22 May 2005 at :00 am
Sermon at Matins, 22 May 2005
by the Reverend Canon Robert Wright, Canon of Westminster
Glory be to the Father, who has adopted us as his children;
Glory be to the Son, who has given us new life;
Glory be to the Holy Spirit, who inspires us to live in Christ,
To the glory of God, the Blessed Trinity.
Today is Trinity Sunday, seen by some as the preachers nightmare! Perhaps I delude myself, but I think the doctrine of the Trinity is an expression of our infinite potential for engagement with God and God with us. It is an engagement revealed in the flesh of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Spirit working here, drawing us to the heart of the Father.
I suppose for me that begins with prayer. I wouldnt want you to think that my prayer is anything more than the prayer of a beginner who struggles all the time with prayer. In a strange way there is a funny mixture of (1) a deep sense of being upheld by Gods love and with that a passionate desire to return that love so that sometimes I can pray with St Ignatius,
take, Lord, and receive all my liberty.,
my memory, my understanding, and my entire will
all that I have and call my own.
You have given it all to me.
To You, Lord, I return it.
Everything is Yours; do with it what You will,
Give me only Your love and Your grace.
That is enough for me.
(2) But at other times chaos is a good description , a generous description, for what passes as prayer, and at then end of half an hours complete confusion I can only say, Well, Lord, I tried to give you that time. If that is how You wished to use it, so be it.
But of course, when the world is in such turmoil, we should not expect our lives and our prayers to do anything other than reflect that chaos and turmoil;. If they were all neat and tidy while outside there was war and hatred, there would be good reason to ask if prayer is only an escape for the harsh realities of this present world. In the midst of this I turn to the great Welsh poet-priest whose words speak so strongly to many people. There are, of course, strong echoes of cynicism and even bitterness in some of his poems but I always find in them great depths that speak to me of a strong, powerful, numinous God - Almighty and everlasting God that seems to resonate with the intensity of the welsh hills from which Thomas came.
In his poem, Emerging Thomas shows us the poet seeking God:
Well, I said, better to wait
For Him on some peninsula
Of the spirit. Surely for one
With patience he will happen by
Once in a while. It was the heart
R S Thomas is suggesting that the heart looks for an immediate meeting with God, but that the poet knows better than that and will not trust such quick answers:
The mind, sceptical as always
Of the anthropomorphisms
Of the fancy, knew that he must be put together
Like a poem or a composition
In music, that what he conforms to
So, Thomas suggest that waiting for a personal meeting with an anthropomorphic God is in vain:
A promontory is a bare
Place; no God leans down
Out of the air to take the hand
Extended to Him. The generations have
But RS Thomas sees God emerging through art but the art of the real and concrete world of reality. God is in the world around us.
We are beginning to see
Now that it is matter that is the scaffolding
Of spirit; that the poem emerges
From morphemes and phonemes; that
As form in sculpture is the prisoner
Of the hard rock, so in every day life
It is the plain facts and natural happening
That conceal God and reveal Him to us
Little by little under the minds tooling.
There is no doubt that much of our churchy-ness can block our relationship with God and we can become so concerned and overwhelmed with the things of God that we miss God Himself. RS Thomas reminds us that God is in all things. God is there in everything around us, waiting to be revealed through the privileged moments of insight that we are granted. His presence is to be found in all things, in all that we see and experience. It is not just that God created the world long ago and then stepped back, leaving us to get on with it on our own whilst He relaxes in some remote and distant place; for the divine work of creation goes on in every minute and in every moment.
On the other hand, we find that glorious sentence that rings so true in RS Thomas poem, Suddenly:
As I had always known
He would come, unannounced,
Remarkable merely or the absence of clamour.
And in his poem The Presence:
I pray and incur
Silence. Some take that silence
I feel the power
That, invisible, catches me
By the sleeve, nudging
Towards the long shelf
That has the book on it I will take down
And read and find the antidote
To an ailment.
I know its always with me;
How it enters my life,
Is present rather
Before I perceive it, sunlight quivering on a bare wall.
Perhaps you have known that we are sometimes shy of calling it the Holy Spirit but when we pray, coincidences do start to happen!
Certainly for me our relationship with God is not all plain sailing, but through the discipline of regular prayer we do get glimpses of the Almighty, we do find that coincidences happen, we do find that suddenly, unexpectedly, through gentle nudges and whispers we are in the presence of the Almighty, that we are given strength, words to say, insight, grace. I am also sure that if we ignore these moments they will disappear, but if we foster and nurture them then they will happen more often. As we become more conscious of his comings (RS Thomas) or His showings (Julian of Norwich), we shall become more and more conscious of Gods presence in all things.
Gods power is poured out into all creation in an unstinting stream of love. Meister Eckhart, the 14th Century Dominican mystic, seeks to grasp God in all things while the 16th Century St Ignatius seeks to find God in all things. Eckhart expresses the idea of Gods indwelling like this,
If this birth really happens, no creature can hinder you, all point you to God and this birth . No matter what you see and hear, you receive nothing but this birth in anything. All things are simply God to you, who seek only God in all things if this is lacking, this looking for and seeing God in all and sundry, then you lack this birth.
I do believe that by trying to give our hearts and lives to God we do take on a God-shape and we do gradually become aware of Him in all things, finding Him in the newly blooming rose, the gentle touch of the beloved, the broken hand of the homeless on our doorstep in the plain facts and natural happenings that conceal God and reveal Him to us little by little. When our prayer reaches the heart we shall find our desire altered. We shall discover a love of God within us that perhaps we were unaware of before. We shall give praise and rejoice because we shall want to be with God, to serve Christ and to live in the Spirit. Then, with Dame Julian of Norwich we shall pray,
God, of Your goodness give me Yourself, for You are enough for me and may I ask nothing that is less than may be full worship of You. And I ask anything that is less, I am always wanting but only in You I have all.
Only in You I have all! And as St Basil said, When you have become Gods in the measure He wants, He himself will know how to bestow you to others, unless for thy greater advantage He prefer to keep thee all to Himself.
And now, to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, majesty, glory and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.