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Friends of the Soul

By Sr. Elizabeth Ann, SSJD.

Trinity by Kelly Latimore from the Vanderbilt Divinity Library

Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20.

In the name of God: Lover, Beloved and Love.  Amen.

Not many people like to preach on this day in the church calendar.  I believe it is because most think you must try and explain doctrine and the mysteries of the Holy Trinity. Quoting from Barbara Brown Taylor, “Three Hands Clapping” in Home by Another Way, (pp. 153—156), as she speaks about the Holy Trinity:

“Who are all these people? How can God the Father be his own son? And if Jesus is God, then whom is he talking to? And where does the Holy Spirit come in? Is that the spirit of God, the spirit of Jesus, or someone else altogether? If they are all one, then why do they come and go at different times, and how can one of them send another of them?”  She goes on to quote Robert Farrar Capon; “In one of his books, Robert Farrar Capon says that when human beings try to describe God we are like a bunch of oysters trying to describe a ballerina. We simply do not have the equipment to understand some-thing so utterly beyond us, but that has never stopped us from trying.”

Barbara Brown Taylor poses good questions all pointing to the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  I’m certainly not a theologian, that is, one who studies or is a specialist in religion.  The word theologian is derived from two Greek words: θεός meaning God, and λόγιον meaning divine communication.  To the Greeks logion meant a divine oracle – think of the Oracle of Delphi. In Christianity, Jesus is also called Logos or the Word, and the word logion is often used to describe the direct sayings of Jesus as distinct from the narrative of the Gospels.  The Orthodox tradition believe that you cannot be a theologian unless you are, first, a person of prayer.  We Sisters meet that Orthodox definition of theologians especially because of Mother Hannah’s insistence that prayer is to come first in our lives.  All our work proceeds out of our life of prayer.  So I guess I am a theologian, but even so, I’m not going to explain the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

How often do we hear of things or events coming in threes? They don’t really, but part of our nature as humans is to seek meaning in our lives and so we look for patterns in what happens in our lives and assign them meaning.  In Christian theology, the world, the flesh, and the devil are traditionally described as the three enemies of the soul. We associate the temptations of Jesus in the desert with this trinity.  In this first week after Pentecost as we move into the whole season of Holy Spirit, I believe our readings today show us three friends of the soul through whom we can orient our lives and live as glorious images and likenesses of God. These three friends are: creation, incarnation, and inspiration.

We begin at the beginning with the creation story in Genesis. “The 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. 1:3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 1:4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” God’s first act of creation was to call forth light.  Jesus spoke about being the light of the world.  Humankind is created on the sixth day, in the image and likeness of God, so we are, like Jesus, to be the light for all nations and creation. The world contains 8 billion images of God to contemplate. There are 29 of us living here perhaps that is enough to contemplate at present. As friend of the soul, creation calls to be actively involved in the loving nurture and care of the world: shining our light on care for the environment, the land, the waters, the sky; to shine a light on the swarms of living creatures to great to number: the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, and whatsoever swarms in the depths of the seas. I appreciate that we are watching the David Attenborough series on Our Planet right now, seeing the devastation that humankind has brought to all creation.  By shining a light on the environment and creation, we can find ways to befriend creation and have creation befriend us.

The letter to the Corinthians appeals to us to put things in order, like the work of God at the beginning of creation.  We are to agree with one another and live in peace, so that the God of love and peace will be with us. In other words, we are to incarnate the way of Jesus in our lives. We need to be one with another right now in this time when our police forces have been militarized and work out of a mentality of war on crime rather than one of first asking,, “who is my neighbour?”. This is where the second friend of the soul comes in as we live as incarnate images of God in the world and see every person as the image and likeness of God.

The third friend of the soul is the inspiration of Holy Spirit, Sophia, the wisdom of God.  In the gospel Jesus, the Word, recites the trinitarian formula in telling the disciples to “baptise the people of all nations, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  It is the good news contained in the final words, where the friend of the soul resides, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” How is it possible for Jesus to be with us except in Spirit who dwells among us, within us?

All three friends of the soul call forth the other and are one.  We are incarnate and are called to live in harmony with creation and be led by the Spirit within us.  We are one. Don’t our police forces need to know that we are one, neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, neither black nor white, but all have the breath of God within and need to breathe?

These days, I mostly refer to God as Divine Mystery and certainly the Holy Trinity is entirely mystery.  What I understand about the Trinity is only that it is somehow relational, inviting us into relationship with God who is Divine Mystery.  The icon done by Andrei Rublev pictures the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Henri Nouwen writes beautifully about it in his book, Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with icons.  Nouwen wrote that, “As we place ourselves in front of the icon in prayer we come to experience a gentle invitation to participate in the intimate conversation that is taking place among the three divine persons depicted and to join them at the table.

So too the hospitality of God the Trinity is in this icon I found on the internet by Kelly Latimore in 2016; the figures depicted gently beckon us to come to the table, where grapes and strands of wheat are placed before the central Christ figure, who stares out of the icon directly into our eyes.  One figure points towards us and looks towards the other two as if to say, “look, see who has come to join us today at table.” The third figure, who also gazes toward us, holds out her free hand ready to take ours in hers and complete the circle of joined hands round the table.  The house of Sarah and Abraham, the Oak at Mamre, and the hill of Mamre are all depicted in the background as in the Rublev icon.  Sarah and Abraham offered hospitality of the table to the three strangers, and they in turn, offered hospitality and life to a childless couple.  This is our invitation to life in God as One.

I end where I began, with the three friends of the soul: Creation, Incarnation, and Inspiration in this season of Pentecost.  Begin each day in this new unfolding of creation, contemplating the image and likeness of God who you are and of those around you in creation. Incarnate the love of God in the world around you and especially with those whom God has given you to live at this time and place.  Let Spirit dwell within you richly and guide you in all the wisdom of God that you may offer hospitality and give life to strangers.  I close with the greeting which came at the end of the epistle today from the NRSV version: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.   Amen.