What Is Religion?

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with lovingkindness.”[1]

Sometimes, holding onto the Mysteries of Faith is like holding onto a stack of smoke rings or trying to grasp moonbeams. The Dogma of the Holy Trinity, Hypostatic Union, images of the Sacred Heart, the Doctrine of Transubstantiation… Religion can seem a cluttered tedium of academic explanations. It almost makes me want to shake my head and walk away.

But then, I remember… Love.

Love is the highest Good, the highest Beauty, the highest Humanity. Whatever religion one practices or rejects, it is commonly understood, simply known, that love is the answer to everything. When there are difficulties with another person, what’s needed is the forgiveness, compassion, and patience of love. If others are troublesome or cruel, then it is with the strong arm of love that we are to guide them to their truest selves. When I am dissatisfied with the pot in which I am planted, I must learn to love the bloom that I can be – the bloom that I am created to be.

Love is the way. Love is the truth. Love is life. The visceral goodness, beautiful ecstasy, and full truth of life is love… and we know it. We are less than what we really are without it.

This knowledge can lead some to false, trivial excesses – defining, portraying, and seeking love as pleasure or even as pain. But, real love isn’t cheap, usable, or disposable. It isn’t invented or manufactured, it can never be forced – and, when love is real, it can never be lost or destroyed. Love is as intimate to the body as breath and heartbeat, and as infinite as Spirit and Infinity Itself. The Divine is divine because the Divine is love – pure, real love. God is love.

The knowledge of this truth does not mean that I should only be spiritual and not religious. God created me of flesh and spirit, God knows. And God loves all of me, the whole of me, body and soul. God doesn’t simply want to reach out to me in a spiritual way, but also in a physical way, drawing me into Divine embrace. Religion is where we catch at God’s reaching out to us. Sometimes, we may only catch at a small portion and be led, like a child by the hand, to the places of real love in the world. Other times, perhaps rarer times, our responsive reaching out catches us up entirely into the loving and intimate dance of covenant relationship, divinely loving always and everywhere.

Christ is God’s profound and tangible presence in the world, a being, like us, of body and soul, who is human, like us, but also Divine. Christ is Love Incarnate sent to us, coming to us, to take us up into the full embrace of Love. He does this through mysteriously divine actions – those as he walked and breathed upon earth, and those as he ever was and ever will be – loving in nature, loving in the world, loving in our hearts, moving and acting there to draw us ever closer to our Divine Source, to Divine Union, to the truth of who we are – to love.

Every dogma and doctrine of the universal Christian religion are simply, and profoundly, the means to this. As real as sunlight are the gazes, the caresses, the embraces… the infinite human/divine intimacy of love.

Unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase


[1] Jeremiah 31:3

The Holy Trinity Is like… Really Confusing

Confusion isn’t always a bad thing…

Re-presenting here, in honor of Trinity Sunday, my thoughts on the unfathomable Mystery of the Holy Trinity.  And by “unfathomable”, I mean totally confusing. I can tell you that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are not three separate gods, but, rather, three different Persons of the same (only) God – but that doesn’t mean I can understand it. As a former atheist, then deist, who chose Christianity in 2002, I am actually grateful for the endless confusion that is this Mystery of the Holy Trinity. It was rather easy when I believed in God without the triune majesty aspect – it was like, God is one and I’m done. But, trying to understand God as three Divine Persons is, well… impossible for my little human brain. And that’s a very good thing. For, as St. Augustine says, “Why wonder that you do not understand? For if you understand, then it is not God.”[1]

Consubstantial

Over the last 2000 years, there have been countless explanations and teachings about the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, all of which are worthy of contemplation, though, in the end, poor shadows and incomplete. But, I wanted to share one here. It uses a simple comparison to a very common substance on earth: H2O, or water. H2O takes on three different and distinct forms: vapor, water, and ice. A glacier is not a river, a cloud is not a puddle, and steam is not an ice cube, yet all are the same compound of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. God the Father is not God the Son is not God the Holy Spirit, yet all three are the same divine substance – all are equal Persons of the one true, living God.

