The Ninety-Seventh Letter: Sacrament and the Trinity

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Dear Daughters,

One of our professor friends recently asked me to be a special guest in a theology class she teaches called “Women in the Christian Tradition.” All of her other special guests this semester have been ordained ministers, but she asked me, a non-full-time-minister, to come and talk about how faith informs and shapes my vocation — as artist, writer, mother, wife, daughter, friend. Every part of my life.

Basically, she knows I’m a thinker, even an over-thinker, so she knew I would have plenty to say.

And of course she was right.

I certainly talked about my vocation in descriptive terms: writer, poet, novelist, handletterer, painter, copyeditor, liturgist, logo-designer, homeschool teacher, small group leader, ordained deacon, after-school program volunteer, INFJ, Highly Sensitive Person, collector of stray people.

And I shared my faith journey, how experiences in both conservative, progressive, charismatic, and liturgical communities have enriched my spiritual life and given me important signposts that keep me on the path. How I’ve learned that at the heart of our faith is a radical call to love, and if we say we take Scripture seriously, we can’t get around that.

And then I talked about how my faith has given me some important lenses through which I see the world and my role in that world as part of the Kingdom of God.

Girls, it wasn’t until I sat down before the class and started jotting down notes to organize my thoughts (in my normal non-linear free-writing way) that I began to articulate some of these connections. And those connections surprised me.

Don’t get me wrong: I certainly write a lot about faith and vocation. I write it, I think it, I say it. 

I write a lot about attentiveness and why it matters.

I write a lot about sacrament and how fruitful it can be to see grace in ordinary, mundane moments.

And I also write a lot about the Trinity. When I pray in church, I pray Trinitarian prayers. When we light our three candles at home on the dining room table, I’ve taught you to say “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” or “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

(In church last week, one of the hymns had the words “Holy Spirit” in it, and so I leaned over to the Bean to whisper, “Holy Spirit, like in the Trinity,” and you looked at me, confused, and said, “Um, yeah, I know that.” As if of course you know the members of the Trinity like they’re your BFFs.)

But still, still, I was surprised, even knowing that I write on these topics all the time, I was still surprised as I jotted down notes to share with this class how intertwined these ideas are. I was surprised at the extent to which how I see my vocation is shaped by the particular ideas of sacrament and the Trinity, and all of this is wrapped up in attentiveness.

When I use the terms ‘sacrament’ and ‘sacramental,’ I am circling around the definition of capital-S Sacrament, that is, a visible sign of invisible grace, but I don’t mean that exactly.

I mean more a sacramental imagination, a way of seeing the world and all of my ordinary, lived experiences as places where I can point to the grace of God breaking through. Because, of course, I believe that God does break through into normal, ordinary experiences. And so this idea of seeing the world with sacrament-tinged vision really has shaped me and continues to shape me.

A sacramental understanding of lived experience is, I’m pretty sure, how I survived those early years of motherhood, and is the reason I have written nearly 100 of these letters. I want you to see that this lived and ordinary life we live is worthy of notice. It’s holy. And it matters.

But maybe it’s harder to see how I instinctively connect the Trinity to this idea of vocation. I mean, let’s be real, a lot of Christians say they “believe” in the Trinity but most of us are actually trying to explain it to our children using heretical ideas that got people killed in the early centuries of the faith. Because the Trinity is hard to get. Hard to understand. Harder still to articulate. Anyone who pretends otherwise hasn’t really spent much time in the New Testament, especially the Gospel of John. Besides, even the Eastern and Western Churches have disagreement over the doctrine of the Trinity.

I have struggled for a significant portion of my adult life to understand why it matters at all as a doctrine and instead have taken on faith the idea that it mattered to the early church so clearly it must matter.

In recent years, I’ve taken to using Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer as a way to help me understand the Trinity. And I promise you that it’s not solely as a way to avoid using gendered words for God, though you know these things also matter to me.

No, it’s more like this: when I think about God as Creator, and God as Redeemer, and God as Sustainer, it makes it more clear to me what it means that we have the image of God, the imago dei, in us. 

When I pray to a God who creates, who redeems, and who sustains, I better know how to live in the world. I better know how to fulfill my vocation as a little-c creator, a little-r redeemer, a little-s sustainer.

When we see that our calling is to be creators, we recognize a call to create beauty from chaos. That is the story of Genesis. That is what is needed as we look at the chaos in our world today. Do you feel overwhelmed in the chaos, girls? Create beauty.

When we see our calling to be redeemers, we recognize a call to work for justice, for restoration in all its forms, but especially on behalf of those least able to work for it themselves. The most vulnerable. Just as, in our vulnerability, Jesus came to show us how to live and how to offer our lives. But even more: he came to set things right.

