I wrote this to be read by our congregational president when I was out sick on Holy Trinity Sunday, which also marked the start of our Lord's Prayer sermon series.
I am not with you because I am at home, sick. The illness is not a mystery. It is just something that I am waiting to finish. Being sick is a little like a puzzle. With enough information, we can solve the puzzle and, usually, things work out.
Of course, we know situations where people were sick and did not get well in the way we had hoped. Nevertheless, we almost always pursue the solution- the full solution, the answers to all our questions. No stones are left unturned. Questions are answered. Puzzles are solved.
We like solutions. There is hardly anything more aggravating than not being able to fix something or know an answer. In this room, right now, with the human knowledge plus the technological benefit of smart phones- there are many questions that could be answered, many problems that could be solved. Facts and figures and history and science- at our fingertips, in our minds, remembered and recorded.
Yet, there are two mysteries that remain here with us- two things we cannot solve, two puzzles that specifically do not have solutions. We cannot adequately explain the Trinity- the idea of one God with three expressions. And we cannot explain prayer.
Even if I were here in front of you, I could not solve these puzzles for you. And, frankly, Megan would probably rather be sick herself than to have to attempt it. The thing is… these are not problems. They do not need to be solved. The work of faith is learning to live both with God’s expansive nature and with the command to pray.
Oh, we do want to solve these mysteries. There are all kinds of object lessons about the Trinity- a three-note chord, an apple (skin, flesh, and seeds), water (ice, liquid, vapor). Ultimately, though, we cannot explain anything adequately. The faithful thing to do, then, is to stop trying. Stop trying to make sense of the Trinity. Stop trying to adhere to a specific kind of orthodoxy that will make it neat and clean.
Rest in the messiness of a God who is both Parent and Child, both enfleshed and ineffable, both eternal and resurrected, who knows all things and also experiences a thousand years like a day. God is bigger than we can imagine and yet we keep thinking we can solve God- like a Rubic’s cube. If we get all the colors lined up, then God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- will make sense, will be solved!
We do the same thing with prayer- except that we worry about getting it right. So much depends, we think, on being able to do it correctly, on solving the prayer problem, that we hardly notice when we’re praying all the time. We focus on the “how” and we forget the “who”.
Jesus teaches disciples to pray, in Matthew’s gospel, by beginning, “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name.” God’s name is holy because it is the name upon which we can call for all things- for healing, in distress, in joy, for hope, for help. We begin by calling on the name of God because we can ask things of this name (and in this name) that cannot come from anyone or anything else.
Yet, when people tell me they have a hard time praying, often they are concerned about “getting it wrong”. We want to have all our ducks in a row because, surely, if we pray in the right way, we will receive the thing for which we are asking. And that, right there, is the tough mystery of prayer. The part we want to solve. It is hard accept that a God who has made us, who has lived as one of us, and who sighs with us in prayer is present and at work in all things, even when our experience is bleak and dark.
If things are not improving (in the way we expect), then God must not be listening (so we think) and if God is not listening (according to us), then we must be doing it wrong (it stands to reason). We are able to do so much, so quickly now and to know so many things… waiting with mystery is hard. What is hard is uncomfortable and what is uncomfortable is to be avoided. No one ever says, “Let’s go to the park with the hard benches! I love how uncomfortable we are there.”
Part of living in faith, in trusting God, is learning to be consoled by the mystery of God’s relationship to God’s ownself (as Father, Son, and Spirit) and the mystery of God’s relationship to us- as we experience it through prayer- our prayers with words and our prayers with actions. God is bigger than our knowledge, than our imaginations, than our dreams. We cannot solve the mystery of God. That actually is good news. A puzzle has a solution. A riddle has an answer. But God, God is forever- and we live and rest, not through our own doing, in that eternity- even when we do not understand it.