I’ve been keeping a close ear on local and national black leaders, training myself to listen deeply to their insights, their fears, their anger, their hope. Earlier this week, in an interview on WBEZ, The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity UCC Church in Chicago, used the phrase, “these-yet-to-be-united states.” I assumed, because I am poetry-illiterate and because he is a powerful orator, that the phrase was his. But, just to be sure, I did some digging.
Pastor Moss was, in fact, quoting the poet Maya Angelou, who penned those words in 1990. 1990. Thirty years ago. Her words are as damning now as then. An excerpt (the “you” is the United States):
They kneel alone in terror
with dread in every glance.
Their nights are threatened daily
by a grim inheritance.
You dwell in whitened castles
with deep and poisoned moats
and cannot hear the curses
which fill your children’s throats.
In the interview, Pastor Moss went on to speak of the “idea” of America, and his commitment to it. In spite of the suffering of their lives and communities, he and other black and brown clergy, writers, politicians, organizers and educators continue to love this country, pray for it, work to strengthen it. Pastor Moss believes fully in the “idea” of America, even though that brilliant experiment has yet to be fully realized in millions of lives.
On Sunday, we mark a liturgical festival unlike all others. Most festivals on the church calendar mark an event in the life of Jesus or the early church. Christmas. Epiphany. Transfiguration. Easter. Pentecost. And each festival brings its own beloved image. The Holy Child. Regal Wisemen. Gleaming Moses and Elijah. Empty Tomb. Language and pyrotechnics.
But Sunday? On Sunday, we gather around not an event, but an “idea.” An idea of God, an imagining of God, a reaching for God yet-to-be-realized. Sunday is Trinity Sunday, and we grapple with texts that ache toward explanation, but each time fall short.
“Trinity” is an idea, a way of speaking of God who, unlike the multiplicity of gods to whom others cling, is a single God with many attributes. On Trinity Sunday we use the names, “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit.” But there are other names. So many other names. So many other images. All of them faithful, poetic attempts to worship and praise the One to whom we have entrusted our lives.
As is true of the experience of many in our country, that the “idea” of America is elusive, we sometimes find God elusive, as well. Especially in these tense times as voices long silenced clear their throats to speak, and the privileged learn to listen. God is an experience, a pulse, a truth. God is One. God is Three. God is our Creator. Our Savior. Our Advocate. Our Rock. Our Companion. Our Ruler. God is . . . What image, what experience, what idea of God intrigues you?
On Trinity Sunday we lean into that idea, that yet-to-be-realized but deeply-felt experience of God who defies explanation, and, yet, is as near as our own breath.
I ask you to keep listening with me. Not to our own voices—we have been talking too long. But to the voices of those who, to quote Angelou, kneel in terror, whose nights are threatened daily, whose inheritance is grim. And I ask you, with me, to keep listening for God’s voice, as well.
Many believe that these are the hardest days in our country in at least a generation. I am among them. So, even as we dig in with our hands and our hearts, as we open our ears and eyes, straining to realize the “idea” of America for all, we use our hands and hearts, our ears and eyes to seek God in these hard days.
Being apart from you is always difficult, but even more so in the last two weeks. We remain united in hope, in love, in our confidence that God, impossible to pin down but always present, is guiding and keeping us still.
I leave you with another bit of poetry, which we will pray on Sunday:
Almighty Creator and Ever-living God:
we worship your glory, Eternal Three-in-One;
we praise your power, majestic One-in-Three.
Keep us steadfast in this faith.
Defend us in all adversity.
Bring us at last into your presence.
(Prayer of the Day for Trinity Sunday, ELW)
“See” you Sunday,
Pastor JoAnn Post