told him I was going to our cottage on Prince Edward Island. 

I had a response to my most recent News and Views on the Trinity which posed some very interesting and challenging questions.  I thought I would use this venue to respond. 
Here are the questions:
Can you explain to me your grounding belief in the Trinity? I can’t explain internally the need for formal religion and rules and commitment. 
I agree that when you drill down to the bottom of all... be good treat people as you want to be treated..  try to correct wrongs when you can etc. 
Does it come down to blind faith? What drives you to continue?  Do you ever feel that your energy would better placed in just straight up social justice?
On reflection, I don’t think it would be wise to try and tackle all of them this week.  That would take more space than I try and allot for these epistles.  So, will spend the next few weeks responding to them.  Today I will try and tackle the question of my Trinitarian belief—the saying about fools rushing in does come to mind, but here goes.

At this point in my life I can say without reservation that I am Trinitarian in my belief.  I haven’t always been able to say that.  However, it has been an evolving belief and understanding in my life.  For me each “Person” or aspect of the Trinity is the best expression I know of the nature of God/the divine.  All parts of the Trinity are necessary for my understanding and experience of God.  I am able to see God as creator in the world in which I live and the infinite universe which this world, and by implication I am a part.  I believe that this world does have a creator—it could not have happened by mere chance given the complexity and richness and manifold nature of the universe.  This is, admittedly, a matter of faith which I will explore in future musings.  It is also essential to me to be aware that I am a creature, being created by God.  I have been given gifts which make me who I am, a person of strengths and weaknesses but also a unique expression of God creation.  However, I also am aware, at least some of the time, that every human’s being is inherently worthy of respect.  I do not by any measure succeed in that all the time or even most of the time which brings me to the second Person of the Trinity; Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God the Father; fully human and fully divine.  This is the part of the Trinity which has been the greatest challenge for me over the years.  I could always appreciate Jesus as a great teacher and all-round good guy.  I might have also believed he could have performed some miracles if they could be explained rationally or scientifically such as the feeding of the 5000 when everyone brought out the bag lunch they had hidden under their cloaks.  However, I have come to believe, as it is a pure case of belief, that Jesus was the example of God expressed as fully as possible in a human person.  Everything else follows from that, miracles and healings including the big one—the resurrection. 

Perhaps the most important aspect of the revelation of the divine in Jesus is how Jesus is the perfect example of the ego in the correct relationship to God i.e. serving God rather than what seems to be part of our nature of trying to make God serve the ego.  However, it is Jesus who makes forgiveness possible for me—possible but not easy.  Jesus sacrificed himself and showed us it is possible to forgive our enemies and to be forgiven.  Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. 
Finally, the Third Person; the Holy Spirit.  As I mentioned previously, this is my favourite part of the Trinity.  It is the one I have the most direct experience with and of.  The Holy Spirit is the thing that moves and shapes me on a daily basis, when I pay attention to it, and even when I do not.  It brings dreams which are a revelation from God about my relationship to God and who God created me to be.   It is with me every moment of my life, waking and sleeping and is my guide and source of the divine.  However, I wish it was more predictable and easier to understand at times.

I will stop there for today.  I could say much more about the Trinity and that would only be a pin prick of what is possible to know.  Beyond that, what is important to know is that it is at bottom and top, inside and out a mystery.  And ultimately it is best to ‘let the mystery be’ to quote one of my favourite songs. 

I want to thanks the person who responded with these questions.  They lead me to places I might not otherwise explore at this moment. 

Blessings on your journey. 

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Thoughts on the Trinity

Yesterday was Trinity Sunday in the Anglican church calendar.  It is the day in the church year in which we celebrate the three-fold nature of God.  It might be tempting for a non-Christian to ponder if Christians claim to be monotheists why do they worship three Gods?    There is no simple answer to that―at least one that I am aware of.  However, I am a full-blown Trinitarian and have no problem (at least on my better days) believing in the three-fold God of the creeds; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit or as some parts of the Christian church has updated it; Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.

That being said, I must confess that I am partial to the third person of that Trinity; the Holy Spirt.  I have said elsewhere, perhaps a bit irreligiously, that the Holy Spirit is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Trinity, ‘it don’t get no respect’.  God the Father and God the Son usually get more attention and honour in the church, at least the part I am familiar with, except for special occasions such as Pentecost.  Considering it was an integral part at the beginning of things; “1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1: 1-2).  The Holy Spirit was the responsible for the incarnation, “The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” (Luke 1:35).  We are also told about its nature in John’s Gospel that the Holy spirit is unpredictable, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

I believe that it is this characteristic of the Holy Spirit, the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature, that has determined its lowlier estate in much of organized religion.  The Holy Spirit blows where it chooses and is not constrained by the church hierarchy.  Try as they might, and they have, the clergy cannot control the Holy Spirit and more than anyone else is able to.  To my mind, the main characteristic of the Holy Spirit is that it inspires.  The way it inspires which I am particularly thankful for is in our dreams which are aptly called, God’s Forgotten Language.

