In the echoes of Trinity Sunday, I found myself thinking about how we are called to relate to this mystery that is the Triune God, and how we are made in the image of God. The priest reflected on this during his Sunday homily, about how it’s pretty much impossible for our minds to capture how it is that God is Three Persons in One. In this great mystery, I love how our faith is always inviting us to reach beyond what is easy or superficial, always pointing us to a higher plane or a deeper understanding.
The second reading on Sunday from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians gives us a glimpse of the mystery of the Trinity:
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (2 COR 13:11-13)
An eternal communion of grace, love and fellowship…And so I got to thinking on how I relate to God. And you know, sometimes I think it would be way simpler and easier if He really WERE an old man sitting on a mountain of clouds, keeping a list of who’s naughty and nice. That way, it would be much easier to just gain my brownie points and call it done. And although just reading that sentence makes me cringe – it’s true that I sometimes act that way! For example, have you ever found yourself…
…feeling bitter or resentful because things aren’t going your way?
…feeling smarted because you haven’t gotten the accolades or blessings you think you deserve?
…digging your own hole deeper in the dirt because you’ve been so rotten?
…leaning on other people’s praise (or conversely, “taking a stand” against other’s criticism) in order to get a sense of who you are?
I think most of us fall into this kind of thinking and acting, at least some of the time. It’s as if we got stuck in the 10 commandments and forgot what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount. When we’re anxious, or perhaps when we’re first just getting the hang of spiritual life, that kind of by-the-book obedience might be natural or even helpful. And if it is a signpost or starting point to the Kingdom of God, it definitely isn’t the thing itself. That kind of relating to God seems to me like the obedience of a slave, not the love of a child or a friend. In Christ, we are children of God – and even He called us His friends, not slaves! (John 15:15). When I start getting confused about where I’m going, this is one quote that always comes back to me:
In the royal barge of divine love, there are no galley slaves, only free rowers. – St Frances de Sales
God made us in His own image, and freedom is an essential part of that. And while freedom is one those things that often inspires us and encourages us (myself included), I have to be realistic that it is a much more challenging way to relate to God. Said another way:
“We do not want to be slaves but free children who do what the Father tells them in the spirit of faith […]” – Fr. J. Kentenich
In the spirit of faith! That means out of freedom and love – again, as in the Sermon on the Mount: “If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. (Matt 5:40-41)” To fulfill not just God’s laws, but God’s merest wishes out of freely given LOVE.
All those reactions I mentioned above don’t stem from that kind of relating to God. And actually, this is where I find freedom such a deeper challenge: our God given freedom entails a God given responsibility for self. In all of those reactionary examples above, it seems to me that we’re fighting against that responsibility either by wanting to hold someone else responsible for our life (like the old man on the cloud), or we’re hiding from our own self responsibility (kind of like the ostrich move), or we’re so possessed by our own self will that we forget that we were created to be responsible TO someone other than our selves (i.e., I’m really not the only show in town, in fact, I’m just about the least important one!)
One last thing to think about: Fr Kentenich describes this childlike obedience as “endlessly magnanimous – and as frank as a child.” Both things! Magnanimous and frank. Generous giving of self in love and also frank openness of heart before God! A slave doesn’t share his opinion with his Master, and certainly doesn’t talk back. But a child, with all simplicity and frankness, will cry out when he is hurting or doesn’t like something. And that’s what it means with God too – to talk simply with Him about our struggles, to tell Him when we don’t understand what He’s doing in our lives and to ask for the help to love Him more and understand His will.
While I can’t say striving for childlike freedom & obedience before God is easier than the way of the indentured servant…I do think it’s a heck of a lot better adventure!