Sunday, June 4, 2023
The Most Holy Trinity
Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Sr. Joan Chittister, O.S.B., is a religious sister, an author and a well-known speaker and retreat director. She writes, “In the long light of human history, then, it is not belief in God that sets us apart. It is the kind of God in which we choose to believe that in the end makes all the difference.” (“Search of Belief”) She’s quite right. There are probably as many different understandings of God as there are people in our pews.
For some, God seems to be a policeman in the sky, overseeing all we do, catching us in our sin, issuing purgatory tickets, and in the extreme, relegating us to life in prison behind the bars of hell.
Others seem to relate to God as the ultimate Santa Claus. It is God who doles out to good men and women generous blessings from the lists we write, always knowing we might get coal if we have not been good. The wonder of it all is that such a Santa-God does not come only once a year with his bag of gifts but anytime we ask, all year long.
There are also those whose God seems to be a magician-God, pulling off miracles on rare and startling occasions, always keeping secret how it can be done, always allowing those few favored ones to delight in God’s magic. We all hope in a miracle.
Finally, there are some for whom God seems to be absent, vacationing on some distant beach they might think. For them, God began the earth spinning, and now it is upon us to keep it spinning. We are on our own, they surmise, and must make life work as best we can.
It’s probably true that all of us have remnants of such gods as well as many others, all woven to a greater or lesser degree into the God to whom we do homage. The real question is whether any of them do justice to the real God, or are we simply making God into an image of ourselves rather than discovering how it is that we are made in the image of God?
Christian Wiman is a professor at Yale and both an author and poet. In a recent Commonweal magazine article, he wrote, “When I was a child, the two most intolerable aspects of my life (or the two of which I was then conscious) were church and school. Both seemed to me so geologically dull I felt my arteries hardening. It seems either cold fate or high irony, then, that I should end up in church school. Some people can’t conceive of a god who can’t suffer. Me, I can’t conceive of a god who can’t laugh.” We don’t often think of God as laughing, except perhaps in that joke that says if you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans. But beyond that, we tend to picture a God who is super serious about us and life.
Two of my more favorite Old Testament passages are found as optional scripture readings for Advent this year on Dec. 21. They offer great images of God. The first is from the Song of Songs (2:8-14). It describes a God who is passionately in love with us, like a young man and woman passionately in love with each other. The passage begins, “Hark! my lover — here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills … Let me see you, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and you are lovely.” In fact, before it was incorporated into Sacred Scripture, the Song of Songs was passionate love poetry of its day that was used by the biblical community to describe God’s loving relationship with us. Today, there are married couples who find their love for each other a real image of that God.
The other alternative reading for that Advent day is from the prophet Zephaniah (3:14-18). The passage ends, “(God) will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love. He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.” We never imagine God singing, especially as at a festival, but there it is. I wonder what God’s favorite music might be in our culture: country, rock, heavy metal, ballads, rap, folk, opera? Most of that does not sound very Godly to our ears.
The scriptures of this weekend, then, leave us with yet other images of God. One as a co-traveler on this journey called life, presumably open to experiencing with us whatever it is we come upon. Another who loves all that has been created, even what might get in the way of us experiencing that love and believing that somehow it can all be made new.
What image best describes the God you believe in?
What life experiences might have sparked your image of God?