Let’s Go with That…

With this analogy of H2O and the Holy Trinity, I’ve often wondered which form of water might be like which Divine Person and why. My wondering led me to this thought: vapor is like the Father, ice is like the Son, and liquid water is like the Holy Spirit.

Father

No one “… has seen the Father…”[2] God the Father is, to me, the most mysterious of the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity. He is our Source, our Creator. He is over our heads, above us in being, like the clouds in the sky that send the nourishing rains. Therefore, water vapor is like God the Father, difficult to contain, always rising upward, if you will, toward the heavens.

Spirit

The rain that comes down to us from the heavens is like the Holy Spirit, sent to renew the face of the earth[3]. Water seeks containment, as does the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are mostly made up of water and Saint Paul tells us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit[4]. The power of the Holy Spirit is given to us through the waters of baptism and it pools within us to give us true life – just as we need water to live. And yet, if water remains still it becomes stagnant, for it is its purest when it flows. So, too, the Holy Spirit seeks to flow through us, to work through us to erode obstacles and wash away sins. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit our cups run over and we share the abundance with others. Another thing about this analogy: rain always makes us look up toward the heavens, to the source – and the Holy Spirit in us causes us to cry out, “Abba! Father!”[5]

Son

The Second Divine Person of the Holy Trinity really doesn’t need an earthly comparison. Jesus Christ is the incarnate Son of God, the Word of God made Flesh. He is made Flesh so that we may come closer to God, so that we may see God and hear God and touch God… and, through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, eat God. For this analogy of H2O, to better understand the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, I liken ice to the Son of God. Of the three forms of H2O, only ice has solid definition. Ice has definite shape and form, as does our Lord, Jesus. Ice can be held between our fingertips. We can smash and break ice. So humble and fragile was Jesus while He was with us on earth. And now, in the Eucharist, we can hold Him in our hands and we can crush Him with our teeth. (Mystery of Mysteries!) We can know that God is with us, substantially, given the right conditions, in the Divine Person of God the Son. Once He came to earth in the “ice age,” so to speak – and He will come again, as will another ice age. Meanwhile, when we receive Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament, Jesus is substantially within us for a short while… for about as long as it takes for an ice cube to melt.

In the End

This is an interesting way to try to understand the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, but by no means is it the only or best way. God, by being God, is always, necessarily, beyond our ultimate comprehension. Truly, there is nothing else like God. All analogies that we humans make to try to better understand God are limited because they are human. But, because our souls will always long for God, even while we are limited, there is inexhaustible blessing in faith that seeks understanding.

 unpublished work © 2014 Christina Chase
with additions © 2015 Christina Chase

[1] St. Augustine, Sermons 117, 5

[2] John 6:46

[3] Psalm 104

[4] 1 Corinthians 6:19

[5] Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6

Cloud, Snow, River: H2O and the Holy Trinity

Yesterday was Trinity Sunday in the Catholic Church, a time to reflect upon the unfathomable Mystery of the Holy Trinity. And by “unfathomable”, I mean totally confusing. I can tell you that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are not three separate gods, but, rather, three different Persons of the same (only) God – but that doesn’t mean I can understand it. As a former atheist, then deist, who chose Christianity in 2002, I am actually grateful for the endless confusion that is this Mystery of the Holy Trinity. It was rather easy when I believed in God without the triune majesty aspect – it was like, God is one and I’m done. But, trying to understand God as three Divine Persons is, well… impossible for my little human brain. And that’s a very good thing. For, as St. Augustine says, “Why wonder that you do not understand? For if you understand, then it is not God.”[1]

Over the last 2000 years, there have been countless explanations and teachings about the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, all of which are worthy of contemplation, though, in the end, poor shadows and incomplete. But, I wanted to share one here. It uses a simple comparison to a very common substance on earth: H2O, or water. H2O takes on three different and distinct forms: vapor, water, and ice. A glacier is not a river, a cloud is not a puddle, and steam is not an ice cube, yet all are the same compound of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. God the Father is not God the Son is not God the Holy Spirit, yet all three are the same divine substance – all are equal Persons of the one true, living God.

