320 E College Street, Iowa City, Iowa 52240 Sunday Worship, 7:45am, 9:00am, 11:00am


Trinity Sunday


Catherine_smallPreacher: Rev. Catherine Quehl-Engel

Eternal One, may we be present to your Presence closer than breathing. Amen.

Try something with me. Bring your awareness to your heart center and breathe. Breathe in from your back and chest to the heart center on smooth, flowing inhalations of five, and exhalations of five [pause]. Consent to be breathed or prayed in by Holy Spirit. Keep going. But with your eyes open, doing so while listening to this sermon. When your mind wonders, be it out of boredom or worry about something on the to do list, simply bring awareness back to the heart center with the words “tender mercy” or an image of tender mercy. And breathe.This is a contemplation-in-action practice you can do anywhere while in the midst of everyday life activities and encounters (during faculty meetings, while washing dishes or walking, etc)

It’s said that our thoughts, interpretations, and beliefs create our reality. Even influence our biology. “Change the way you look at things,” says Wayne Dyer concerning this mind-body-spirit connection, “and the things you look at will change.” That includes whether you live out your everyday life thinking you are a closed system. A separate, autonomous individual. Or, thanks to spirituality and quantum physics, you thin and expand the boundaries of your identity to believe and know yourself as part of creation and the cosmos; as one living out your everyday activities and encounters filled with the grandeur, breath, and energies of God.

She pervades and penetrates all things, says the Book of Wisdom. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty. A reflection of eternal life. She renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets…I determine to take her to live with me knowing that she would give me good counsel and encouragement in cares and grief.”

So says The Book of Wisdom concerning God’s indwelling Spirit. It is the same indwelling Spirit or life force energy of the universe spoken of in today’s scripture readings. In The Book of Proverbs we see her dancing and whirling amid the process of creation, taking delight in humankind[1]. As Raph Klien notes, perhaps this interpretation is what Michelangelo was after when creating the Sistine Chapel. In the scene where God reaches out a finger to give life to the inert Adam, there entwined in the left elbow is a female figure Holy Spirit assists in the creativity.[2]

Just as The Book of Wisdom speaks of this Spirit inside us giving good counsel and courage amid our cares and grief so Paul speaks of spirit pouring comfort into our hearts amid times of difficulty and sorrow. In John’s Gospel Jesus calls this the Holy Comforter and Advocate. He tells his disciples how he needed to go away so that this indwelling Spirit-Helper can enter them in order for them to complete his healing work. He tells the disciples and us how we will be able to do even greater works than him, for spirit renews and heals. And because he knew he did not come to remain, but to remain in their very being. This is the meaning of the Eucharist. This is the meaning of Christ’s “Lo I am with you always,” granting us inner strength, peace, and courage to do the leading and the loving service God has given us to do. This is the solace we find in times of trouble, fear, abandonment by loved ones, and loneliness, filling and renewing us from the inside out.

So it was for Holy Wisdom and my Grandpa Quehl, especially after his second wife died. In the autumn season of his life, each day in the quiet of his empty apartment at Legacy Estates he’d pray long periods of silent prayer beginning with the invocation of Psalm 51: Create in me a clean heart O Lord and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy Presence. And take not Thy Holy Spirit from Me. Grant me the joy of your saving help again. And sustain me in Thy bountiful Spirit.”

This is the prayer of quiet so many a mystic like my grandfather and monk like the desert Abbas and Ammas have known since Jesus did the same, slipping away for pockets of solitude to refresh, refuel, re-identify, and re-align his will

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and being with the Eternal life force living in and through him. So that amid the leading, loving, and living they could do so as an open-valve or conduit of God’s energies of healing love. As an instrument of healing peace, Jesus beckoned us to do the same. To go into our inner closet to pray—right here in the shrine of the Sacred Heart of which so many other spiritual traditions also speak of as the meeting place with the Divine.

By the time of the early Church, this indwelling Spirit known as Holy Wisdom was being identified as the Third member of the Trinity; and yes, She was understood as “She.” Often depicted in art as a woman seated on a thrown[3], in time Lady Wisdom also became associated with Mary the God bearer whose body—like ours was a habitation for the Holy. Masses were eventually developed in honor of the Holy Wisdom or Spirit though again there was blurring with that of Mary.[4] Our Eastern Orthodox friends boldly speak of Her—that is Holy Wisdom, as the energies of God in us and all creation. How as 2nd Peter put it, we are partakers in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). How as St. Macarius of Egypt put it, this energy fills us, making us shine like tapers.[5] Actually there is this profound mosaic of him in an old Russian church depicted as translucent and filled with Light.[6] Curious how Einstein and others now tell us we are made of light. How Jesus did not say “Become the Light” but “You are the Light. Shine out. Yes you are not the Source. You are a reflection of the light. But when you own your poverty of spirit—that is dependency and one-ing of your being with the Divine rather than relying upon your own control, you give off much light. We as Episcopalians share this sacramental sensibility as we illumine with oil the mobile casino newly baptized. We are to shine be living from this indwelling life and life.

