by Richard Rohr (2016)
Remember, I see mystics as those who have experiential knowledge of divine things, as opposed to mere book knowledge. It is not that prior generations of Christian mystics believed in a highly orthodox way, and thus used formal and proper Christian vocabulary. Instead, I think their primal experience of God, as an active, life-giving flow, toward them, through them, and even as them, made the language of Trinity an honest description of what they knew was happening to them—every day, in every way. For a Trinitarian believer, God is a verb much more than a noun.
It also is not that we must believe intellectually in the Trinity and thus become orthodox and holy. Rather, we can learn how the very subtle and positive shape of a believer’s inner world, their wholeness and grounded goodness, finds honest and descriptive language in words like Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and also Mother, Bride, and Guest. Such believers were never trapped in a static, punitive, or threatening notion of God. It is all divine seduction! So, to get off to a good start, we need to avoid the seeming gender implications of these classic words, which is not the point and will lead us down a long and unnecessary detour!
Those we call saints, mystics, and prophets deeply knew they did not create this flow. They found themselves to be already living inside of it. A Relational Flow was their deepest identity and the very structure of their soul. So they needed and found words that implied solid protection, inner guidance, intimacy, endearment, beloved giving and receiving, trustful reciprocity, and absolute, unquestionable friendship. They also employed metaphors like wind, fire, flowing water, and descending dove—exactly as Jesus himself had done.
However, even though Jesus used this language, it was confusing to people who never went as deep into their inner experience as he did. It took the Christian community three centuries to clarify what he was talking about. Although they coined the word Trinity (which is not found in the Bible), it was then largely shelved and ignored, as most Christians emphasized external practices, rituals, moral behavior, social prayer, and belonging systems, rather than an inner experience of God.
The giveaway that someone has really discovered prayer is that their sense of God will be dynamic, active, and deeply personal. In other words, God will be a flow, an inner aliveness, a dynamism, moving forward and toward, and never a static Zeus figure sitting on a throne, who must be placated and feared.
Since we have always highlighted St. Francis around his October 4th feast day, I leave you with this beautiful prayer he composed two years before his death in 1226. Note that it is not a theological treatise, nor is it trying to be “politically correct” for the church authorities. It is, however, highly Trinitarian—an abundant flow of adjectives and descriptors that can only imply that Francis was fully and personally involved in what I call “The Divine Dance,” which is also the title of my forthcoming book.
This prayer implies experiential knowledge of God that Francis reveals as fully possible—for all of us!
The Praises of God
You are the holy Lord God Who does wonderful things.
You are strong. You are great. You are the most high.
You are the almighty king. You holy Father,
King of heaven and earth.
You are three and one, the Lord God of gods;
You are the good, all good, the highest good,
Lord God living and true.
You are love, charity; You are wisdom, You are humility,
You are patience, You are beauty, You are meekness,
You are security, You are rest,
You are gladness and joy, You are our hope, You are justice,
You are moderation, You are all our riches to sufficiency.
You are beauty, You are meekness,
You are the protector, You are our custodian and defender,
You are strength, You are refreshment. You are our hope,
You are our faith, You are our charity,
You are all our sweetness, You are our eternal life:
Great and wonderful Lord, Almighty God, Merciful Savior.
Francis of Assisi, “The Praises of God” (Edition Duane Lapsanski and Kajetan Esser), Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Volume I, ed. Regis J. Armstrong, J. Wayne Hellman, and William J. Short (New York: New City, 1999), 109.