However, there is much which can be challenging and frustrating with the Holy Spirit.  It never, as far as I know, operates on command.  We may wish that we could call upon it when and where it is needed but it is beyond our control.  This desire has been called elsewhere ‘God the Butler’, a God who can be called up from the servant’s quarters when it is convenient and desirable. 

Now I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I don’t believe in the importance of the other two Persons of the Trinity.  God the Creator has created and continues to create and I have been redeemed by the sacrifice of God the Son.  All three are important and necessary to my life.  But as with our children it may not be politic to have a favourite but it is human.

The question I will leave you with, at least your Christians, is, which Person of the Trinity do you pray to when you pray?  

Blessings on your journey.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Wither the Holy Spirit

Last Sunday was Pentecost.  The scripture reading from Acts is one of the better know passages of the New Testament which describes the impact of the Holy Spirit on those assembled in Jerusalem at what is now considered the birth of the Christian Church.  There was the sound like a mighty wind, tongues of fire on the heads of the assembled, and the speaking in tongueswhich should be remembered was by the Galileans in the different languages of the assembled people (unlike the modern speaking in tongues which apparently no one can interpret).
I noted in my sermon that the Holy Spirit seems to be more subtle in its work these day.  At least we don’t seem to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit as easily as happened on that Day of Pentecost two thousand years ago.  As a result, we seem to have trouble being aware when and how the Holy Spirit is actually working in our lives and in the world. 

Coincidentally, at the time I began to write my sermon the Daily Meditation from Richard Rohr, for that day arrived in my mail inbox.  It had a passage which addressed just this point:
In the great basilica in Assisi where Francis is buried, there is a wonderful bronze sculpture of Francis inviting the Holy Spirit. Instead of looking upward as is usual, he gazes reverently and longingly downward—into the earth—where the Spirit is enmeshed. Francis understood that the Holy Spirit had in fact descended; she is forever and first of all here!
There are many different waysperhaps countless waysin which the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives.  However, we do not have ears to hear and eyes to see many of them.  This coincident of the email from Richard Rohr is one of them.  It is what I consider to be synchronicity.  Synchronicity is a technical term which can simply be defined as a significant coincident.  A more formal definition is:
the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (such as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality —used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung
I have for many years been interested in synchronicity as a concept and have had some experiences of it in my life.  I consider them to be significant and can, as in the case of dreams, reveal things to me about where my life is and where it is heading. 

In the case of the Richard Rohr quote it was a helpful encapsulation of what I had wanted to say about the work of the Holy Spirit today.  Another example in my life was when I had been considering my call to ordained ministry.  I had been taking a few theology courses at Huron College, basically for interest, as I approached retirement for the first time from my civil service job.  I had resisted what seemed to be the nagging of God telling me that I should begin the formal path to ordination.  I decided the only way to move forward was to actually begin the formal part of the journey.   I went for an interview with the Dean of Theology at Huron, John Chapman.  We have a very positive conversation.  At the conclusion I started my drive home and turned on the radio which was tuned to CBC radio one as usual.  What was playing was an interview with three people who had been ordained later in life.  I took this to be confirmation that I was on the right path in my life.  That this was and is the right path seems to have been confirmed since.

Another example which was more a question of confirming the important of synchronicity in my life as a phenomenon happened many years ago when I was taking a course on Jungian psychology at University.  In one class we considered Jung’s concept of synchronicity.  We were discussing an essay on the subject written by Jung.  It was entitled “On Synchronicity” in the collection The Portable Jung.  In it he writes, “On April 1, 1949, I made the note in the morning an inscription containing a figure that was half man and half fish. There was fish for lunch.  Somebody mentioned the custom of making an “April fish” of someone.”  Jung goes on from there to discuss the multiplying of coincidents that occurred.  For Jung the concept of fish was very important as it represented in dreams and waking life material that is drawn from the unconscious of a person.
It so happens that I was born on April 1, 1949.  It also happened that the class was begin held on April 1st.  I inquired of the professor if he had chosen to deliberately to discuss the topic on that day because it fell on April first.  He declared that he hadn’t.  It was, in effect, a synchronistic event about synchronicity. 

I have had other experiences of synchronicity which I consider to be important.  It is very easy for someone to dismiss these experiences as mere coincidence without meaning.  However, as with much of the work of the Holy Spirit today we need to be open to the possibility that the Holy Spirit is working in our lives in ways that can be meaningful if we pay attention to them.

