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God the Spirit, Part 1

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.

John 14:2-26

The three persons of the Trinity of God are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One can describe God the Father as the unembodied creative force, the impetus behind everything created. God the Son, the creation, is the resulting life formed by the outpouring – the Word – of the Father onto the substance of the earth. The progeny of the unbroken relationship between Father and Son – Creator and Created – is the Holy Spirit. For this reason, it is nearly impossible to have an insightful discussion about the Spirit, or God for that matter, except in the context of relationship.

Perhaps more than anything, the relational nature of the Trinity trips us up as we try to understand something discerning about the nature of God. Here are a few writings that help me imagine God as dynamically relational, as opposed to the static, distant being I learned in childhood. First, Meister Eckhart, a 13th Century mystic, wrote:

             …the Father laughs and gives birth to the Son.

            The Son laughs back at the Father and gives birth to the Spirit.

            The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us.1

Here we see the Spirit described as the product of a joyful relationship between the Father and the Son. Further, we live inside this dynamic, loving relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit. Although most of us are unaware of it, we all – individually and corporately – exist in the Trinity of God. A second image is in Richard Rohr’s book, The Divine Dance2, where he writes, “the principle of one is lonely; the principle of two is oppositional…; the principle of three is inherently moving, dynamic, and generative.” Later, in the same book (p. 82), Rohr writes “…you can know and love God on at least three distinctly wonderful levels: the Transpersonal level (“Father”), the Personal level (“Jesus”), and the Impersonal level (“Holy Spirit”). Finally, on page 98, Rohr paraphrases Richard of St. Victor, writing, “For God to be good, God can be one. For God to be loving, God has to be two. Because love is always a relationship…But for God to ‘share excellent joy’ and ‘delight’…God has to be three, because supreme happiness is when two persons share their common delight in a third something – together.”

The initial manifestation of the Spirit grows out of the mutual love between the Father and Son within the totality of God. The Spirit within us is a product of our relationship to and in God, as well as a manifestation of our relationships with others. In John 14, Jesus tells his disciples the Father will send the Spirit after his departure. This means that while God was present in the bodily form of Jesus with the people of his time, God would continue to be eternally present within everyone in the person of the Spirit.

The reason the Spirit is so difficult to perceive, aside from the fact that it has no physical nature, is that it is the unembodied product of relationship. We tend to underestimate or ignore this third something that appears in all our encounters with others. As we open ourselves to a closer relationship to God, we sense a presence that never leaves us, that gives substance to our faith, and that gives hope when there is no tangible reason for optimism. That presence is the Holy Spirit, our divine teacher, spiritual companion, and Advocate.

The Spirit of God is also referred to as the Wisdom of God. In Proverbs 8, wisdom is described as something of immeasurable value that we should desire more than anything else. “For whoever finds me (wisdom) finds life and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 8:35). Our Trinitarian God imparts its wisdom through the Spirit dwelling within us. Of course, we must build a relationship with and an awareness and acknowledgement of that Spirit in order consciously to benefit from its presence.

Next week, I will explore familiar ways in which God the Spirit manifests to us.

Note: this is the 34th in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God.

 1 Meister Eckhart, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, translated and edited by Matthew Fox (Bear and Company: 1983), 129.

2 Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance, Whitaker House, 2016. Page 28.

 

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God the Son, Part 1

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. John 1:1-4

Any attempt to capture in words that which cannot reasonably be explained, let alone understood intellectually, will ultimately seem futile to both the reader and the writer. Such is the case with the mysterious and primal reality of the Trinity. We can only talk around this foundation of our faith. Further, I address the three persons of the Trinity separately in order to point out distinctions in the ways they manifest to us. In reality, the three persons – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – are a single Unity that we call God. They are inseparable, interdependent, and constantly in dynamic communion with one another and with us.

God the Son is the Incarnate (embodied or manifest) Word of God, as opposed to God the Father, who does not have a physical body. God the Father enters into and shapes the material reality of the earth to create life as we know it – humans, plants, animals, hills, rocks, trees. Creation, in its many forms, is the child of God. As with our discussion of God the Father, God the Son necessarily implies a relationship. In other words, for there to be a Son (or daughter), there must also be a parent. What I attempt to describe is a relationship more than a specific being, and our lives are an integral part of that relationship.

