Joining the Divine Dance of the Trinity
Posted: Tue, 14 Jun 2022 15:11
Religion is one of the safest places to hide from God.
Humanity, you are all One.
You are one beloved community,
and you are one global sickness.
You are all contagious—and always have been,
unconsciously infecting and yet able to also bless one another.
There are no higher and lower in this world.
There is no smart or stupid; no totally right or totally wrong.
The only meaningful division is between those who serve
and those who allow themselves to be served.
All the rest is temporary posturing.
Many to whom you look for power and leadership
have shown themselves to have empty hands, minds, and hearts.
We are bereft of all satisfying explanations,
all ledgers of deserving and undeserving.
There are no perfect answers or absolute heroes.
We must all wear a mask to protect the other from "me."
Don't play the victim!
Victimhood is always a waste of time—God's time and yours.
Instead, try to learn the important lessons.
We are all in the same elementary school now.
Here, we must learn to stand in two different places
and to change places often.
The served must also be the servants,
and the servants must also be the served.
This reflection by the Franciscan, Richard Rohr OFM on the global pandemic has really helped me to understand the need to serve. I feel humbled that I am in good company with St Peter and myself, as I find it so difficult in being served. It is so much easier to serve, as you can take control and be in charge. In being served and being helped by others, you must be open and humble—you have to allow them to support you. In doing so, you admit your own weakness and needs—it is far easier and more comfortable being in charge! In pandemic times, these words of Rohr have been a regular read for me, and every time I seem to gain a new insight. Rohr has long been a favourite author of mine: his insights and spirituality speak deeply to the Church today. His 'Centre for Action and Contemplation' in New Mexico reminds us of the spirituality of Don Bosco who wanted his followers to be 'contemplatives in action'. With backing from global superstars like Bono of 'U2' and Oprah Winfrey, he is seen to be one of the leading spiritual writers of our time. In books like 'The Divine Dance', he urges us to enter the mystery of the Trinity: it is far too easy to adopt a lack of challenge in our faith, because 'it's a mystery!' Rohr wants us to be like the Desert Mothers and Fathers of the early Church and be involved or 'dance' with Father, Son and Spirit. By reason of the Creation and the Incarnation, God is no longer abstract and distant—our baptism demands that we enter into the life of God. We are called to be like God and live like God, as we follow the fullness of life that we are invited into. As so often happens, in our human arrogance, we can make this unconditional love of God so complicated and spookily 'mysterious'. Our relationship with God and others is not a chapter in an Agatha Christi novel—rather we are called to meditate on that call from Jesus: 'I have come that you may have life and have it to the full!' (Jn 10:10).
In his reflection, Rohr advocates that, as individuals, we move towards a fullness of life. From personal experience, I know it is all too easy to hide in the shadows of work and activity. If we are working so hard, spinning the multiple plates that life throws at us, then we feel we are achieving our ambitions. We may well be brilliant in our Christian action, but are we doing anything more than a well-run social service should be doing? For me, lockdown, quarantine, and solitude has forced me to become more contemplative. The pain and hurt of the pandemic has allowed me to enter more fully into the passion and suffering of Good Friday, allowing a movement towards to glory and joy of Easter Day. We are all invited to be part of that dynamism, that loving 'dance' that allows us to move forward together as a true Church of contemplation and prayer that will lead to concrete Christian action.
In the devotional exercise of the 'Stations of the Cross', we are offered an opportunity to walk with the Son in his journey of pain and tears towards his death on Calvary. It is interesting that we have three 'falls' of Jesus under the weight of the Roman Cross. In scripture, we see that his trial and execution is brought about by an uneasy alliance between religious leadership and secular oppression. In purely external, human terms Jesus was a failure! Thankfully, as people of reflection and contemplation we can see beyond that death. Arms that are stretched fully open on the Cross become the sacrament of God's ultimate love. We need to see that failure is an essential part of the Christian tradition.
In a world so geared up to success and making one's mark in the world, it might seem odd that we should need to contemplate on the notion of 'failure'. We are told, rightly, to study hard to gain examination success; then we must work hard to achieve financial success. In many ways the harder we work, the more successful we can be. Covid-19 offered, in my opinion, a giant pause button: it gave us an opportunity to sort our lives out. Was my working hard keeping me from my family and community? Was my health, especially my mental health, suffering? Did I give itself times in the day, week, month m, and year to effectively contemplate—or was it a rushed 'Hail Mary' before I got on with what I saw was the real duty of life?
If one chooses to enter fully into that 'divine dance', then one must also be prepared to see and acknowledge those 'fallen' parts of life. The parables of forgiveness and acceptance show that reconciliation lies at the heart of God. In our brokenness and hurt, we will often discover who we really are. If you are anything like me, you know that you fail—only the most deeply narcissistic among us would never admit failure. To them, just admitting that you might be weak is a failure in itself. I have, honestly, come to discover late in life, that we need to embrace our failures and learn from them.
I may seem harsh for Rohr to proclaim that 'religion is a good place to hide from God', but there is a lot of truth in it. For those unwilling or unable to face failure, then they will never be able to embrace the total gift of love given to us in the sacrament of reconciliation. It was the religious people of first century Palestine who helped to get rid of the Messiah. It was religious people who led the Inquisition. It was religious people who stayed silent in the face of over six million Jewish people being gassed in concentration camps. It is religious people who enforce political and religious divides to this day in Palestine, Nigeria, and Afghanistan. It was religious people who covered up the crimes of horrendous abuse committed by other religious people. It was religious people who upheld the slave trade and continue to reject and discriminate on the basis or colour, creed or sexuality. It is religious people who can quote chapter and verse from the Bible to support their inhuman claims. It can be religious people who are quite prepared to ignore or support you when you have fallen—religious people who might never forgive.
Religion is not meant to be a safe place that does not challenge us. Religion calls us to both contemplation and action—it is a call to be, sometimes, counter-cultural. Religion is not that comfy 'country club' that we go to for an hour of peace on a Sunday morning. We live the Eucharist in every moment of our lives: the mass lives on in what we will do and say in the coming week. Is it going to be easy? Certainly not! Jesus never promised us an easy life, but he did promise the enduring presence of God in our lives. It is my prayer that the feelings of loss, hurt, abandonment and loneliness, especially brought about by our recent experience of global pandemic, will lead to a living and loving experience of resurrection. In this new life, we are called to make our religious experience something that is authentic, something that will make an impact in the real world. Let us not hide our talents and gifts, rather let us be open to that momentous 'dance' that the Trinity calls us to share. As Rohr reminds us, even in the disorder of COVID-19, we can find some hope; our mistakes and falls can help us to 'fall upward':
DISORDER is already upon us by reason of our planet, our history, our politics, our economy, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the widespread increase in mental and emotional unhealth. Our job is to make "Good Trouble"—and probably even "Necessary Trouble"—so that humanity can spiritually and politically mature. It is about falling—but, as always, falling upward.
Author: Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB