One of the fundamental dogmas of the Christian tradition is the ineffability of God.
What does that mean?
It means we can never fully understand or express in concepts, words or sacraments, the fullness of the reality of God.
You see, if we could fully understand, express and create an image that could capture who God is, then God would be limited in time, space, scope, substance and being.
Yet one of the other fundamental dogmas of the Christian faith is that God is beyond all those things….therefore we can really never fully know the beautiful reality that is God.
And yet you and I live in a world of science, and absolutes.
We are extremely uncomfortable with mystery.
We like satellite images, measurable outcomes, gps maps, and quantifiable outputs.
We like to know who, when, where and how long for everything in our lives.
I know for a fact I have 6 separate electronic calendars, 3 paper calendars, 4 email accounts, and 3 voicemail accounts.
Categorize, classify, organize, plan….online, in real time from face to face meetings to online video meetings…..
That is our world.
And into the midst of those lived realities of our lives steps the season of Lent and in particular this feast of the transfiguration.
And we begin the season by marking our forehead with ashes and the words: Remember that you are Dust and to Dust you shall return.
Not a shame based…you are worthless…..but rather a reminder, that this body is limited, this vehicle of God’s grace is a precious yet limited gift….a means to give voice to what we know or should I say who we know created each and every one of us.
This is one reason I believe that we started this Season of Lent reminding ourselves….it is a season of Grace! A season of more than repentance, it is a season of restoration. A season in which we stop for 40 days and ask ourselves some deep questions about who we are and who God is in our lives as well.
I think that may have been one of the Gospel writer’s intents with this story.
Did anyone else notice…..how do we know this happened if Peter, James and John were all sleeping and they were the only ones who went up the mountain with Jesus? I know they woke up, but how do we know the stuff that the Gospel says before they woke up?
One of the concepts this Gospel pericope is trying to help us to understand, I believe, may be the whole understanding of the ineffability of God….how does one explain a vision of God to others who have not or were not there?
So what do we know about this God in whom we profess to believe?
We know attributes of God…..we know what has been revealed in our hearts, our lives, the stories that others have told us, our Sacred writings, our sacramental encounters….that is where we have come to know God.
We know God is loving, kind, peaceful, compassionate, forgiving, patient, prodigal, wise, and beautiful beyond imagination.
Yet none of those images or understandings captures the entirety of God’s being.
And yet sometimes because of the world in which we live…with it’s desire for certitude, planning and clarity, I wonder how often we end up failing to recognize God because we fall into the belief that we understand exactly who God is or how God will show up in our lives.
I had an inmate in my office yesterday……one of his friends, another inmate had died just last week and he had several unexplainable experiences and he was asking me about those experiences, worried that he was possibly experiencing in his words “some demonic force” in his life and wondering if it was tied to the death of his fellow inmate.
We were exploring together the experiences he had been having, and from my perspective they seemed not to have any ill intent or outcome. As we were exploring the occurrences, my fellow Chaplain from the Oak Park Heights prison came to join us in the conversation. The friend who had died, had done so at the Oak Park Heights prison, and my fellow Chaplain had been with him when he passed. He had been in a coma, and Chaplain Paul was reading him some passages of Scripture.
When the troubled inmate said…can you tell me what passage you were reading….Chaplain Paul told him and his eyes opened wide and he said….that way my friends favorite scripture!
Then the troubled inmate said to Chaplain Paul….will you do me a favor and write down the time that my friend died…if you remember…..I gave Chaplain Paul a piece of paper and he wrote down a time…..the troubled inmate then told us a story of how last Thursday at 0930 he was laying in his bunk in his cell resting and thinking of his friend. All of a sudden one of his t-shirts fell off the top shelf of his locker for no apparent reason and his TV turned on to a channel he never watches….a Christian channel…all three of us kind of shuddered, because Chaplain Paul opened the piece of paper I had given him and on it was written….Thursday morning 0930.
Sometimes I think we think we understand God and sometimes I think we lull ourselves into believing that we got this thing we call God down. We know exactly who is saved and who is not….we believe we know what is needed and how…..but things like this happen….and I am reminded that maybe I don’t have God all figured out…in fact…that is what the Ashes of Ash Wednesday remind me of.
I know things of and about God….but none of us have the entire understanding.
That is what this Gospel I believe is about….how do we explain the unexplainable?
I have a sheet here that I am going to invite you all to take one and pray with this coming week. It has only two questions….
What do you believe about God?
What do you know about God?
It would be wonderful discussion to have with each other over dinner, lunch or breakfast wouldn’t it?
Gracious God, in these forty days helps us to grow in our awareness of your love for us and instill in us the hope and confidence of living into the holy image in which we were created. May the mystery that is you, remind us that it is from the holy dust of your creation from which we have been made and to which we will return. We know and trust that you are and always will be One God for ever and ever.
Prayer over the Gifts
Loving God, in these gifts of bread and wine we offer you our lives. We offer you our sorrow for missing the mark of living into the love in which and for which we were created by you. We offer you our certitude, because you are revealed in our mystery. Bless these days with a growing awareness of the immensity of your grace. For we know you are and always will be One God for ever and ever.
Gracious God, we step forth from our prayer tonight, filled with the power of your hope and the strength of your mercy. We step into this season of Grace, with the appreciation of your mercy and the mystery of our future. Grant that these weeks may be marked with joy, commitment, peace and the hope that living in your Spirit can bring to us and to our world. With hearts of gratitude we offer this prayer In you most holy name knowing you are one God for ever and ever.
2nd Sunday Lent 2019
“God may be ineffable, but God’s nature is known, through the human experiences of life.” Fr. Ron Rolheiser
What do you believe about God?
What do you know about God?