I remember kneeling in the pew after returning from communion. I was lost in a haze; I didn't think of the day, of the sermon I just heard, or of the sacrament I'd received. I couldn't hear them. I could only hear my fear about what the next week would bring. The stress. The work. The worry. The rush. Kneeling there in church, I tried to pray through my distress as the choir sang of Mary, the mother of Jesus--"Hail, Favored One," they sang, "the Lord is with you." But I couldn't hear them either. My fear, my anxiety was stronger than their words.
Surrendering my failed attempt at prayer, I listened instead, trying to catch my daughter's voice in the choir. As the sopranos rose and soared above the rest of the group, surprising tears sprang to my eyes. Surprising--they were not the helpless tears of self-pity. I would have expected those. No, it was not sadness I felt, but joy and gratitude that flowed from some mysterious world deeper, more wondrous and gracious than the one inhabited by my troubled mind. In that moment, I felt transported to another place, a place where sadness and anxiety had no place, where they had evaporated like so much morning mist, and a voice deep within me spoke to my fears. "It doesn't all depend on you," the voice said. "I am here."
With those words, a sense of well-being washed over me, and I believed the voice. I knew it spoke truth, and I did not doubt that this joy which suddenly swept over me was an absolute and utter gift. I had done nothing to produce it. But suddenly, mysteriously, it was there, and for that moment I no longer lived in the world of my fears where everything depends on me, on my shallow insights, my small skills, my all-too-human weaknesses. No, I was swept into an enormous space that was filled by an Infinite Other, and somehow I felt I was inside this Infinite Other, this mystery, who lovingly spoke to my heart, saying, "Do not fear. I will not fail you. Don't you know by now how much I treasure you?" And I rested there knowing that this larger world, this immense space, this Infinite Other, was my true home.
I rested, but the voice wasn't done with me. It continued to speak. "David," it said, "I have known you. I have known you since before the dawn of time, since before you were conceived in your mother's womb. Since before then, you have been mine and I am yours. I molded you in the depths of the earth. I knitted you together in your mother's womb. I carved you into the palm of my hand. I hide you in the shadow of my embrace. I look upon you with an infinite tenderness. I care for you like a mother cherishes her child. I know every hair on your graying head, and wherever you go I am with you. Wherever you rest I will keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy hungers that you do not yet even know that you have, for you are mine and I am yours. You belong to me and I to you. I am in you and you are in me and I take delight in you."
Through my tears I could see that it wasn't just me, but all those sitting around me were caught up in this loving mystery who spoke to my heart. All of us, the whole world, was being drawn into that great mystery, who embraced me in that moment with an unspeakable love that far transcended my comprehension.
But what is this? What happened to me? I believe that this was an experience of somehow being on the inside of God. This was an experience of being drawn into the community of the Holy Trinity and enjoying intimate fellowship with the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Christians have always confessed that God is one, and yet within God there are three persons--three expressions of the divine nature. They are revealed in the church and the world. Christian scripture describes God as Father, as the Son or Incarnation of God in Jesus, and the Spirit or breath of God that animates and works through the church and in all creation. The mystery of the Holy Trinity that transcends our ability to know has yet inspired authors and artists to depict it in many ways.
There is one way I find very helpful. It is a Russian Orthodox icon painted by Andrei Rublev. Icons have a cherished place in the worship and prayer of Eastern Orthodox Christians. They are stylized paintings of biblical figures. They are invitations to prayer, really. Believers look at them, meditate on them, notice the details, the expression on the faces of the people, the posture of their bodies, and as they meditate, they gain insight into the mystery and the purpose and the mercy of God. Icons, rightly I think, have been called windows into heaven letting believers see the love of God so much more clearly.
Rublev's Icon of the Trinity shows three figures--three divine messengers--who are visiting the Old Testament patriarch Abraham. They sit at a small table, each figure representing a person of the Holy Trinity, and as they sit, they point to a chalice on the table, a symbol of God's overflowing love. But they sit only on three sides of the table. There's an open side, and one of the figures points to the vacant space inviting the viewer--inviting you--to sit down with the three persons and share fellowship. The icon invites us to share the overwhelming divine love that exists among the three figures at the table and to become a participant in sharing the mystery of divine life and love. It pictures God's great desire to draw us in and to share the divine life with us. Rublev, I think, pictures the experience of the Holy Trinity into which I had been drawn as I returned from communion and knelt in the pew that day.
