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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Singing Trinity (Trinity Sunday, year B)

The Scripture this weekend gives us an interesting and challenging approach to the mystery of God. Some will, as always, and as might be expected from a church that rightly values the efforts of the intellect in pursuing rational faith, make this feast into a celebration of doctrine. But faith isn’t in a doctrine, it’s in a person, or persons. In the case of the Trinity, this God whom we try to “define” as three-but-one, our use of the term “person” must necessarily remain a metaphor, an anthropomorphism we use to get at something about God’s nature from the revelation that we are made in God’s image and likeness. Something about God is something like being individuated, self-aware, and voluntary; that’s what we mean by “personal.” Yet, it is God about whom we’re talking, and all these words need to be voiced humbly and expecting correction and surprise. 

At the same time, with the same breath in which we say that something about this personal God is singular, we acknowledge that something about this God is trinitarian, communal, di- (or tri-)alogical. God’s very nature is not to be alone, but to be-with, as the rabbis used to teach as they suggested that perhaps a way of translating the sacred name of God in Exodus rendered as the Hebrew tetragrammaton (four letters) represented in English by the letters YHWH. In Catholic liturgy in the 1970’s, there was permission to use, among several translations of the bible, the Jerusalem Bible, which, as a scholarly work, was the first modern bible to use the anglicized word Yahweh where the name of God appears as such in the scripture. Generally, the word is replaced by the word Adonai, “the Lord,” which you often see in all capital letters (the LORD) when the name appears in the Hebrew scriptures. This is why, by the way, there had to be a Vatican decision about excising the word Yahweh from Catholic liturgical song and psalm texts. Those of us writing in those days, most notably Dan Schutte (“Yahweh, I know you are near...”) and Tim Manion (“to you, Yahweh, I lift up my soul...”) were using the liturgical texts as we had them, not trying to make any kind of political or religious statement. The current discipline about avoiding the speaking of the name in liturgy is an ancient practice, and a way of being “good neighbors” with our older siblings in the Jewish tradition, where among the orthodox, at least, the liturgical tradition of not speaking The Name lives. (In fact, they often don’t even write the name of God as “God,” opting instead for the unpronounceable metonym “G-d”.)

I think all of this is good: it helps us understand, if we deal with it and don’t avoid it, that we don’t ever really “know” God in a way that allows us to define God. The person that we are can be known by God; perhaps better, as a race we all can be known by God together, and describe that being-known as a discerning, collective, peacefully collaborative effort. For many of us, Christ is God’s word in our language about God’s self, an ultimate, unique, and perfect self-expression. We would like to convey that image to others; but if we’re genuinely convinced of Christ as God’s self-revelation, it means that persuasion by witness of life is the only means at our disposal for this endeavor. If God is revealed in Christ, and has revealed self through a human being who came from the peasant class in a dominated nation, and who was executed by the empire in collusion with his own countrymen, then it strains the imagination to think that it is all right to impose by force of law, threat, or arms that belief on any other person in the name of that God!

The scriptures Sunday reveal to us a God who “goes out,” who is somehow active and goes after us to change our destiny from destruction to life. This is the insight of Moses describing the God of the Exodus. It is the insight of Paul in the letter to the Romans, describing the Spirit of God as leading us out of fear into family, from intimidation to intimacy. And Jesus expects that, just as he says that the “full authority” of the divine nature is bestowed upon him, that the Church called out to continue God’s ministry on earth after Christ’s ascension should also “go out” like God does, and make disciples of all people of this outgoing God, just as he attempted to do by the example and witness of his days.

Expressing this reality in music has been a journey. My advice to music ministers over the years has been to celebrate this divine identity on Trinity Sunday by singing music that people love to sing, their “love songs” for God. For some, this is music like “How Great Thou Art,” or the great doxology of “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.” Those of us who write texts and music for worship have wrestled with new and old images to try to find new ways of singing our love for God. Some of these find their way into our celebrations as well. Here are a few examples that I particularly like: certainly leave your own favorites as comments, if you would like. Mine are in no particular order, just in the order about which I’m thinking of them.

