Friday, June 20, 2014

Wonderful Concepts

Last week was Trinity Sunday on our liturgical calendar. Today, we pretty much take the concept of God in Three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as a given.  It is something most Christians agree on.  There was a time, however, when this was not the case.  In the first few hundred years after Jesus lived, a number of competing concepts of God emerged and there were disputes—and sometimes bitter conflict—over which concept was orthodox—or “correct”.  In the end, the concept of Trinity came to be widely accepted.

For the most part we no longer debate Trinity today.  However, we certainly continue to have intense disputes over what the orthodox position on other issues should be—e.g., homosexuality.  Sadly, clashes over concepts of God still lead to bitter and divisive conflicts in our churches.  When facing such disputes, we should always remember that, when it comes to finite creatures describing an infinite Creator, concepts carry us only so far. 

While we can and should have a firm sense of who we are and what we stand for, we must always maintain an openness to others whose concept of God may differ from our own.

At the end of the day concepts must always leave room for wonder; certainty about God must always yield to mystery in God’s presence.  We must never be so arrogant as to think we’ve got God “figured out”.   Like a Child on Christmas morning, we must always come eager to receive new gifts and new wisdom from God.

Gregory of Nyssa was a fourth century theologian who is credited with helping to develop the doctrine of Trinity that we now accept as given.  He spoke some wise words that I think we would do well to remember today as we try to faithfully wrestle with our position on today’s divisive doctrinal issues:


Concepts create idols, only wonder understands anything.  People kill one another over idols.  Wonder makes us fall to our knees.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Listening for the Dove's Call

A mourning dove
Occasionally I spot a mourning dove fluttering around my yard, usually flying low to the ground looking for cover.  Much more often, I don’t see them at all but rather hear their distinctive call: oo-ooo-hoo-oo in the trees around my house.  (It sounds kind of like a distant owl—especially since I often hear them early in the morning and late in the evening.). 


When I hear the dove’s call, I usually don’t know exactly where it is, but I know it is near.  So it is with the Holy Spirit—God’s invisible, but real Presence in our lives.  After Jesus ascended, God could not be confined to a precise location.  As the old hymn says, in the rustling grass, we hear God pass; God speaks to us every day.  Our job is to develop eyes that see and ears to hear, so we can recognize God’s call and respond.

When John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit is symbolized as descending like a dove—see Matthew 3:13-17.  The Scripture is cited as one of the stronger images we have for the theological concept of Trinitythree Persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) combined in one Being (God).  There are three distinct Persons present in this passage: Jesus is being baptized; a voice speaks; a dove-like Presence descends. In artwork depicting this scene, the dove is often depicted as pure white.

Two turtle doves…
I don't know if they are perched on a pair tree or not. :)
Chances are, the doves flying in the skies of Palestine when Jesus was alive were probably not pure white. An example, cited several times in Scripture, is the turtle dove (see photo), which is still common in that region today.  It was given as sacrificial offering by Jesus’ parents (Luke 2:24), used to symbolize true love (Song of Songs 2:12), and offered as an example of faithfulness by the prophets (Jeremiah 8:7). 

In a time long before custom bred white pigeons (a.k.a., rock doves) used in release ceremonies today, a white dove would have been fairly distinctive as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

While on one hand, the Holy Spirit's manifestation seems worthy of a more rare and exotic bird, on the other hand, the dove is the perfect choice. There are more than three hundred species of dove flying over the Earth’s surface; chances are we are never far from a dove.  Likewise, the Heavenly Dove is always nearby, ready to descend into our lives and show us the Way.  The dove image has become a universally known symbol of peace and love.


So the next time we hear a dove's call in the distance or the flutter of wings as they pass, let it be a reminder to us to open ourselves more fully to the Holy Sprit's presence and to listen for God’s call in our lives.