Trinity Sunday 2014
Connected in Love
The Rev. R. DeWitt Mallary, Jr.
Ten years ago today — on Trinity Sunday, which that year (2004) fell on June 6 — I preached here at St. Martin’s. It happened to be the second year in a row that John Morris had asked me to fill in for him. He would say (with a bit of a chuckle) “De, you explain the mystery of the Trinity to them.” He chuckled because he well knew that it was next to impossible to “explain” or to “define” the doctrine of the holy Trinity, how God can be one, and also known to us in three different ways—or persona.
Actually, I welcomed that invitation ten years ago, because I had been hoarding a true story that spoke to me powerfully of what the Trinity is all about. That story, about which more later, has as its punch line “connected in love.” So the title of that sermon, and of this recycled version, a decade later, is just that: CONNECTED IN LOVE.
Most of us here (I hope all of us) are connected in love. Connected by love to others. Memorial Day has come and gone. For many it meant reunions—here or away—with absent family. For all of us it was a celebration of connections—with those present and those who have died. It was about connections in love.
Most of us here are married—happily, I hope. A good number have lost their mates. Most of us have children. Most of us have close friends. These loving connections make us human. A person without relationships is nothing. Hell is the state of being utterly alone. Dostoevsky wrote: “Hell is the suffering of not being able to love.”
Of course families are a mixed bag. Relatives can be a drag. Love affairs end, often messily. Some wag has said, “Hell is other people.” There are bad moments when all of us feel that way, but the truth is that to be human is to be connected in love.
A wonderful book on families by Jane Howard takes as its theme this quote from Robert Nisbet: “The family, not the individual, is the real molecule of society, the key link in the social chain of being.” She also quotes Homer, in the Odyssey: “And may the Gods accomplish your desire: a home, a husband, and harmonious converse with him—the best thing in the world being a strong home held in serenity where man and wife agree.” Connected in love.
Mothers’ Day has come and gone, and today is Fathers’ Day. The world knows those special days (and supports them mightily with dollars for cards, flowers, candy, and all the rest). The world honors families, those connected in love, but it hardly has heard of Trinity Sunday (What’s that???) But the Trinity is not a logical conundrum, nor a foolish attempt to explain the mystery of God. The Trinity is the assertion that God is not solitary, but connected, in love. St. Augustine taught, long ago, that God the Father is lover, God the Son is the beloved, and God the Sprit is the love that connects them. The Holy Trinity means that God encompasses in his very being persons connected by love, and that persons only truly exist in connection, connected by love.
Great minds have tried to explain the Trinity. The first four centuries of the church’s life were filled with theological controversies about the two great Christian mysteries: the Incarnation, or how Jesus the Christ can be both man and God; and the Trinity, or how can we logically combine our experience of God as creator, as revealed in Jesus, and as Spirit present in our lives, while holding fast that GOD is one. Those great minds (and they were) came up with two subtle explanations, which you can find on pages 864 and 865 of the Prayer Book. One is the Chalcedonian definition of the person of Christ, as both human and divine. The second is the Athanasian Creed, trying to explain the Trinity. For homework, read them.
Do they help? Do they clarify those mysteries for us today? Not much. A more helpful statement on the Trinity comes from a 20th-century English priest and thinker, Leonard Hodgson. He wrote: “Christ’s life was a life of self-giving in response to the Father’s love, through the Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity is the ….assertion that eternally the Divine Life is a life of mutual self-giving to one another of the Father and the Son through the Spirit who is the bond of love between them.”
So the Trinity tells us that God is lover, beloved, and the love that connects. We are made in the image of God, and our full humanity comes from the imitation of God. To be fully human is to love and be loved. Which means not just warmth and passion and friendship; it means love that puts the other before self. “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” “Greater love has no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus’ love, which is our window into God’s love, was not just healing and feeding and comforting his friends; it was also his willingness to suffer and die.
Once at my church in NYC we had the opportunity to have a sculptor design and carve a large rood group, that is a crucifixion scene, to hang in a large arch over the entrance to our side chapel. It is a traditional Latin crucifix, with the figures of St. Mary and St. John on either side of Jesus on the cross. It is based on the passion story from St. John, and reminds us of Jesus’ words to those two persons closest to him in love. To John, the beloved disciple, he commends the care of his mother with the simple phrase, “Son, behold your mother.” And to Mary he says, “Mother, behold your son…” And the gospel continues, .”and from that moment the disciple took her into his own home.” Connected in love.
The Dartmouth Alumni Magazine arrives in my mail every month, as it does to other alumni here. Some issues are good; some not. But I have saved and treasured and reread often one issue: December 1998. This the cover, a photo of Diana Golden Brosnihan, class of ’84, with her husband Steve, and her one child, an Alaskan malamute, named Midnight Sun. Her remarkable and moving article is entitled, “To Die Loving Life.” Its subtitle is “An essay on facing terminal cancer.”