To use sexual imagery, God the Father – the divine masculine energy – penetrates the formless void of the fertile, maternal Earth (see Genesis 1:2), and creation results. The Father is the creative force, the Mother is the receptive Earth, the Son is the resulting creation – God’s offspring, God’s prodigy. The ultimate example of the impregnation of earth by spirit manifested in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the perfect combination of body and spirit, being 100% God and 100% human. Jesus’ seamless integration of divine and human natures makes him our Savior, our Messiah, the Anointed One. It is the lived experience that we are both body and spirit that “saves” us because, as Jesus so graphically displayed on the cross, only the body part of us suffers and dies. That which rises from the earth falls back to the earth. The rest, however, lives on.

The Genesis account of creation provides the image of God speaking creation into being. In John’s account of creation, the Word is created reality. That Word, in its ever-changing forms, has been one face of God since the beginning. John says, “All things came into being through him.” In addition, John writes, “What has come into being in him was life.” The words in and through are keys to understanding the Word, or the Son, or the creation of God. We come into being through the Son and live in that incarnate aspect of God. This is why we often close our prayers by saying, “In Jesus’ name” or “Through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We live, physically, in the manifested reality of the Son of God, even as we are influenced by the non-manifest energies of the Father and the Spirit. We cannot know this intellectually, we can only recognize our participation in this Oneness experientially.

In a dynamic, ongoing process, the creative impulse of the Father penetrates the fertile womb of the Earth and creation results: light separates from darkness; the waters above part from the waters below; dry land divides from the waters; vegetation appears; seasons, stars, sun and moon rule the day and night; birds fill the skies and fish fill the seas; animals of every kind spring up from the earth; and humankind appears. The Creator creates, and the created gazes back in awe. This, then, is one way to picture the unfathomable relationship between us, God the Father, and God the Son. Creation – the Child – is the physical manifestation of the Spirit of God in everything created. The Christ is the Spirit clothed in flesh, completely aware of its Oneness (body and spirit), embodied in the stuff of the earth, and perfectly displayed in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Son of Man, and the Son of God.

Note: this is the 32nd in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God.

 

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Three Faces, One God

 Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Deuteronomy 6:4 (NIV)

The Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – is a foundational pillar of Christianity, even though the term does not appear in the Bible. Furthermore, if we removed all references to the Trinity from Christian thought, the practice of most Christians would not change at all. This is a testament to how difficult the concept is to grasp in a tangible way. It is humbling to attempt writing about a mystery that so defies expression in words. Yet, this series of essays on The Faces of God will not be complete without at least a cursory nod to the Trinity. Indeed, the faces of God expressed throughout the Bible and throughout human experience are manifestations of the persons of the Trinity.

One reason the Trinity is so difficult to understand is our misunderstanding of the nature and being of God. Many of us grew up with the image of God as an old, angry, white male with long, white hair and an unkempt beard. That is a very limiting image, and to the extent that is our picture and understanding of God, to that same extent do we miss the immensity, the love, the relational nature, and the personal intimacy of God. The concept of the Trinity begins to crack that old image by presenting God as three persons. One God, but one God manifesting in different ways. A less than perfect example that helps me is to recognize that I am one person serving many distinct roles. I act as a husband, father, brother, son, uncle, nephew, friend, co-worker – sometimes all in the span of a few hours. I relate and appear differently to others in my different roles, but I am one being. If someone only knows me as an employer, he or she may not experience the love and tenderness I express in other roles. When we limit our understanding of God to a single expression, we miss the infinite diversity and endless possibilities of the one we call God. We all wear many faces, so why would the God who formed us be any different? Three persons, three faces, three roles – one God.

In the coming weeks, I will express my limited understanding of the three persons of the Trinity as individuals, but understand up front – they are all 100% God, and they are one God. The three faces of God are no more separate from each other than my various roles are from my essence – they are simply different expressions of it. What differs in the persons of God is how we experience God. In his devotional, A Spring Within Us, Father Richard Rohr summarizes the Trinity in this way (p. 258): “God for us, we call you Father. God alongside us, we call you Jesus. God within us, we call you Holy Spirit.”

