The crack in my window.
There is one window in the room where I write my homilies and screenplays on my computer, and where I read and pray and reflect. Pigeons alight upon the sill outside the window, and when they purr and coo it’s a soothing sound.
I was working there a few days ago, and noticed a crack in the window. It was something new, and I was curious how it got there. Perhaps a scuffle between two amorous pigeon suitors? The next day it appeared to be growing, perhaps encouraged by the summer-like sun and heat we were experiencing. Each day since, the crack has grown.
Friday morning I was doing some research on my computer about Memorial Day, and stumbled across photographs of the disastrous effects of wars over the last century or so: images of the soul-less bodies young men lying in muddy fields of Pennsylvania and Virginia during our country's Civil War; shots of bleeding soldiers on Normandy’s shore; pictures of starving prisoners in Auschwitz; grisly photographs of death and destruction in Vietnam, Haiti, Northern Ireland, the Holy Land, and at Ground Zero. I had to stop looking at the photographs, overwhelmed with my emotions. How is it that we do this to one another, generation after generation? How is it that we still do it?
I clicked out of those images and stumbled across one more—an image of one of the students who was killed last week at Santa Fe High School.
An article on my easy chair was open, right where I had left it earlier. It was about the rising number of young people—millennials, 18-36---who have no interest in either religion or spirituality. More of today’s adolescents than ever before are abandoning religion before they reach adulthood, with an increasing number not raised with religion at all. Fewer and fewer are getting married in a church--indeed, we haven't had a marriage in this Manhattan church in over a year---preferring instead to be married at a ‘destination’ banquet hall or exotic location. I understand all of that, I understand how the Church has become irrelevant to many of our young people, but I am saddened because I think we are all losing more than we know.
I came across a news item that our government has taken 7000 children away from their undocumented immigrant parents and they don’t know where 1500 of them are right now. And in the same day's news, the people of Ireland were ready to deliver a landslide vote against God’s gift of children.
The crack continued its march across my window, propelled along just by the heat of the sun, and I was helpless to do anything about it. Just as I was unable to do anything about the ever-expanding crack in our nation, our church, and our world.
It was all too much for me, and so I abandoned my work, my articles and research. I took a long, long walk in the beautiful sunshine of a May weekend, and thought about what I wanted to say about today, the feast of the Holy Trinity.
You know what? The word Trinity is never used in the Bible. It was never uttered by Jesus; in fact Jesus, like all Jews of his time, would probably have considered the notion blasphemous. He was raised with this truth: “Hear O Israel. The Lord your God is one.”
To try to get your mind around the idea of the Trinity is frankly bewildering, and theologians who have attempted it over 2000 years have never been very successful for most of us ordinary people. What they have succeeded in doing is to demonstrate how impossible it is to talk about God. How do you describe something that our puny minds can barely understand?
T.S. Eliot once wrote about God: “...words strain, crack and sometimes break under the burden of speaking about God…”. I’ve been warned many times by fellow priests: it's not a good idea to try to explain the details of the Trinity at Mass: people will be confused or fall asleep on you.
I agree. But outside, and inside here in this church and here in our souls, the crack is still growing, and we need to speak of God and goodness. There are people still shooting guns at the children in our schools and in our endless wars; nations like ours and now Ireland still choose prosperity over children; there are growing numbers of young women and men in our families for whom the church and maybe God has no meaning any more. It is important for us to think about what God is. It is important for us to find a way to describe what we really long for and how we experience God.
I sat beside the East River, looking over at Brooklyn. There were people jogging by in shorts and sneakers and earphones. Elderly couples walked hand in hand. A guy who looked like he was homeless passed, happily singing his own original tune. A grandmother with a baby in a stroller, a bunch of people on Citibikes, three girlfriends laughing about getting a date, an overweight guy jogging in slow-motion, a young woman practically dragging her dog, who insisted on sitting down when she wanted to move, a group of bros rapping as they walked. It was a beautiful tableau of life, and it made me think of all of us--black/white, male/female, rich/poor, young/old, gay/straight, whatever the categories---I thought of us all as children, desiring the same thing—to be loved.
A little bird dropped down out of nowhere and hopped around on the sidewalk right in front of me. He checked out the scene, maybe expecting a handout. But he didn’t fly away immediately as I expected. He just stayed there in front of me, looking this way, that way. I was beginning to feel like I had gotten a new friend.
The sun was shining, the water on the river was beautiful, filled with boats of all kinds. The bushes in front of me were a brilliant shade of red. The trees around me were sporting the season’s new green, an outfit of fresh leaves.
It was a perfect day, and I felt all the darkness of the morning fall away, the crack receding, miraculously repairing and healing itself.
Maybe light could shine in the darkness of our bloody world, maybe humanity could be saved from its savage hatred, maybe God could be seen in the world by millennials and everyone.
The little bird was still in front of me. He started to sway a little bit, took some uncertain and slow steps, and suddenly fell over onto his side. Was this some kind of a joke? Was he playing dead for my amusement? Would he pop up in a second, smile a bird smile, and fly away to tell his friends about how much fun he had on the sidewalk?
None of the above, of course. He breathed his last breath right there on the sidewalk, and I was the witness.
How to explain the Trinity? How to talk about our experience of love in the midst of death, and in a world where we are increasingly alone while living under the illusion of being connected by our IPhones and our social networks?
Well maybe the Trinity is a way to talk about a Love that we crave for, and that we experience.
In the name of God the creator, who made the river and the water in it, and the sky above, and the bushes and the trees and the birds and all the people jogging past me.
In the name of Jesus who lived a life just like ours, with flesh that could bleed and a heart that could be broken, who endured the crack of our own doing and willingly let it break him into a gazillion pieces.
In the name of those pieces turned into prisms of light, Holy Spirit blowing out into the universe itself, embedding it into the very fabric of our everyday lives, there to see if we have eyes open to the light all around us.
In the name of Love, in the name of God: Father, Son and Spirit, Amen. In the name of Love and light, my brothers and sisters, we live, whether we recognize it or not.
How to explain the Trinity? How to talk about what or who God is to us? How to describe love, I mean real love?
That's all the Trinity is, you know, a way of describing the truth, a way of describing the amazing Love that is inside our very bones, the Love which is underneath everything that is: you sitting all squirmy in the pew; this place with its dark walls of bridk; the whole island of Manhattan outside, filled with millions of our brothers and sisters; the blue-green earth, and all its creatures; the sun and the moon and the stars and the whole universe.
All of us, all of this has been Loved into existence by God the Father of everything, and 2000 years ago existence showed us a way to Love back in the form of a man named Jesus. And over it all, over us now, broods a Love born of their love, a love that never leaves us, always comforts us, shines on us like the sun is shining outside on this most beautiful day, a Love we call the Holy Spirit.
To speak of God who is really beyond all our wildest understanding, but maybe we need more than one name, more than one way of describing the fullness of the ONE LOVE beneath everything.
Let’s leave the words of explanation and detail to the theologians.
On this weekend when we remember the horrors we have and continue to inflict upon one another, in this era when our churches grow empty, let us see the love all around us, let us be the love that we know in our bones is at the very center of everyone and everything.
We can stop the crack from growing, we can raise the dead, we can bring sunshine to the world.
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.