Solemnity of the Trinity
For some months we have heard about ‘social distancing’ and the need for it. It is wrong to call it that. It should be physical or spatial distancing. It suggests a violent attitude. But social distancing is not a new phenomenon. It was enforced upon us prior to the current pandemic by government policies with regard to asylum seekers as well as detaining them, people who are poor, homeless or unemployed.
We were, by these policies, social distancing from these people who might be considered unacceptable or nuisances to economic growth. Seeing other people from the perspective of white privilege is social distancing. Denying income support to people who are unemployed is social distancing. Killing people suspected of being drug addicts or drug traffickers as in the Philippines is social distancing. A president going to play golf when the nation mourns nearly 100,000 who have died from this pandemic alone let alone other social ills is social distancing. Putting aged people out of sight is social distancing. Marginalising people of diverse sexual orientations is social distancing. Not listening to the First Nations people is social distancing. Blaming Muslims for our ills is social distancing. One could go on and include abuse of power, patriarchy, judgmentalism and legalism. Today’s solemnity repudiates social distancing. Thomas Merton, in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1965) wrote about ‘the heresy of individualism’ where people can act as if they are isolated monads concerned mainly with their personal well-being. Identity is determined by that which distinguishes and separates one from another. We are often fragmented socioeconomically and politically. We are often fragmented without communities, our churches and down to our families.
As have discovered, or are discovering, from Covid-19, this understanding does not accord with human experience. In a very short time, this virus has spread from a Chinese province across the world. It shows us how interconnected we are. We cannot escape our fundamental interconnectedness. Human divisions are not relevant here. The virus has ignored borders, race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or age. If anything, this pandemic has at great price presented us with the reality that what happens to people on the other side of the world, impacts on us. We cannot avoid the fact that we exist in common with others. Today, we celebrate God's wonderful ways of interacting with us. It is a song to God’s relationship with us and the whole of creation. As we come to know this God we must repudiate any spirituality or teaching or policy that disconnects us from the concerns of the world. God is social. God is a God of relationship. God is not ‘up there’ but in us, within us and between us.
How we imagine about God has implications for understanding who we are as human beings. It seems that this current pandemic illustrates a crucial takeaway about today feast: the unity and interconnectedness of all living things. It has social implications. It involves us with the world and daily life. It involves us in justice and peace and focuses us on the common good. It directs us to a God who is in all people and in all of creation; who has a special concern for the poor, the vulnerable, the stranger, the person who is marginalised by others by political, economic and ecclesiastical power.
Though scripture can be used as a tool for prejudice, oppression and even war-making that hides God’s face from us, today’s feast reminds us that God is creative, liberating and transforming. It affirms that God is near; that God has a heart; that God is passionate about people and all creation; that God is present whenever and wherever we strive for love and peace. The imagery of Trinity is crucial to our vision of a new world – to a new normal. Like the readings for the Ascension, we called to change our focus. To look out at a world that is in pain and suffering and see that Jesus’ God is not remote in heaven but loving, and who is present when people work for the good and liberation of others. God's action and our own actions become one. It is a relationship of responsible partnership. It refuses to outsource responsibility. It shares resources. It crosses all lines of discrimination. Whereas the world focuses on individualism and independence and promotes and image of God as uninvolved, the gospel, promotes interdependence, acceptance of responsibility for the well-being of others and the community.
Miroslav Volf says ‘Sin is a refusal to embrace others in their otherness and a desire to purge them from one's world, by ostracism or oppression, deportation or liquidation… the exclusion of the other is the exclusion of God.’ We can look to Pope Francis for an example of relationship gone amuck as he says in The Joy of the Gospel, 59: ‘Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society - whether local, national or global - is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programs or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquillity. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root’.
Pope Francis has also called us to see how our isolation from God, from one another and from the earth and its creatures has huge ramifications for Mother Earth and we see now how we might be affected by this pandemic. The divisions we create are illusory. We might also recognise that any small changes, when multiplied through the interconnectedness of systems and creatures, have large impact. More and more we find that our actions – what we buy, eat, drive and wear – impact for better or worse on people in distant places. For some, this connectedness is threatening, and the Church can become a place of escape, a place of difference where connections are carefully monitored and controlled. Others may find this connectedness a threat to identity and a small community becomes a huddle that needs to defend itself against being lost in the wider community.
The other alternative is that if we can learn to embrace what can be learned and rediscovered through these new global connections, and begin to identify ourselves by our connectedness, rather than our difference or disconnection. The local community can be one important manifestation of a radically interconnected universe? Might our ministry be motivated and guided by the ways we are connected to those we are trying to reach, rather than focusing on how ‘they’ are different from ‘us’? By recognising that we share in the community within the Trinity, we find a home, and leads us to a radical openness and ‘welcomingness’ to others. We might begin to ask new questions, pray new prayers, sing new songs and initiate new actions.
We can live differently. We can cross the crucial borders of life and realise that there is little time and perhaps we must take a chance before there is no time left. Forgiveness comes to us out of nowhere. A door opens where things seemed solidly shut - and we sense that we are... still... free... to choose. We can take a chance, strike out boldly and bravely, becoming something we have always wanted to become, doing something we have always dreamed of doing rather than continuing down the path of dull, bland and fearful living. As T.S. Eliot said: ‘The journey, not the arrival, matters’. Or as Mark Twain said: ‘twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore Dream. Discover.’
The implications of today’s feast strike us when we consider that we have been created in God’s image and likeness. If God exists in community—and if we are created in the image and likeness of God—then we, too, are created to exist in community with one another. We were not created to live lives of isolation and living out the ‘heresy of individualism’. We were created for one another, to exist relationally, giving of ourselves to one another. Our theology tells us that we are intertwined or interconnected with one another. Coronavirus also tells us this. No matter how much we try, we cannot escape this fundamental unity.