Besides the multiplicity of the expressions of God, I hope to convey a sense of God as constant motion or flow, ever moving, ever changing, and always inviting us to join in the dance of life. As we enter that flow, we experience life as good and natural; our yoke becomes easy. To the extent we try to hold onto our lives as they are, resisting growth and change, to that same extent do we separate ourselves from the security of this loving flow, the ever-evolving beauty, and our participation in the intimate relationship awaiting us from inside this mysterious, Trinitarian God. When our image of God restructures as a relational interaction of three or more persons, we recognize our personal invitation to participate in mutual giving and receiving, in shared evolutionary movement. We experience together the joys and pains, the beauty and barrenness, the on-going birth, growth, death, and resurrection of all that is and ever will be. We are co-creators and co-experiencers with God. Until we begin to understand God’s true nature – God’s relational nature –we will mistakenly experience God as separate, aloof, limited, and unpredictable.

Our lives manifest in ways similar to the changing seasons. Winter contains within it spring, summer, and fall, and we contain all that we are from before the moment of our first breath. Life is an awakening to possibilities that have existed since the dawn of creation, a divine dance with the God in whom we live and move and have our being. The Trinity invites us into a dynamic relationship as participants in this eternal celebration of life.

Note: this is the 29th in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God.

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The Three Visitors

 The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. Genesis 18:1-2

Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is relaxing outside of his tent on a hot afternoon when the Lord appears to him as three men. Remember, the names given to God in Genesis are plural nouns. The name translated as Lord is Adonai, which is not only plural, but also has feminine connotations. Regardless, the Lord appears to Abraham as three men in this story. Abraham offers the visitors a place to rest, water to drink, and food to eat, which they accept.

As they converse, one of the visitors says, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:10). As was noted in last week’s Life Note, Abraham and Sarah were already advanced in years and had no children. Sarah laughed at the thought, and one visitor responded, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” (v. 14). The visitors – one God manifest in three persons – talk among themselves and include Abraham in their conversation. The three discuss the rampant evil in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and their plans to destroy both cities. Abraham asked why the Lord would slay the righteous with the wicked. The Lord agreed to preserve the cities if even ten righteous people could be found there.

My primary reason for considering the story of the three visitors, however, is because it is the first biblical evidence of God manifesting as three unique persons – what will later be referred to by theologians as the Trinity. While I will consider the Trinity in greater detail later in this series, the significance of the story of the three visitors in Genesis is worthy of consideration on its own. So many encounters with God in the Bible seem to imply meetings with a single being, notwithstanding the plurality of the names used.

The picture above is a recreation of an icon produced by the monk Andrei Rublev in the fifteenth century. It provides a visual reference to the plural God of Genesis presented in Genesis 18.  Although Abraham labels the three as “Lord,” there is no explanation as to how he knew their divine nature, except perhaps from the content of their conversation. Their discussion with Abraham about the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah was clearly a two-way conversation, meaning that Abraham seemed to be included as an equal participant. When he questions whether everyone in the towns needs to be destroyed, they go into something of a negotiation over who, if anyone, is righteous enough to warrant saving.

Here is what I find so interesting about this story. The God presented in Genesis 18 is a relational and personable God, consulting and communing with humans. The three visitors invite Abraham into their discussion and consider his point of view in shaping their decision-making. Not only is God presented as a relationship of persons, but there is also give and take both within and without this God-circle. This God is not a distant and dictatorial ruler sitting on a throne high above us, but a God that is here with us, wrestling with how best to handle the issues of the day. The story also refutes any fatalistic notions of God, that God has the future mapped out in advance and nothing we can do will change it. The God of Genesis includes us as co-creators of and co-participants in our daily reality, just as God included Abraham in the determination of what to do about Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Trinity – one God in three persons – is a difficult concept to grasp. The story of the three visitors, however, refutes the traditional image we hold of God as being distant and aloof. Instead, God invites us into the divine relationship that is God and that is the foundation of our being. We cannot hope consciously to experience more of God’s presence in our lives without first eliminating our limiting misconceptions of God.

One of the faces of God is that of three visitors. One God; three persons. Hmmm…

Note: this is the eighth in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God

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