I hope that you will be open to however the Holy Spirit is working in your life journey and in the world.

Blessings on your journey.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The Laughter at the Heart of Things

Recently I wrote a couple of News and Views about control.  I want to follow up with my thoughts and reflections on humility and humour.  Now it may not be obvious that there is a connection between these three things i.e. control, humour and humility. However, I would like to explore the relationship that I see.The first connection was when I heard a commentator on TV talk about his time observing Donald Trump, the “so called” President of the United Sates.  Now as an aside, Mr. Trump is of course the President having won the Electoral College vote, if not the popular vote.  In any case, the commentator noted than in his extensive observation of Mr. Trump he had never seem him laugh.  I wondered, on hearing this, why that would be?  My initial reflection was that Mr. Trump, at heart, if he has one (which of course he does in the physical sense), was a very insecure person who needs to have his ego constantly stroked. 

At the time, I had been reading a book of essays by Helen Luke which is entitled, The Laughter at the Heart of Things.  It is a wonderful collection that deals insightfully and widely of many subjects.    The essay from which the title is drawn delves into the attribute or gift which she quotes Schopenhauer as stating, “a sense of humour is the only divine quality of man.”  In the essay she expounds that, “ But the individual may tragically remain obsessed into adult years with his or her superiority or inferiority as the case may be.  Nothing more quickly kills the ability to laugh at oneself which is the mark of a sense of humour.”  I cannot imagine Donald Trump ever laughing at himself.  However, I can imagine Barrack Obama do that and I am sure f I investigate I would find examples of just thatnot to say that Obama was a perfect president, but I know it would annoy Donald Trump to be compared unfavourably to Barack Obama if he were to read thiswhich he won’t,

What, then, does this have to do with humility?  Well, the best statements about humility is that someone who is truly humble cannot be humiliated.  They are too humble to take themselves seriously and therefore cannot be humiliated.  Following on that thought is another quote by Helen Luke, “to be humble is to see things clearly.”  When we see ourselves clearly, we will be humbled by what we see—our warts and imperfections; our shadow; our desire to be perfect despite our imperfections. 

Okay, so there is a connection of all this to the need to be in control.  If we are insecure and at heart, if we have one at that sense, are not truly humble enough to see how we are in relation to the world that God has created, there is no way that we can laugh at the ideocracies and foibles and incongruities of life and most importantly, at ourselves. 

What is at the heart of the matter, according to Helen Luke, is a sense of proportion.  Luke quotes T.S. Eliot and notes that, “Eliot is expressing here (in the quote) the identity of a sense of humour with the sense of proportion and the humility that this engenders”.  What is at the heart of things the joy of seeing disproportion restored to proportion. 

Finally, when we have a sense of restored proportion as Julian of Norwich is credited with saying, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

May you be blessed on your journey with a sense of the laughter at the heart of things.

Monday, 14 May 2018

How Can I Keep From Singing

Last night I participated in Singspiration at St. James Anglican Church in Parkhill.  This was an old-time hymn sing which is the brain child of the Ernie Harris who is one of the pastors at the Nairn Mennonite Church in our neighbouring community. 

Singspiration is an outreach program by the Nairn church where they conduct an evening of singing favourite hymns in the gospel tradition.  They organize the event and ask a host church to provide the facility and some refreshments following the event.  It is intended as an ecumenical event which will bring together different churches in the community.  In my estimation it was a success by that and any other measure.   My role was to represent St. James church and officially welcome people and to thank all the participants. 

We sang a selection of old hymns, some of which were familiar to me and some which weren’t.  However, all of them were easy to sing and ones which everyone sang with great feeling.  There were a couple of song performed by Ernie and his wife, Jan.  I also performed a song which I first heard at the Dream Conference I attended at Kanuga a year ago, How Can I Keep From Singing.  This is a song which could have been written yesterday but was actually written in the 19th century by Robert Wadsworth Lowry.  As I noted last night, I don’t know where this song has been all my life as I have come across it numerous times since.  It is included in church hymnals and of course performances can be found by various performer on YouTube.

The song resonated with me deeply the first time I heard it and has been in my heart ever since, becoming my favourite song to hear and perform.  After the event, two people mentioned that they intend to have the song performed at their funerals, which strikes me as the perfect summation of any life where music and singing was an integral part; that certainly is my life.

I will leave you with the lyrics of the song and a link to a performance by Enya for your enjoyment and reflection, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MM8mOKfxmWw
My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro' all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What tho' my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho' the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it,
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Who’s in Control part 2

Yesterday St. James Anglican Church in Parkhill was celebrating its 149th anniversary.  It was a low-key but lovely service which Lorna and I attended.  Rev. Karen Nelles, the rector of the parish was presiding and preaching.  It was rater nice to be able to worship with Lorna and have a break from any liturgical duties.  The sermon was based on the Gospel reading John 15:1-8, with the theme, I am the vine you are the branches. 