It diminishes her story to summarize it, but I must. Time won’t allow me to read all I would like to share with you. Diana Golden lost her right leg to cancer at age 12. After aggressive chemotherapy she took up skiing at Mt. Sunapee, along with other disabled folks, including Vietnam vets. She was good, very good. She became a competitive ski racer. After two years out for skiing, Diana graduated from Dartmouth in ’84, and continued a demanding ski racing career. In 1988 she was named the “1988 US Female Alpine Skier of the Year.” She was the first athlete with a disability to be inducted into the US Ski Hall of Fame. Kirk Bauer, executive director of Disabled Sports USA, said this when Diana died:
“I remember this skinny, bald, pale little girl who came to my ski class not long after she had her leg amputated. She was the most precocious kid I ever met…. I remember telling her mother Diana was either going to be a great leader and athlete or a juvenile delinquent…. She was to her sport what Michael Jordan is to basketball, or Tiger Woods is to golf.”
Two years later, after starting a motivational business in Colorado, new trouble. A lump, a biopsy, and cancer in a breast. Then a check on the other one. A double mastectomy. Ten days after that surgery she flew to San Francisco to address 900 people.
It gets even worse. An affair with an older man. Then a growth in her uterus and a hysterectomy. Psychiatric wards. A suicide attempt. Esalen and alternative therapies. A couple of years trying to make it alone, with Midnight Sun. Then her precarious balance is again upset by finding that the cancer has spread to her bones. “Treatable”, but not curable. Well-meaning friends suggest “miracle” cures. More psychiatric admissions, and all this time she lives pretty much alone.
Enter Steve Brosnihan, who had been at Dartmouth when Diana was a student. He was a year ahead of her, a baseball player, who remembered watching her jogging on crutches around Memorial Field. This time they met at a party on Peak’s Island, off Portland, Maine. And now, because she tells it so well, let me read the final paragraphs of her story.
At the time of the party, I had accepted what I thought to be the truth, that I would live alone for whatever amount of time I had left. I could not believe there would be a man strong enough to handle not only the baggage I would bring with me, but the likelihood of death in the not-too-distant future. A man I could trust. I was wrong.
Our first date was spent at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I had medical tests from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and was looking for a way to bring some fun into the day. On a long shot, I invited Steve to join me. To my amazement, he did. To this day, we still argue about who turned our parting peck-on-the cheek kiss that evening into the romantic event it became.
Steve claims it was me, but I’m writing this piece, so I tell you definitely that it was he. On our second date, Steve picked me up in his first car, the 1964 Chevy Bel Air wagon he’d owned and worked on since he was 15.
We recently took a three-week European vacation. It was my longest break from chemo in over a year and a half. Before we left, I bought Spanish tapes and studied for two months. During the trip we played dress-up and danced in gown and tux into the early morning hours. We listened to street-side sax players bringing the cobblestoned streets of old-town Barcelona to life. We laughed with the locals when, while attempting simple conversation in Spanish, we mistakenly called a kind gentleman a goat. An “insulto grande,” as we soon found out. And I said to hell with all the theories people extol of macrobiotics curing cancer, and drank champagne and ate caviar, pastry, and lots of red meat.
There is a sweetness now to my life that has subtly slipped its way in. Certainly not always, but often. The water is more friendly, and I hear music again, in a wave cresting over the bow of our canoe, in the wolf-like howl of Midnight Sun, in the streets of Barcelona, in the cry of a lone seagull, and in the touch of my husband’s hand as we sing out the refrain of “Stand By Me.” Knowing what is likely ahead, there is a powerful sadness that comes with this re-found love of living. But this is sadness I can bear. Connected where once I was fragmented, I now know that peace can come to a tormented mind, that there is beauty that stands in stark contrast to horror, and that there is love that comforts pain.
Diana Golden Brosnihan died in August 2001, three years after this essay was written. She was clearly not a religious person, by conventional standards. But there is a power and poignancy in her story that one must admire. And her last sentence is a witness to the power of being connected in love. I repeat that sentence:
“Connected where once I was fragmented, I now know that peace can come to a tormented mind, that there is beauty that stands in stark contrast to horror, and that there is love that comforts pain.”
Human love is our nearest approach to the love of God, to our God who is love, and whose relationships in love are the real meaning of the Trinity. May we be connected in love—spouse, partner, parent, child, friend—and know that our deepest human connections mirror God’s love, and can bring us (as they did for Diana) peace, and beauty, and comfort in our pain.