20 years ago this month, I was living in San Francisco, working as a chaplain when I decided to take a summer vacation at a hermitage, a special monastery on the California coast. The head of the place, Father Robert, was a man I had known 10 years before when I was studying at seminary. He was a good man, very smart and very friendly, always room for listening to others, there was a special joy in being around him and I thought it just might be because he was very holy. He was now in charge of the monastery so I hoped I would see him there.
So I left my apartment in the middle of San Francisco very early one morning and I caught a bus which took me to a train in which I traveled for an hour and a half and then transferred to another train for another trip for several more hours and then I got on a bus that took me to a town, Monterey, on the California coast, where one of the brother–monks met me in a ute and drove me several hours down the California coast to an area called Big Sur; lonely, a place where tall tree covered green mountains meet the ocean with just one or two winding roads to connect you with the outside world.
The days there had a kind of rhythm between silence and speech and music. The community gathering several times a day to read lessons from Scripture, sing psalms, and pray for the world and those in need; then time for study, for manual labor, for meetings and quiet conversations; but there was also to listen to a kind of rhythm around the place itself. A short walk away there were benches on a bluff where you could see how high we were on the mountain and how far above the blue Pacific ocean: all that land and sky and sea made the world is pretty big. Sometimes we sit on this great earth like interesting little creatures playing in the dirt, and it is a good thing to know how big this world, this cosmos, can be and how fragile and fine is our part in it.
That is something like what we find in much of the writings of Scripture. An attempt to get our heads and hearts around what it means to be part of a creation that is so large: to be the special part of the world that can look out and see its majesty and beauty and sometimes terror, can see and hear and smell and touch it, can take pictures and make paintings and tell stories, can make poetry and prayers, can learn to care for it.
To know that creation is so large, so majestic, and to know we have a part in it, is, among other things, what that word "God" points to: darkness and light, anger and forgiveness, doubt and faith, loss and love. The histories, the prophets, the Psalms, the Wisdom writings in what we call the Old Testament all point there too, and that's why it is a good idea to sometimes find a mountaintop where you can sit and look over the expanse of life and know you are an important, though small, part of something that large
With 20 or 30 people in the chapel, it was like a large quiet family, listening to readings, chanting psalms that were several thousand years old, softly discussing what living life with God might mean. There was time and space to watch the sun cross the sky and set in the West and to let the moon rise in its own good time. There were times to watch the clouds crossing and shadows moving against the green forest, There was time to eat in silence — tasting each ingredient in every bit of food, which can be, when given the time and place, a very surprising pleasure and privilege. There was time to walk slowly down a path and feel in your every motion and step the miracle of the human body in which we live and move. There was time to tend to the subtle and sometimes quite indescribably delicious feeling of simply breathing: the receiving and relinquishing, the giving and taking of the most basic stuff of life – each and every breath you take.
And this is like some of the experiences the early members of the church, our ancestors in the family of this cathedral, called the Holy Spirit. The sense that the God of the whole creation was as close in every step they took, in every moment of time.and every bit of food received and given and shared, in each and every single breath, and it was al good.
The day before I left one of the monks came to tell me that Father Robert would be leaving the monastery to driving not far from where I was returning: would I want to travel with him? So the next day we drove up the coast and through the valley and into the cities again and all that time he asked me how my way had gone in the last 10 years. When he let me off on the street not far from my home I thought, “What an interesting and good life I had led!” I had done some good things, along with some fairly dumb deeds, but there were good times, times coming to bloom, with love and light and silence and good speech and care and community keeping me growing up in God’s world. And then I realised it wasn't about me.
There are a number of people around in whom love seems to live in particularly lively ways, opening room for refreshment, healing and joy, who seem to open doors and windows for forgiveness and finding new ways to be alive in community. In my time with Father Robert I could see how my life connected with both the big and the small, the blue sky and the breath of air, walking on the earth, being a good neighbour, so the light of his light I saw my life in a new way. And in that he was like Jesus.
So you see taking this journey for me was like what the Trinity is about: seeing again how big the world is, how majestic and beautiful, as well as how small it can be with every breath, as well as the surprise that we can meet love and new life in the face of human beings. Jesus is that kind of human being and we are here to learn to know him, know his love, and finally try to live like him.
So these are the three dimensions of the holy Trinity: the breadth of creation, the intimacy of inspiration, the hope in the heart of being human. And grace means keeping the door open for God's glory and grace and gladness to meet you in each of these places and on every step of the way. Enjoy the journey!
In the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.