In her sermon, Karen referred to drinking the Kool-Aid.  This is a reference to the cult led by Jim Jones who forced his followers to drink Kool-Aid laced with poison.  It has come to refer to someone who goes along with a dangerous idea because of peer pressure. 

It stuck me that Jim Jones had mistakenly tried to be the vine instead of a branch.   In effect, he wanted to be in control rather than acknowledging that God is the one who should be in control and is ultimately in control.  I recall years ago watching a movie based in Jim Jones’ life.  As I recall, he started out in California with a ministry which had very high motives.  It was focussed on racial integration.  However, he lost his way and led his followers astray with deadly consequences.  In effect, he began to believe he was the vine rather than one of the branches. It is very easy to become confused about being a vine or a branch.  Putting it another way we believe that our branch is really the same as the vine and therefore what we desire for ourselves and others is actually what God desires. 

Sin is not just a question of being alone and not being in relationship with other people and the world.  It is a question of what kind of relationship.  A master and a slave are in a relationship but it is a relationship in which one personthe masteris in control and the other―the slave―is controlled i.e. not free.  That is a state of being in sin.  The relationship between others and me must be mutual.  In which one does not control or dominate the other.  Richard Rohr addressed this in today’s Daily Meditation quoting C.S. Lewis:
Sin is a refusal of mutuality and a closing down into separateness. In his classic book, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis has a ghostly soul in hell shouting out, “I don’t want help. I want to be left alone.” [1] Whenever we refuse mutuality toward anything, whenever we won’t allow our deep inner-connectedness to guide us, whenever we’re not attuned to both receiving and giving, you could say that the Holy Spirit is existentially (but not essentially) absent from our lives.
The desire to control is a great temptation for us as human beings.  It is natural but it is not the intention God has for us.  We are called to live lives in which we serve and not lives in which we believe we should be served.  We are the branches and Jesus is the vine.

Blessings on your journey.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

So, Who is In Control?

A week ago, I had a reminder that any belief that I am in ultimate control of my life is an illusion.  Saturday of that weekend we experienced the beginning of the ice storm from a Colorado Low which had been predicted.  This prediction was unfortunately worthy of a Biblical Prophet being right on target.  The ice storm on Saturday was followed by a power failure on Sunday morning which lasted until Monday evening for us in Parkhill. 
All the plans for the weekend were cancelled, at least for us, including a 90th birthday party in Grand Bend, church Sunday morning at St. James. Parkhill, and a tea and vintage fashion show at the Carnegie Library in Parkhill where I was supposed to provide mood music on guitar.  We were without the amenities and necessities provided by electrical power.  It is amazing how you don’t realize how much we depend on electricity until we don’t have it.  As it says in the song from the 1960ties, “Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.”

This experience is a reminder or perhaps it is a realization that we are not in control.  It is very easy for us to succumb to the illusion that we are in control of our lives. I went on retreat in he week after Easter to Apple Farm, a contemplative community in Three Rivers, Michigan.  I believed in my heart of hearts why I was doing this, hopefully for all the best reasons, and that I knew what I was getting into.  I knew in my head what I would be experiencing.  It is always more challenging in reality than in theory, I still had a fairly clear idea and knew it was my decision to do it.  In effect I believed I was ultimately in control of my destiny, even on a retreat.

However, the power failure made me face the reality that when you get down to the nitty gritty of life. Any idea that you are ultimately in control is just an illusion.  We have a need to believe that we can control what will happen to us.  We try as hard as we can to maintain that control.  And to a limited extent we are.  However, we consciously or unconsciously try to ignore the reality that our lives are actually ultimately out of our control. 

We try to do all we can to ensure that our lives will turn out as we desire; we will have good health if we eat right and exercise or at least not abuse our bodies.  We do the right things and we will be rewarded with the life we believe we want.  However, a relatively small thing like a power failure for 36 hours show us that we are at the mercy of forces that we cannot control. 
The only true constant in our lives is the voice of the Divine calling us to our true home with God our heavenly Father.  This might be the voice of the Holy Spirit or the voice of the Good Shepherd―yesterday was Good Shepherd Sunday.  We desire control because we are fearful of what will happen if we do not have control. 

Who knows what curve life will throw at us.  And that is reality.  The illusion is that we can control our lives and keep ourselves safe from those things.  However, our true security is in God.  It is in the voice of the Good Shepherd calling us to our true home, our spiritual home.  That is the home which is always there for us.  That is where we are loved unconditionally for who we are and not what we accomplish.  That is where there is a room that is truly our and where we are always welcome.

Blessings on you journey.