You will recall that last week we spent time talking about the virtue of hope, deciding that it is what allows us to go on many times, when life situations within Church and State leave us feeling confused, helpless and even lost. It is at times like these that we may realize that the God we have come to know is too small, too distant, to meet our needs.
With these beginning thoughts; I would like to share a story, apropos as the East Coast deals with the land-fall of Hurricane Florence. This is a story that many of you have no doubt heard, so use it as stepping-stone toward more fully answering Jesus’ question from today’s gospel, “Who do you say that I am?”
It seems that the rain and inevitable flooding had forced a woman by the name of “Faith” to her rooftop. I might underscore that the word, “faith” is one that means, trust.” That having been said, Faith sat on her rooftop, believing and trusting that God would save her life. As the storm raged on and Faith kept praying, a boat came along and offered her help, to which she answered, “No, God will save me!” Being that the operator of the boat had others to save, he moved on.
Faith was given another offer of help from the pilot of a helicopter going by who noticed her plight. Faith, displaying a great deal of trust, once again declined the offer.
The storm continued to rage on; Faith kept praying and the waters continued to rise. That day, she met her Maker and at first glance she protested vehemently, “My God, I have always believed in you, prayed and trusted that you would be with me, that you would save me in time of trouble—why did you let me drown?” Her Maker smiled at her and said, “My child, I sent you both a boat and a helicopter!”
Now clearly, Faith’s image of God was far too small! This past week; I took a day and a half for a retreat at Assisi Heights in Rochester. My book of choice, for this time of reflection, by Fr. Richard Rohr, Franciscan, was, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation. I would say that his image of God is so large and all-encompassing, ever growing still, that if our fictional character, Faith, had believed in such a God; her life would have been profoundly different.
Rohr’s thesis seems to be, that our relationship with God has to in fact, be about “relationship,” in the best sense imaginable. It can’t be top-down, power-over, but “power-with” us. Think, if you can about the best relationship you know of or have been part of. Such a relationship is about mutual sharing, even intimate sharing at times; respect, giving and caring—everything really, that is good. Our relationship with God must be that way.
Rohr goes on to call this relationship, “flow.” The flow of love for and with the other must naturally continue on to include others, and on and on. This is why Rohr says, “trinity” is such a perfect way to describe the essence of God.
He speaks in the traditional terms of, Father, Son and Spirit but says this is only the starting place. God is genderless, yet encompassing all gender, the animate and the inanimate of creation, which gives us then, many names for God that at any point can be quite meaningful.
The love, the flow between the first two persons of the Trinity, as we have understood them, becomes an even more elusive third person, the Spirit, and the relationship of all that love flows out and onward to encompass all in its path—it has to work that way, Rohr says. The relationship between the three is where the strength is.
This same notion of relationship is what theologians like Teilhard de Chardin in the past and Ilia Delio and Diarmuid O’Murchu in the present were and are talking about when they unite concepts of theology and science in the study of the origin, evolution and eventual fate of the universe, or, cosmology. Richard Rohr would say, “It all fits.”
But western religion, he continues, made the mistake of basically “making” God into a substance that can be explained away. “Transubstantiation” on our Catholic altars being one of those mistakes, he says. The trouble with “boxing God in” defining what God is and what God is not makes God narrow—very small, one really that couldn’t be expected to keep us safe. The fictional character, Faith, had such a small, inflexible God. And she can’t really be totally blamed—religious institutions have long been guilty of trying to “explain God away,” or at least make God in their own image.
Rohr goes on to say that we need to see God in all of creation—he asks us to think about how hard it is to resist [showing love] to a wide-eyed baby or petting an earnest dog. You want to pull them to yourself with love because they are, for a moment—forgive me, he says—“God.” Or, we can think of it the other way around, “Is it you [or I] who have become “God” by standing in such an unresisted flow?” [Love, that is].
He answers his own questions—both are true! This flow, this love that is seen in “all beauty, in all admiring, in all ecstasy, in all solidarity with any suffering, is God, he says. Anyone who fully allows “the flow” will see the divine image even in places that have become ugly or undone. This is the universal seeing of the Trinity,” he says.
And we could have no better model than our brother, Jesus, in showing how to make our God really big and visible. Jesus taught that you don’t have to be perfect, or belong to a certain group to be part of the “flow of God,” the love of the Trinity. The only question he ever asked of people who came to him for help was, Rohr reminds us, “Do you want to be healed?” He continues, “If we are willing to be touched by God; we will be healed.”
And so friends, when we attempt to answer Jesus’ question in today’s gospel, “Who do you say that I am?” think first that we can only speak of God with metaphor or see God through a dim glass, as Paul said. Now while on the one hand, this may seem confining, on the other, it really opens up our images: Creator, Savior, Rock, brother, friend; or for the Spirit; wind, falling fire and flowing water. What image feels right for you when thinking about your relationship with God? Maybe your image needs updating.
I will conclude with several images, faces, if you will, of God that Rohr gives us: He begins by saying, [Our] “Triune God allows [us], impels [us], to live easily with God everywhere and all the time: in the budding of a plant, the smile of a gardener, the excitement of a teenage[r] over [their] new [special friend,] the tireless determination of a research scientist, the pride of a mechanic over his hidden work under the hood, the loving nuzzling of horses, the tenderness with which eagles feed their chicks, and the downward flow of every stream.
Thus says Rohr, “Everything is holy, for those who have learned to see.” The prophet Isaiah today in the first reading says, “God awakens my ear to listen.” We must be engaged with our world, my friends—see all of creation, especially the beauty, but the ugliness too, as the place where our God dwells.
I began these thoughts today speaking of hope and it seems to me that if our God can be as big and diverse as creation itself, than we have a great deal to be hopeful about! It takes a good deal of faith at times, to live in our world but our faith will lead us to action, James instructs today. And the more that we ask for the grace to see God in everything, the more this divine awareness will be ours. Amen? Amen!