Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live?
Instead of going into some description of what the mystery of the Trinity is, and the whole concept of Three Persons in One Being, the idea here will be to help us understand what it is like to encounter the Trinity. The hope is that we can see that we can experience God: The Father, The Son, and The Spirit in a very personal and intimate way.
How do we experience the Presence of the Triniune God? How do we hear this voice and live?
It is important to remember a couple of things about the Trinity: first, God is always being and experienced personally, and is real, and is present, and second, God is relational, meaning that we can relate to God, hear God, encounter God, interact with God, and above all simply be with God. Ultimately this happens in prayer.
For this life of prayer one thing is necessary: “It ought to be constantly developing in our souls.” It has been said by our ancient fathers “In the way of God he who makes no progress loses ground.” You are either growing or you are dying.
So first of all: Are you growing in prayer? Or are you still praying the same way that you did in 2nd grade? Do you spend a dedicated substantial amount of time every day in prayer?
Traditionally there are three different stages of growth in prayer that we experience: Purgative, Illuminative, and Unitive.
(If you’ve never heard of these check out this site: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14254a.htm even better is the classic book by the Three Conversions in the Spiritual Life by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. http://www.amazon.com/Conversions-Spiritual-Life-Reginald-Garrigou-Lagrange/dp/0895557398/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1338687295&sr=8-1 )
The first two stages, Purgative and Illuminative, are really preparing us for experiencing the Unitive way, which is ultimately living fully in relation with the Trinity. The purgative stage is a difficult time in prayer, a time in letting go of all the things that we are preoccupied by… this is why especially in the beginning it can seem so hard to just sit and pray… we’ve got to do some dying. The second stage is the Illuminative Way. In this stage we find prayer to be insightful, profound, enlightening, and we have real vivid encounters with the Trinity. As good as this stage is, it’s preparing us for an even better way of encountering Father, Son, and Spirit.
This is the Unitive Way. The Unitive Way is ultimately experiencing here on earth what we will in Heaven. If we are going to spend an eternity in Heaven, why not try it out now! The Unitive way is an encounter with The Trinity that seems to be almost outside of time and space, one encounter like this will change us for ever. It is often called a mystical experience, a peak experience, a “God moment”, a conversion experience, and most often something we can never explain, express, or describe, it is simply a complete awareness of BEING. It’s so brief because we cannot handle too much of it… and it’s where we get that sense of “Who can see God and live?” This is an immersion in the Trinity… Father, Son, Holy Spirit and our caught up in this love.
Chances are everyone has had an experience like this at some point in their life. Have you ever had this indescribable experience where you, for a brief moment, experienced being with God? And you knew deep down in your heart that it was real, that you would never forget it, and that you would never be the same, and that you wanted to stay there forever?
This encounter was just a taste not only of the Unitive Way, but ultimately of Eternal life with The Trinity.
The mystics over the centuries have given us wonderful and very simple ways of praying. Here is where it is important to remember this is about “Being with” God, and, this is where Contemplative Prayer is very different than Budhist Prayer or Zen, where the whole idea is getting everything out of our mind. Ultimately true encounter in Pryaer will come through Christ. (John 14:6)
So, how do we experience the Trinity? How do we allow ourselves to grow in prayer like this?
Here’s three examples from three of the Mystics:
Summer is here! Get out into nature! Get in touch with the Beauty of Creation. Seriously, not only are you allowed to “Stop and smell the roses” creation was made for you to “Stop and smell the roses.” We were made to be in nature and feel all the rest, the peace, the joy, the awe, the delight that comes from simply being in nature!
St Therese recounts an experience she had in nature: “Never will I forget the impression of the sea made upon me; I couldn’t take my eyes off it since its majesty, the roaring of its waves, everything spoke to my soul of God’s grandeur and power.” (Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, chapter 2, p. 48) There’s no doubt you’ve had experiences like this in nature! God wants you to enjoy even more! Get out into Nature!
You may think “We’re Cathlics we don’t have to pray with Scripture” or “I was never taught that” or “It’s beyond me.” Open the Word! Read Genesis ch. 1 or pick your favorite Gospel, pick one psalm a day, or just play the old Russian Roulette with your bible and allow God to speak something random to you!
Bernard of Clairveux once said:
“Consider how great is the grace of intimacy which results from this encounter of the soul and the Word, and how great the confidence which follows this intimacy.” (Bernard of Clarivaux: On the Song of Songs, Vol. III, sermon 51, no. 5, p. 51)
Spend time simply praying with Scripture. A substantial amount of time. Remember this will be tough in the beginning (Purgative Way). It will be hard to sit with the Word… you’ll think things like “I don’t get this”, “This was written so long ago”, “It’s boring”, “It’s not working”, “I’m not getting anything out of it.” These are all very common thoughts and experiences of Purgation… Hang in there! It’s so worth it!
Soon God will speak to you through a word or phrase. Just meditate upon it, rest with it, reflect on it, be with God as The Trinity speaks to you in a very real and personal way through the Word.
Spend time in silence. It is absolutely essential and non-negotiable that we spend considerable time in silence every day. Turn everything off. We can’t be doing anything to truly be in silence: not driving, not fidgeting, not distracting ourselves, not multitasking. Yes, it’s going to seem unbearable at first, but there is no doubt that the more difficult it is for you, the more essential and important it is for you. It’s going to seem like you are wasting time… but there’s nothing better than “Wasting time with God.” Because it is in this silence that you will “hear the voice of God and live!”
John of the Cross once said “Silence is God’s First Language.” If we want to hear God’s voice, we have to allow for silence. There are no ifs ands or buts. If we want to grow in prayer and experience the Trinity we simply must have silence.
Karl Rahner once explained that the “Experiences of ‘aloneness,’ ... when the silence resounds more penetratingly than the accustomed din of everyday life… feeling this as a single and total factor embracing the whole of one’s life… when one suddenly makes the experience of love and encounter, and suddenly notices that he or she has been accepted with a love which is absolute and unconditional.”
You too can and will experience the love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in Silence.
This Trinity Sunday we celebrate that we can relate to God… we can experience God in this life in a very real, personal and intimate way. And through a life of growth in prayer journeying through the Purgative, Illumanitive Way we will encounter God in a way beyond anything we could ever hope for or imagine. We will experience the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit: If you are praying keep growing… if you haven’t grown in prayer… start now: Get out into Nature, Open up the Word, and above all Be Silent!!!!!