So, let’s just go with that and see where it takes us…

With this analogy of H2O and the Holy Trinity, I’ve often wondered which form of water might be like which Divine Person and why. My wondering led me to this thought: vapor is like the Father, ice is like the Son, and liquid water is like the Holy Spirit.

No one “… has seen the Father…”[2] God the Father is, to me, the most mysterious of the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity. He is our Source, our Creator. He is over our heads, above us in being, like the clouds in the sky that send the nourishing rains. Therefore, water vapor is like God the Father, difficult to contain, always rising upward, if you will, toward the heavens.

The rain that comes down to us from the heavens is like the Holy Spirit, sent to renew the face of the earth[3]. Water seeks containment, as does the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are mostly made up of water and Saint Paul tells us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit[4]. The power of the Holy Spirit is given to us through the waters of baptism and it pools within us to give us true life – just as we need water to live. And yet, if water remains still it becomes stagnant, for it is its purest when it flows. So, too, the Holy Spirit seeks to flow through us, to work through us to erode obstacles and wash away sins. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit our cups run over and we share the abundance with others. Another thing about this analogy: rain always makes us look up toward the heavens, to the source – and the Holy Spirit in us causes us to cry out, “Abba! Father!”[5]

The Second Divine Person of the Holy Trinity really doesn’t need an earthly comparison. Jesus Christ is the incarnate Son of God, the Word of God made Flesh. He is made Flesh so that we may come closer to God, so that we may see God and hear God and touch God… and, through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, eat God. For this analogy of H2O, to better understand the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, I liken ice to the Son of God. Of the three forms of H2O, only ice has solid definition. Ice has definite shape and form, as does our Lord, Jesus. Ice can be held between our fingertips. We can smash and break ice. So humble and fragile was Jesus while He was with us on earth. And now, in the Eucharist, we can hold Him in our hands and we can crush Him with our teeth. (Mystery of Mysteries!) We can know that God is with us, substantially, given the right conditions, in the Divine Person of God the Son. Once He came to earth in the “ice age,” so to speak – and He will come again, as will another ice age. Meanwhile, when we receive Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament, Jesus is substantially within us for a short while… for about as long as it takes for an ice cube to melt.

This is an interesting way to try to understand the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, but by no means is it the only or best way. God, by being God, is always, necessarily, beyond our ultimate comprehension. Truly, there is nothing else like God. All analogies that we humans make to try to better understand God are limited because they are human. But, because our souls will always long for God, even while we are limited, there is inexhaustible blessing in faith seeking understanding.

 

© 2014 Christina Chase

All Rights Reserved

 

[1] St. Augustine, Sermons 117, 5

[2] John 6:46

[3] Psalm 104

[4] 1 Corinthians 6:19

[5] Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6

God As a Sentence

I don’t get the Holy Trinity.  So far beyond the grasp of my logic, and even my imagination, that when I think about the Trinity too much, I feel the foundations of my Christian Faith start to shake.  But, that’s a good thing.

Sometimes, too often, we who believe in God tend to picture an omniscient deity sitting above the clouds, or hold an image of the outstretched and encompassing universe in our heads, or sense some feeling of ceaseless and potent energy, and are too complacent with that as our understanding of God.  As an explanation for who God is, the Mystery of the Holy Trinity also renders some images, but to make cognitive sense of them as One God is… well, impossible.  And that really bothers me sometimes.  When I first believed in the existence of God, I believed that God is one – and I was done.  That was fairly simple.  But, the Christian understanding of God as both singular and Triune … that’s just mind-boggling.  Yet… shouldn’t God be mind-boggling?  For, as St. Augustine says, “If you understood him, it would not be God”.  The Trinitarian understanding of God is justly incomprehensible.

