Stillness is what creates Love
Movement is what creates Life
To be still
Yet still moving —
that is everything. (Do Hyun Choe)
It's a great mystery and grace that no matter where we are in our journey, no matter what we've done (good or bad), God calls us to movement. And yet, sometimes we feel stuck: unable to move, afraid to move, too weary to make a move towards God or with God into the world.
A year or so ago, after a long season of "stuckness," I sensed a nudge or prod to move on from church ministry to be a chaplain with hospice. It hasn't been an easy move and yet God has been teaching me a great deal from the dying: not only about myself but about others and God.
The dying have much to show us, and one of those lessons has been surprisingly about the Trinity. I don't know about you, but Trinity for me used to mean "two dudes and a bird." (This phrase is in no way meant to convey irreverence or disrespect for the Trinity, but to indicate how shallow our human understanding of something so divine truly is.) How helpful is that?
As I got a little older, I heard that the Trinity is one substance with three forms - for example in the physical world: ice, water, and steam. When I went to grad school, I learned a few lofty, conceptual theories about the Trinity. None of that has been all that practical or life-changing. Trinity is not static or conceptual. Trinity is not an "it." To reduce the Trinity to a propositional statement leads to a lifeless body.
It has been from the dying, and several patients in particular, that I've begun to glimpse a new angle on what I like to call "trinitarian movement." And this Trinitarian movement is personal and missional.
After all, Scripture teaches the Father sent the Son; the Son sent the Spirit; the Spirit sends the church into the world ... and eventually sends us back to the Father. In a nutshell, this whole notion of "being sent" is the guiding principle of the gospel of John (used some 30x) and I believe an important, and often overlooked, dynamic of the Trinity.
This is where the dying can help us. Of course, the dying don't move like you or me. They aren't full of activity. They aren't busy, consumed by self-importance or worried about work or school. Rather, because of sickness and disease, the dying show (rather than tell) how one can be still, yet still moving. The dying are about to make the biggest move of their life: moving from this body through the "Door to the Great Unknown." And behind that Door is a vastness, a Love, which is beyond what we can ask or imagine.
As one is still, preparing to move through the great Door, from God and to God, I've found the dying have much to show about life — how to live and move more fully, more contemplatively, in the here and now.
- Take Fran, an Alzheimer's patient who isn't given to many words. While in the hospital and on the verge of dying, I went into her room, aware that she was barely with us. I stayed a few minutes, and even though she couldn't say a word (and seemed to be asleep), I decided to pray before leaving. At the Amen, she did something I'd never seen her do over the past 8 months. She made the movement of the Cross — a blessing of the Holy Trinity. A deep symbol, beyond words, that Father, Son, and Spirit are always present.
- And then there was Bill, a poor man from the country. A person for whom I developed a deep fondness. On the day before his death, the family and Bill were anxious, heavy with dread, and seemingly unable to move. Before leaving, I asked the family to get up and gather around for prayer. I don't understand why, but there was something about that movement that unlocked their emotions. They told stories and laughed and prayed and blessed. The laughter was best of all, providing healing for the patient and family (and for me).
- One of my favorite mystic writers, Meister Eckhart said it this way about the Trinitarian movement of laughter: "When the Father laughs at the Son and the Son laughs back at the Father, that laughter gives pleasure, that pleasure gives joy, that joy gives love, and that love is the Holy Spirit."
- Finally, I'd like to mention Gayle, a middle-aged woman suffering from painful, pancreatic cancer who showed me a move I will never forget. In her final moments, the family asked that I pray. As I did so, she surprisingly leaned towards me, like a flower that wilts at the end of the day. A single tear from her eye dropped, and she breathed her last. It was the most sacred, still movement I've ever experienced. In her dying move, I experienced a most powerful sermon, one that reminded me of Jesus' words: "[C]onsider the lilies ... for not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these."
When we are brought to a place of stillness (and often it takes failure, or disease, but prayer and silence can do it as well), we are able to see and hear the movement, or dance, of the Trinity. As Thomas Merton wrote, "God invites us to a dance ... we don't have to take the lead but we do have to move, step by step."
My prayer and hope is that we will accept the Trinity's invitation to move with stillness. To help with that, I encourage hanging out with someone who is elderly or on the verge of dying. Visit a nursing-home, take a grandparent to lunch, volunteer with hospice. If that's not possible or your cup of tea (or even if it is), maybe you could practice the three unconventional disciplines or movements I've mentioned: making the sign of the cross as a blessing to the Trinity, telling stories and laughing with those you love, and silently observing and contemplating the movement and beauty of a flower or a child of God in the waning moments of life.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The love of God,
And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you (2 Corinthians 13:13).