But there are other pictures of the Holy Trinity. Several years ago, an ancient symbol of the Holy Trinity began appearing in my prayer. The image was and is that of a great whirlwind. I see the dark winds of the whirlwind rushing around in a circle faster and faster. The wind is the unceasing, unstoppable current of love that rushes from God the Father to God the Son to the Holy Spirit and back to the Father and back to the Son and so on and so on. Round and round it goes with neither beginning nor end. The wind roars from God the Father, who loves the Son and gives divine life to the Son who then gives all his gifts to the Spirit, who in turn pours out all those gifts to us and we give praise to God. This is the image today's Gospel reading suggests.
Jesus speaks to his friends about going away. He says, "I will go away but I will send the Spirit who will not leave you." But what does the Spirit bring? The Spirit brings the life, the beauty, the love, the purpose of Jesus. The Spirit brings the life that Jesus has received from God the Father. So God the Father gives divine gifts to the Son of God who pours them out to the Spirit who brings them to us trying to magnetically draw us into the whirlwind, trying to make us part of that magnificent, never-ending outpouring of love. And as we receive the unspeakable love and mercy of God, we are being drawn ever deeper into this great cycle of divine generosity. And as we share it with others, we enlarge the circle enlarging the life of God in the world.
The image of the whirlwind doesn't always appear the same way to me. Sometimes I see every created thing--stars and suns, galaxies and universes, people and animals, the earth in its green and glorious splendor--all flowing out of the vortex of the whirlwind, out of the center, as if creation itself is nothing more than the overflow of generosity and wonder flowing from the love of God. At other times, I see the whirlwind spinning, drawing all things into its midst so that everything becomes a part of this divine cycle of giving and receiving, each person, each being, receiving gifts and passing them on, sharing in and reflecting the internal character and nature of the very life of God. When we share gifts we have received--gifts of life, of talent, of purpose, of joy, of mercy, passing them on to others--we are not just living like God, imitating God. No, we are inside of God's own holy life. We are participating in that process through which more and more creation, more and more of our very selves is being drawn into that great cycle of giving and receiving that is the divine life of God.
As you receive the generosity of the one who has loved you since before the dawn of time and then share yourself with friend, neighbor, enemy, you live inside the whirlwind blown by the currents of the divine wind that blows through all creation. The whirlwind--this cycle of divine generosity--is the very breath of the universe. To resist it is to invite death.
The contemporary writer Frederick Buechner describes a similar experience of being caught up in the communal life of the Holy Trinity in his book "The Longing for Home." Buechner, his wife, and daughter were visiting Sea World in Orlando, Florida. The bleachers where he and his family sat were packed as six killer whales were released into a tank. And now I read from Buechner:
"What with the dazzle of the sky and sun, the beautiful young people on the platform, the soft southern air and crowds all around us watching the performance with a delight matched only by what seemed the delight of the performing whales, it was as if the whole creation--men and women, beast and sun, water and earth and sky and for all I know God Himself--was caught up in one jubilant dance of unimaginable beauty. And then, right in the midst of it, I was astonished to find that my eyes were filled with tears.
Buechner describes the glory and beauty of creation as it is drawn up into the divine life of God and reflects the great dance of generosity that is God's own inner life. God's desire, God's yearning, God's hunger, is to draw all things--to draw you--into union with the community of the Holy Trinity. Jesus sends the Spirit, telling us the Spirit will not stop working, will not stop struggling, will not stop drawing us each everyone into the divine whirlwind by the gravity of God's own grace.
"I will not stop," God says to you, "not until I am in all and all is in me." This is God's holy dream for the world, God's dream for you--that you may live in the dancing wind of God's joy and generosity.
Dearest Friend, Blessed Mystery, Eternal Wonder, you intend us to share your own blessed life. Draw us so deeply into you that we may acknowledge with wonder the glory that you are and be empowered to praise you properly and to serve you with the joy that you yourself know in sharing your life with us. This we pray in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Brother. Amen.