The Mystery of the Holy Trinity – that there is only one God, and that God is one in 3 Divine Persons – is absolutely a Mystery.  It’s not something to be solved, like a murder mystery that needs a good detective to figure it out.  It’s something to be marveled at, something to be pondered in the heart, something to be accepted in faith – it is Mystery, ineffable, of infinite depths.  When I was falling away from my faith, I asked my mother many questions about God and her invariable answer was, “It’s a mystery.”  At the time, I thought this was a kind of brush off, a copout in the face of something insensible, and I rolled my eyes.  I had no appreciation for true mystery.  It wasn’t until I truly believed in the ultimate reality that we call God that I understood the truth of my mother’s answer.  Mystery is inexplicable and inexhaustible.

My mother had also warned me about the danger of asking too many questions – for it seems she had also experienced the shaking of faith.  But, it’s good to wonder, to seek understanding even if just partial.  Many small Catholic colleges (I’m thinking of a particular one, Magdalen College in Warner, New Hampshire) want to shake the faith of their cradle Catholic students.  The hope is to shake them out of the complacency of conditioning, to get them out of the rut of rote, to cause them to ask reasonable questions so that they may open their minds and have deeper and truer faith.  And this can lead them to what St. Anselm calls “faith seeking understanding.”

Anyway, that’s why we Christians have so many attempts to illustrate the Mystery of the Holy Trinity.  There’s St. Patrick’s 3 leafed Shamrock, the 3 forms of H2O, and the contemplation of lover, beloved, and love, just to name a few.  Much Catholic theology, especially seen in the works of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, emphasizes the relationship aspect, saying that we understand God as relational, a communion of persons, the giving, receiving, and sharing of self in love.  Thinking about this the other day, I still couldn’t wrap my head around it.  (Duh.)

Finally getting to my ultimate reason for this post, my conclusion was simply this: all that has ever been and all that ever will be is loving.  More of a verb than a noun.  I think it’s the noun aspect that bothers me when thinking about Triune God.  God is not 3 things.  We say that God is 3 persons, but not in the sense of human persons, not in the sense of separate individuals.  To get me out of the human thought of what person is, I tried to think about God as verb, as loving

Thinking about God as action led me to think about verbs.  And the intrigue with this thought is that verbs usually only make up part of a sentence.  A verb is not a complete sentence, even an imperative like, “Eat!” implies a subject and, if the verb is transitive, it also implies a direct object.  Most words alone are not complete sentences.

I.

That is not a complete sentence.

You.

That is not a complete sentence.

Love.

That is not a complete sentence.  (Well… I suppose if it is an imperative… But then it implies a subject, the person who is being exhorted to love.  And the verb love needs an object to which it is directed.  There may be a question of whether the verb love is a transitive verb or an intransitive verb… But, if it’s viable, it’s a philosophical question not a grammatical one.  We can, of course, think of love as a quality that flows through us – but that is more of a noun.  In the sense of loving, love is a verb.  So, if this sentence is an imperative, then the implied subject is being told to love something or someone (abstract or concrete) the object being likewise implied.)

Because we know that God is love, it does seem to me that we could let this one word stand by itself without a sentence.  Love.  But, then… What if this love is revealed to us, is communicated to us…?  Let us then say that it takes on sentence structure for our sake.  And, therefore, as a word alone it is incomplete.

I love you.

That is a complete sentence.  Each part needs the other in order to be a sentence.  Every part of the sentence is essential to the whole.

This one sentence might be a good way to have some kind of a glimpse-like understanding of the Holy Trinity (mysterious and ineffable as that limited understanding may be).  Being only an analogy, however, it is totally imperfect.  Being an attempt to explain the sacred mystery, it is utterly inept.  We are merely human with finite brains and finite understanding.  God’s ways are infinitely above our ways.  God reveals Godself to us and we receive through faith.

If we understood the Holy Trinity, then it would not be the truth about God.

I’m curious about other analogies or explanations of the Holy Trinity….  Inept as they may be, I believe there is worth in exploring them…