Link to Leaflet from in-person service
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Denver
Don’t start googling ‘metaphors for the trinity’ online. I was immediately
drawn to this poem as what seemed to me an apt description of the divine
(as well as similar imagery from 16th-century mystic St. John of the
Cross). St. John describes God the Creator as the spring or source, the
Redeemer as the flowing river, and though he doesn’t specify much about
the Spirit, it could either be the water seeping back into the soil,
replenishing the source itself, or the water we partake of (from the spring
and the river)
Or, as Raymond Carver’s poem puts it:
Can anything be more wonderful than a spring?
But the big streams have my heart too.
And the places streams flow into rivers.
The open mouths of rivers where they join the sea.
The places where water comes together
with other water. Those places stand out
in my mind like holy places.
Anyway, it seems that many are quick to dispel any metaphor for the
trinity, not because of its mystery, but because they seem to be so certain
about what the trinity is to disqualify a particular image because of some
specific characteristic. There is a frustrating irony in so many people using
so many words to explain away this most mysterious attribute of the
Christian God, this one thing that seems to transcend language and logic.
So, true confession – I don’t pretend to understand what God is, let alone
how the trinity works. And maybe I’m in good company. Maybe you are,
too. Maybe, like Nicodemus from today’s Gospel, you also find it puzzling
to know what it means to be so in touch with the divine that one can be
‘born of water’ or ‘reborn’.
Perhaps that’s why I love this poem – water, too, is a mystery. It’s
everywhere (60% of our bodies, 71% of our planet), and yet that same
planet is at risk for both too much water, with oceans rising and polar ice
caps melting, and too little water, with drought and fire as the new normal
in California and Australia.
Beyond the practical, though, water is simply wondrous. Its sounds – even
in digitally simulated versions – provide a soothing white noise to fall
asleep to. Its smell wafting in from the open windows this morning in this
very space was reviving. Its seemingly infinite expanse from the point of
view of a beach has us contemplating other infinities of time and space.
Carver’s poem taps into the utter wonder that we often feel when
contemplating water. This is a grown man with a child’s eye for the
mystical world of nature, almost as if seeing a river for the first time, with
the eyes of someone much younger.
The poem does speak for itself, but knowing a bit more about Raymond
Carver may help us further appreciate his wide-eyed curiosity.
Carver is known principally for his short stories, and the fact that he’s one
of those archetypal mid-century White Man writers made me hesitant to
choose his poem for today’s service. I worried that he had some kind of
mid-twentieth century baggage – like so many of his compatriots – that
would perhaps prevent his words from reaching us as purely as they seem
to have been composed. It turns out that Carver’s brokenness actually
adds a compelling layer to his poem – his baggage, his burden was
alcoholism, so much so that, during a teaching appointment after his first
forays into publishing, by his own account he did more drinking than
writing or teaching. After being hospitalized several times, and after
seeking various treatments, he finally stopped drinking on June 2, 1977
with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. He called this new period of his
life “his second life.” Or, in other words, a rebirth.
So, within that context, and with Nicodemus’s puzzlement about being
born by water, let’s take another look at Carver’s poem. Is it any wonder
that he finds such joy at the purifying, mystifying, life-giving powers of
water? Is it any wonder that this renewing source of life makes his blood
run and his skin tingle?
Whatever we call God – love, beauty, the way things are, nature – Carver’s
story reminds us to reopen our eyes to that divine presence, and perhaps
to deliberately ask ourselves what else we’ve been submerging ourselves
in instead. For Carver, it was alcohol. For others, it might be addiction to
technology, or negative thoughts, or unfair judgment, or crippling distrust
or fear. Maybe we’ve grown so used to social distancing that re-engaging
with the world is unexpectedly challenging. Maybe the isolation of
pandemic times has drawn out long latent vices. Or maybe it has just
been a really long time since you’ve tapped into child-like wonder.
Carver died in 1988, just ten years after his “second life” began. Carver’s
tombstone is inscribed with his poem “Gravy”. (Yes, another liquid!) It
“No other word will do. For that’s what it was. Gravy.
Gravy these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving and
being loved by a good woman.”
“Don’t weep for me,”
he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure gravy. And don’t forget it.”
During our time of meditation, you may simply choose to re-read Carver’s
poem. Other questions you might consider:
When have you felt immersed in the divine?
When has that sense been hard for you to access? Why?
When has water caused you to wonder?
When have you experienced a sense of “rebirth”?
PDF of Homily linked here