Trinity Sunday: the joy of the present moment
Sermon by the Reverend Doctor Brutus Green
Readings: Proverbs 8.1-4,22-31, Romans 5.1-5, John 16.12-15
I am an impatient person. When we’re eating our go-to meal of Fajitas, I will be busy licking my thumbs having demolished 3, whilst Rhiannon is still tucking the corners on her first. In my defence, though, she does overstuff hers.
And I was once recognised by a girl who hadn’t seen me for 3 years from 100 yards simply by the way that I walk. I can’t tell you in a church how my Company Sergeant Major at Sandhurst described my walking, very loudly on a daily basis, but I have a peculiar tendency to lean forwards and lurch rapidly ahead— especially if I’m thinking about something serious. I also have an almost neurotic drive to rush from one thing to the next, which has run into some difficulty in having a child. But this weekend we started pram-running together and woe betide you if you get in our way, especially with our greyhound running behind picking up the road kill.
Now there’s a part of all of us that just can’t wait for the satisfaction of reaching the end. Whether it’s the end of a romantic comedy when the happy couple swooshing off into the sunset; or Bond, washed up on a desert island with some scantily clad woman with a preposterous name; the end when Bruce Willis’ white vest is utterly filthy and everyone is dead; or a Peter Jackson hobbit epic when the end goes on interminably an hour past it should. But these are the moments when you think: It’s all done. Complete. Switch off. You’ve got that tick in your life’s to do list checked.
And it would be very frustrating to not get to the end; to get killed in some freak accident and never find out who, if anyone, actually survives to be king or queen at the end of Game of Thrones. I still have about 3 episodes to go but annoyingly they’ve taken it off Now TV so I’ll probably never find out.
But then there are those difficult moments when you wish everything would just end because it’s all so awful. Like chicken-pox. Or Brexit. Or when you turn up to your exam and realise you revised for the wrong exam - which I did once. Or when you’re dry rot keeps spreading and suddenly in a week of bad weather you look up to see that there’s water coming through the roof.
But think how different is that willing for the moment to go on forever. When the sound of the sea and the sun on your skin demand nothing of you, or when it’s gone midnight with friends feeling perfectly understood, free and invincible; it’s another desire to stop time but as different from the former as life is from death. The poet T.S. Eliot once wrote that ‘human beings cannot bear very much reality’. He meant by this that we’re not very good at living in the present. We’re often so consumed by anxiety over what’s coming next that we stop experiencing the moment.
As with fajitas, I habitually eat too quickly. I might have been looking forward to some smart dinner all day but I’ll gobble through because hunger makes me eat like a maniac, or simply because I’m mindlessly chatting and not thinking about it, and before I know it it’s over and I can’t remember what I’ve eaten. Or, worse, you see people who are so busy Facebooking, tweeting, blogging, Pinteresting, Instagramming and Snapchatting that actually life has passed them by and they’re fifty with a massive web presence but no personal life or memories. They say that the mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. The same is true of social media. A wonderful servant. A terrible master.
But to go back to Bruce Willis and the romantic comedies - which incidentally would be a great name for a band - you will have noticed how the ending has a false bottom. There’s always a sequel - Bruce gets a new white vest, there’s a new bond girl as the previous one is conveniently forgotten; the awkward break up ‘it’s not you, it’s the Russians’, left to the imagination; or in the case of romantic comedies we’re just left with the speculation of happiness. Surely marriage, children, old age walks in kew gardens.
My point is though that we’re usually looking for an ending. And it’s true, life is a bit more manageable if there are markers where we can say with joy and relief “this is over”. When the guests leave and you shut the door exclaiming, “Thank goodness they’re gone”. But actually there is no “over” — the kiss becomes a relationship, the engagement becomes a wedding, the marriage, kids. Suddenly you’re out the army, but now there’s a baby and already the churchwardens are clambering at the door. No one ever says stop, take a break, you’ve earned it. No matter how many seasons of Game of Thrones there’s been, life doesn’t get any easier for Jon Snow — Don’t tell me what happens. But just as we may be fervently wishing for the end — out of terror and horror or the joy of completion — life dances on.
So we can worry away focused on the future, or we can pay attention to the present moment. But if your mind is always set on the future you may miss the present. Whereas if you’re truly and actively engaged with the present, then the future might just look after itself.
So, perhaps, instead of looking endlessly forwards, now is the time to start appreciating the moment — the weather, your work, cricket, your friends, a leadership election, the present moment in all it has to give. Because the moment of peace in this life is not the stationary moment, the moment at rest at the end. Retirement which for my generation will probably simply not happen, the moment of peace is not the moment at the end — It’s when you are still moving, but moving in harmony with the world and the people alongside you. When you’re in the present and it’s easy and right. Not a moment without responsibility, but a moment without distraction.
Now Trinity Sunday is traditionally hated by preachers who feel they have to explain the Christian God, usually by some bad metaphor relying on a dead plant, poor science, bizarre family dynamics or awkward third wheel relationships. For all the confusion the helpful aspect of the doctrine lies in shattering our childhood concept of God. God is not a thing out there or up above. God is not a great judge or king in the sky. God is neither the immovable trigger that kicks it off nor the full stop at the end of the sentence.
Dante, as he reaches the inner sanctum of heaven in Europe’s greatest poem, The Divine Comedy describes the Trinity like this: ‘In the profound and clear ground of the lofty light appeared to me three circles of three colours and of the same extent, and the one seemed reflected by the other as rainbow by rainbow, and the third seemed fire breathed forth equally from the one and the other.’ With circles Dante has found the perfect symbol that can convey both stillness and movement, for as a perfect circle spins you would not perceive its movement. The image of God, then, is of being still and still moving. But even more memorable is the ending. Dante writes: ‘now my desire and will, like a wheel that spins with even motion, were revolved by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars’. God is still and still moving and it’s this cosmic movement, not girls, that run the world.
It’s never at rest because Love is never at rest. And if eternity is not one interminable ending; not one final full stop at the end of the world’s sentence, then perhaps we should stop looking for endings. Perhaps we should try living in the moment a little more, rather than recording what we’ve completed. After all, the truly interesting people are doing truly interesting things. They leave it to others to tweet about them.
Life is not a set of boxes to be ticked or a race to be finished, and even in the dreadful moment we can say, ‘this too will pass.’ But life is about discovering the joy, love and peace that suffuses and moves in every moment. The love that moves the sun and other stars. This is the Trinity — and the God we should believe and trust in. Amen.