God’s Grandeur Gerard Manley Hopkins
At long last the day has arrived, Pentecost, literally meaning the 50th day of the great 50 days of Easter. Several weeks ago, our Trinity preacher, Canon Bill Rhodes, employing all the skills and timing of a comedy club veteran, commented on the interminable sense that comes as we near the end of 50 days of Easter. Yes, sometimes we really can have too much of a good thing! His was a humorous lament for the loss of an Anglican tradition of Rogation Sunday. Rogation days represent an older, more primal sensibility recognizing that human beings exist within a network of relationships with the natural world around us, – a web of intertwined, dependencies.
Christians celebrate the mysterious nature of God as we understand it. For us, Jesus alone is not God, yet, God includes and cannot be spoken about without reference to Jesus. The Holy Spirit alone is not God and yet God cannot be experienced without reference to the Holy Spirit.
For Christians the nature of God is not solitary, but communal. The concept of a trinity offers us a vision of God as a community of interdependencies. God is a playful interpenetration of three identities, which never-the-less share the same nature. Traditionally God is referred to by the gendered names of Father, Son, both masculine, and Holy Spirit, which while feminine in English is still usually referred to as he? Go figure.
We sometimes avoid these gendered terms by referring to God as having three modes or functions. In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier we often say. Yet these modes, as Cathedral graduates of Episcopal 101 will know denote functions and not relationships, and lead us to an ancient heresy called Modalism or Sebellianism. For non 101 grads you can look this up at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabellianism.
The most important insight we have into God is that God is fundamentally relational. One way to avoid the gendered terms and still retain relationality is to see God as Lover, God as also Beloved, and God as Love-Sharer. If Easter is the celebration of love redeemed. Pentecost is the celebration of love shared. The lections for Pentecost provide us with three differing, yet complimentary perspectives on God as love sharer, or as we traditionally refer to this aspect of God, the Holy Spirit.
Visions of Pentecost
The Apostle Paul, through the metaphor of adoption perceives God as Love-Sharer . Human beings are no longer living enslaved to fear. God as Love- Sharer adopts us as children. Paul is not content to see the Holy Spirit as adopting us only as privileged children. For him, being children of God is not a state of minority – as in prior to the age of consent. The Holy Spirit adopts us as nothing less than heirs. Not simply heirs through Christ, but joint heirs with Christ able to participate fully in the promise of new life.
John’s understanding of God as Love-Sharer is as advocate and teacher. Jesus’ ministry comes to an end. In John, the Father is God as Lover and Jesus is God as Beloved in whom God redeems creation. The Holy Spirit, God as Love Sharer becomes the energy empowering us to live more and more deeply so that day by day we grow into the realization of God’s love for us.
The picture of Pentecost as a distinct event within a chronological unfolding of events beginning with the Incarnation, and flowing through the Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and descent of the Holy Spirit today at Pentecost, is Luke’s invention. For Luke the coming of the Holy Spirit marks the transition from the ministry of Jesus to the life of the Church, which contains his spirit.
In Luke’s account of the birth of the Church in Acts:2, the descent of the Holy Spirit is depicted through powerful and elemental forces of nature – wind and fire. Addicted as we are to special effects, we wonder, some with amazement, others with incredulity, at how this could be.
Yet, Luke’s purpose here is to draw our attention to the effects upon human beings of the descent of God as Love-Sharer. He uses the metaphor of an ecstatic eruption into a profusion of different languages among those present, to do so. Hopkins echoes such:
THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil crushed.
Luke’s theological message is that for human society – born anew as the Church, it is no longer business as usual.
Pentecost Signals An End To The Denial Of Difference
Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
Hopkins, questions why humanity so reckless of God’s gift of creation, soiling it with its smudge and smell? Extending Hopkins’ enquiry I would ask why are we as human beings so fearful of the differences between us? Deacon Myra Kingsley, our last week’s Trinity preacher, lamented the corruption of Mother’s Day. Once an expression of protest against the futility of war and the injustices of oppression which generations have trod, have trod, have trod- so that we have become insensible to the feel of the earth, now made barren beneath our feet. Mother’s Day, a movement of protest against human recklessness has, like so much else, become seared with trade, bleared, smeared, with toil sharing man’s smudge.
Luke’s vision of the Holy Spirit, God as Love-Sharer empowers us to embrace the sheer diversity of expression that lies at the heart of being human. No longer is it impossible for women and men to understand each other because of their differences. At the roots of discrimination, exploitation, and unjust systems – is the fear of difference. God as Love-Sharer, calms our fears, empowering us to embrace our sheer diversity.
At one level of perception we see that we are not all the same. We notice the obvious differences between us expressed by skin color with its inevitable associations of race, culture, language, and education. These are real differences that evoke fear because they are emblematic of a more profound experience of the differentials of power, privilege, and access to the protections that these differences afford to some and deny to others.
Here in Arizona, as a foreign worker with a work permit, I was allowed a driver’s license from the moment of my arrival. Yet, the children of foreign parents, brought illegally into the country now possessing the same federally extended legal right to remain and work as I enjoyed, are in this, great state of Arizona still denied access to something so fundamental as a drivers license.
There are yet more, fundamental differences between us. We differ in gender and sexual identity. These are the attributes of being human, through which we are profoundly formed and in many instances deformed by our experience of a patriarchal world that deeply fears and is suspicious of the power of the anima –the feminine principle.
God as Love-Sharer calms our fears of the differences between us, inviting us to embrace the incredible richness that difference brings to our human sense of community. God as Love-Sharer is the ever-present energy that permeates our experience. The Holy Spirit – that which I am naming God as Love-Sharer -is creative, interrelational, dynamic and open to the future. God as Love-Sharer is present in every moment of our lives and in every aspect of the created order within which our living forms only a part. A world that is interconnected to form a giant web of complex interconnections. The complexity of interconnection is the deeper truth that lies beyond all appearances of difference because it is our experience that what harms or blesses one, harms or blesses all.
God as Love-sharer, is powerfully present in this community. Each week as spiritually searching people, we find our way through the cathedral’s Great Doors. Initially, we are somewhat bewildered to find ourselves sitting in the pew of this church, - a church for God’s sake - whose liturgy and welcome seem both strange and wonderful at the same time. This mysterious turn in our lives brings us to return through these doors a second and a third time because those of us who are seeking God as a source of meaning in our lives know that we can be nowhere else.
Luke’s vision of God embracing all kinds of diversity is continually coming true at Trinity Cathedral. As individuals, and as a community, God as Love Sharer guides us beyond the limitations of only that which we can imagine for ourselves. Each time I face the profound disappointment of failing to achieve what I have so longed for, I have discovered that the Holy Spirit, with barely concealed sense of humor, has had something else in mind for me amazingly different from any dream of mine.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.