Bernadette Farrell, “God Beyond All Names”

God, beyond our dreams, 

you have stirred in us a mem’ry; 

you have placed your pow’rful spirit 

in the hearts of humankind. 

All around us we have known you, 

all creation lives to hold you. 

In our living and our dying 

we are bringing you to birth. 

God, beyond all names, 

you have made us in your image; 

we are like you, we reflect you; 

we are woman, we are man. 

God, beyond all words, 

all creation tells your story; 

you have shaken with our laughter, 

you have trembled with our tears. 

God, beyond all time, 

you are laboring within us; 

we are moving, we are changing 

in your spirit ever knew. 

God of tender care, 

you have cradled us in goodness, 

you have mothered us in wholeness, 

you have loved us into birth. 

© 1990, Bernadette Farrell. Published by OCP. All rights reserved.

Brian Wren, “Stand Up, Friends”

Praise the God who changes places, Leaves the lofty seat, 

Welcomes us with warm embraces, Stoops to wash our feet. 

Stand up, friends! Hold your heads high! Freedom is our song! Alleluia! 

Freedom is our song! Alleluia! 

Praise the Rabbi, speaking, doing All that God intends, 

Dying, rising, faith renewing, Calling us his friends.

Stand up, friends!...

Praise the Breath of Love, whose freedom Spreads our waking wings, 

Lifting ev'ry blight and burden Till the spirit sings;

Stand up, friends!...

Praise, until we join the singing Far beyond our sight, 

With the Ending and Beginning Dancing in the light.

Stand up, friends!...

Text: Brian Wren, b.1936, © 1986, Hope Publishing Co.

Brian Wren, “God Is One, Unique, and Holy”

God is One, unique and holy, endless dance of love and light,

only source of mind and body, star-cloud, atom, day or night:

ev’ry thing that is or could be tells God’s anguish and delight.

God is Oneness-by-Communion, never single or alone;

all togetherness including friendship, family, and home,

common mind and shared agreement, common loaf and sung Shalom.

God is One through desolation, blindness, treason, blood and gall;

One, though torn by separation in the Son’s forsaken call;

One through death and resurrection; One in Spirit, One for all.

God is One, unique and holy, endless dance of love and light,

only source of mind and body, star-cloud, atom, day or night:

ev’ry thing that is or could be tells God’s anguish and delight.

Text: Brian Wren, b.1936, © 1983, Hope Publishing Co.

Of course, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of others – I simply chose these because they are
in our hymnal and I know them better. There are my most recent attempts, "To You Who Bow" and “O Agape,” which I’ve written about before. There’s also my song “Mystery,” from the eponymous and out-of-print NALR collection, also “You Are a Sacrifice” on that collection. “One Is the Body,” a sort of credo song I wrote for communion, summarizes for me, at least at that point in my life, what I had learned about communion with Christ as promise and reality of reconciliation.

Rory Cooney One Is

One is the body, one is the bread, 

one are the living, the unborn, the dead. 

One is the cup, one blood in us flows, 

one is the breath of the star and the rose. 

One is the Spirit with Maker and Son, 

just as the source and the river are one; 

one are the stranger, my foe and my friend.

To this I will say, “Amen.”

Gather, disciples, your master to meet. 

Learn to forgive from the bread that you eat; 

treasure the earth in the cup that is poured. 

Taste and see the goodness, the love of the Lord.

One is the body...

Now split the timber, now turn the stone; look where you will, you are never alone. 

High as the heavens, deep in the flood, 

all things are charged with the presence of God.

One is the body...

I am the hungry, you are the poor; God is the stranger who waits at the door. 

While any suffers, no one is free. Whatever you do, then, you do it to me.

Text: Rory Cooney, b.1952, © 1993, GIA Publications, Inc.

Here’s what we’re singing Sunday at St. Anne’s, along with some iTunes links. Have a good weekend.

Gathering: I Am for You 

(Gather 3)
Psalm 33: Happy the People You Have Chosen by Rory Cooney (OCP octavo)

Preparation rite: O Agape 

Communion: One Is the Body (Gather)
Closing: Glory and Praise to Our God (Gather)

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit 

that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs,
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, 

if only we suffer with him
so that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom. 8: 16-17)

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