When we see our calling to be sustainers, we recognize a call to restore community, to reach outside of ourselves. We acknowledge that we do not serve alone, we do not get by alone, we cannot turn inward to find God but outward. God is community.

And we cannot do any of this–we cannot see the glimpses of grace in the ordinary, we cannot be the people of God in the world living fully into the imago Dei--without attentiveness.

We must be attentive to God’s work (yes, as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer) in the world.

And we must be attentive to see the work that needs to be done–where beauty can rise from the chaos, where there is injustice and unjust systems, where our own conveniences and privilege stand in stark contrast to the lives of the most vulnerable, where there are broken communities in need of healing, of hope, of love.

So, girls, I am convinced that even as we witness God’s grace breaking through into ordinary lived experience, the call to action remains great.

Because it is a call to love.

When we pay attention, that’s what we find is at the center of our vocation as the people of God.

A call to love.

Love,

Your Momma

 

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The Fifty-Eighth Letter: Holy Ground

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Dear Daughters,

I’ve been thinking about this calling to a sacramental life—a calling to seek the holy in the everyday humdrum and monotony of raising small children, of serving our neighbors, of loving our community or at least trying to, and in finding the cracks to shine the light in. This search for the sacramental keeps pulling me forward and revealing itself to me as the vocation that gives my life meaning.

Don’t get me wrong.

I like my—what should I call it?—“day job.” I love writing poetry and making art. I feel called to it. Most of the time I like proofing and writing articles, and I even know the joy of a nit-picky copyediting job well done, of the intense focus needed for InDesign formatting and layout. And, of course, many days, I love raising you and seeing you grow and learn and create and ask difficult, insightful questions. That’s part of my day job too. I even love chopping vegetables. Sometimes.

But all of these pieces of my life, as much as I am called to them, make up what continues to feel like the larger picture that is my vocation: seeing where the sacred breaks through.

Maybe that’s everyone’s vocation to some degree or another, I don’t know. But it feels real to me, this calling.

Your dad and I are making an intentional effort this calendar year to cultivate a habit of morning and evening prayer. The book we use, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, has already walked us through some well-known Old Testament passages this first week of January.

A few days ago, we had Jacob discovering that “surely the Lord is in this place.” And he wasn’t even aware of it.

We had Moses being told to take off his sandals before the burning bush because the land he was standing on was holy ground.

The Lord was in that place.

That place was holy ground.

That place.

This place.

I remember learning in Introduction to Christianity, one of our required undergraduate courses at Houghton College, that a “sacrament” is a visible sign of invisible grace. (Google tells me that this definition is attributed to Augustine. Maybe so.)

A visible sign of invisible grace.

So the thing is, Jacob’s dream and his wrestling with the angel sound like exceptional moments of God’s interacting with humanity. Serious exceptions to the general, widespread experience of being a human being in the world.

And Moses before the burning bush sounds like a crazy thing that only happens in the Old Testament. It’s unusual to say the least. Even for the Bible.

History tells us that these are sacred stories. These are sacred stories of sacred places. Moments when God’s presence broke into our world. These are stories worth telling precisely because they are exceptional. The people of Israel told and retold (and still do tell) these stories to their children.

But you know what?

I’m not convinced these stories are exceptional, at least not in God’s presence breaking into our world, our time, our lived experience.

I’m convinced that God breaks through and reveals God’s grace to us all the time. It’s us. We’re the problem. We’re in the way. The stuff of life is in the way. The clutter is in the way.

I’m convinced that even our everyday mundane moments can be conduits of God’s grace, can be sacraments, can teach us something about God and the way God works and will continue to work in the world.

What we have to do is look for it.

What we have to do is see it.

What we have to do is proclaim it.

There’s an old-fashioned word for you. Proclaim.

Surely the Lord is in this place.

The place we are standing is holy ground.

Girls, I don’t know how else to say it.

That’s what living sacramentally means. That’s what I want you to see, to know. It might be one of the most important things I teach you. This place is holy ground.

It’s what enables us to love our neighbors. To welcome the stranger. To see that those who drive us the most crazy and make us the most angry are made in the image of God. Just like us. To understand that we aren’t special or privileged but as deserving of God’s grace as everyone else. Which means we are undeserving of it. And yet, God’s grace breaks in.

So I will proclaim it. Over and over and over again, I will proclaim it.

This place where we are learning to do life together? Yes, that’s what I mean. This place. It’s holy.

This community.

This neighborhood.

This shared driveway.

This dinner table.

This couch.

This swing set.

This dollhouse.

This snow-covered sidewalk.

All of it.

Holy Ground.

Love,

Your Momma