Monday, August 25, 2008

The Golden Grove

I stumbled upon a lovely litany written by the Anglican cleric Jeremy Taylor. I will try for the next few days to discuss the various petitions of the litany. Taylor's feast day was the thirteenth of this month. The full text of the litany is available here: Letanies for All Things and Persons

The first section (I think in this case it would be called the invocation) is as follows:

O God the Father of Mercies, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon thy servants, and hear the prayers of us miserable sinners.

O blessed Jesus, the Fountain of Peace and Pardon, our Wisdome and our Righteousness, our Sanctification and Redemption, have mercy upon thy servants, refuse not to hear the prayers of us miserable, sorrowful, and returning sinners.

O holy and divinest Spirit of the Father, help our infirmities, for of our selves we know not what to ask, nor how to pray, but do thou assist and be present in the desires of us miserable sinners.
This invocation of the Trinity grounds us in an essential quality of God: mercy. God the Father is the Father of Mercies. God the Son, who is the source of both our repentance and redemption, graciously hears us even though we turn to him again and again as sinners. God the Spirit strengthens us and helps us pray to God.

Note that both God the Father and God the Son are implored to have mercy upon us, but God the Spirit is asked to help us implore both the Father and the Son for mercy. Our relationship with the Spirit has never been characterized by judgment. The Son may come down to judge the quick and the dead and the Father may sit in heaven on his throne, judging us, but the Spirit does not sit in judgment. The Spirit, sent to the Church on Pentecost, does not live on in popular imagination as a wrathful, judgmental God.

Perhaps this is due to the Spirit's lack of imagery. We show the Spirit by a dove or fire, but those aren't nice, human images. We can imagine Christ coming down from heaven as a terrifying human figure, and we have painted pictures of a bearded man upon a throne in heaven striking terror in the hearts of sinners.

A dove or flame can't inspire that kind of fear or awe. Doves aren't all that terrifying (imagine a dove cooing and telling us each and every one of our sins!). Fire, while destructive, is wild and indiscriminate. It will destroy everything just and unjust.

Perhaps this is for the best. We already imagine judgment from two persons of the Holy Trinity; the Paraclete, our Advocate and Guide, is with us without judgment.

But before we get carried away about the judgment of the other two persons, let us return to Taylor's litany. The terrible images I described are not present here; our merciful Father and the Fountain of Peace and Pardon are the images used for the God the Father and God the Son.

I think at times when we confess we have in mind the judgmental imagery too much. From my experience it is very easy to feel the burden of God the Father shaking his mighty head in fury and disappointment. Christ's fiery eyes can easily pierce my soul. If we think of the final judgment as a courtroom, we can easily imagine God the Father as the hanging judge, Christ as the prosecutor demanding to know why we haven't accepted him into our hearts and why we have continued to sin, and we're left with a little bird for our defense.

But that courtroom is not how God works in our lives. From Taylor's litany we see God's merciful nature which builds us up. Mercy is not restrained judgment or a lighter sentence in this case but encouragement to grow in God's love and grace.

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