For here’s the thing. As Ilia Delio, a Franciscan sister and senior fellow in science and religion at Georgetown puts it regarding Inner Wisdom—the soul “is the immense power of the universe. Within the vast space of the soul there is…a “still point” where the divine and human meet….To participate in the flourishing of life in the universe is to first discover the inner universe… the inner universe from which all life flows.”[7] This reminds me of our Eastern Orthodox [and Celtic Christian] friends speaking of keeping an inner eye on the heart so that the other eye can look out to see the beauty of the world and splendor of the divine shining through the physical universe more clearly.

I realize how all of this talk about indwelling Spirit may sound like a bunch of pretty poetry. Same with talk of interior Silent prayer of the Heart/ meditation. Some incorrectly

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understand it and even practice it as if it was an individualistic reflection of our self-oriented times. As one of my Christian mysticism professors puts it, for many the word “mysticism: is a word that begins with “mist,” centers around the “I,” and ends with “schism.” So let me end on a practical and hopefully corrective note.

Some of you know that I’ve been working on a human research project involving indwelling spirit for my doctorate in spirituality. Specifically my seven week project, which involved a group of thirty Cornell College students, faculty, staff, and Mt. Vernon townspeople, explored the role silent interior Prayer of the Heart may play not only for personal and communal healing. People were able to adapt the modality so that, akin to AA [though not language of Higher Power but rather of indwelling energy or spirit], they could interpret this indwelling life force energy as Chi, Ki, prana, life force energy, the Third member of the Trinity—whatever worked for them. This is not the time or place to go into all the details of intended outcomes, how they were scientifically measured over time, etc. Perhaps that is for an adult forum talk someday, including with one of our Trinity members who was a participant. For now let me simply say that the group engaged in a prayerful practice that included what I have named throughout this homily including in the opening. Namely relinquishing, re-tuning, and re-identifying with indwelling spirit amid everyday life activities and encounters.

What were some of the 29 quantitatively measurable changes when comparing baseline responses of participants before and seven weeks after they began praying and living from the inside out? Here are some of the areas offering evidence of how relinquishing, re-tuning, and re-identifying with indwelling Spirit or life force through interior prayer of the heart contributes to both personal and communal healing:
1) The ability to experience of solace and strength during times of discomfort or sorrow doubled;
2) The ability to acceptance personal fears and imperfections with tender mercy increased
by 39%;
3) Physical energy or vitality levels increased by 20%;
4) Awareness of the Sacred or universal life force dwelling in other people and creation
increased by 20%;
5) 100% of participants were still using the informal practice one month following the
program. Including to help send healing and compassionate intention to others. Only
54% of participants expressed interest in using this contemplative practice for being a
conduit to help heal others when the program began.
6) Finally—and here’s the big one, especially for university and college administrator
types among you, and anyone else who oversees community wellbeing: Participants
were asked to tapped into indwelling spirit or life force to prayerfully send energies of
healing love and compassion intention to Cornell College as part of our group’s
community care focus. When participants were initially asked about their overall feelings
toward Cornell College, the baseline before the program began at 48% “Positive” or “Very
Positive.” That grew to 89% by the end of the seven week program. One month later, that
attitude or relationship held in the 80s (85%). The same question was asked four different
ways yielding similarly significant jumps.

What if you practiced thinning and expanding the boundaries of your identity and being? What if throughout the day you adjusted the little radio dial in the shrine of your heart; re-tuning your identity to the life force energy of the universe? To relinquish and re-align with the Source of light and life. To know yourself as conduit of God’s energies of healing peace and love.

[1] humankind (8:22 “Brought forth” may also be translated as “whirl or dance”)
[2] Feasting On The Word Yr C Vol. 3, 31.
[3] Philip Sheldrake, ed. The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. Louisville, KY: Westminster
John Knox Press, 2005, 643-644.
[4] Alcuin (b. 735) composed an entire Mass Holy Wisdom. Ibid.
[5] Lossky, Vladimir. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1976, 219.
[6] In Hesychast tradition of theosis, the body is included along with the soul and spirit in the divine nature. As with Gregory Palamas, God reveals Godself from within. Macarius held that when grace enters the heart, it reigns over all the thoughts and members of the body for it is here in the heart that the mind has it’s seat.
In the 13th c. large fresco in a church in Novgorod, Russia [Plate 13 from the Church Feast tier in the Church of the Dormition, Volotovo Polye. Novgorod school (1475-1500)], Macarius is depicted as lifting up his hands in prayer; his body reflecting an open attitude. He is permeated and transfigured by uncreated light. By God’s energies. “He resembles that which he contemplates. He both sees light and is light.” Solrunn Nes, The Uncreated Light: An Iconographical Studyof the Transfiguration In the Eastern Church. Grand Rapids, MI: W.M. B. Eerdmans Pub Co., 2007, 105-107.

[7] Ilio Delia. The Emergent Christ. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011,130-131.