Trinity Sunday, 4 June 23
As you will have seen if you’ve been in Tottenham this past week, Beyoncé has been playing up the road at that stadium thing. I was surprised that, despite being a bit of a young-ish fogey, I had actually heard of her. Once I’d googled her I realised I even knew some of her songs and I know you’re all going to be very disappointed that I’m not going to start singing “All the single ladies,” but I’m still not going to! Some years ago Beyoncé, like many celebrities in recent years, spoke about her poor mental health, struggling with insomnia and not really able to celebrate the awards she was receiving.
Sometimes it can seem as if the world in which we live is a bit obsessed with mental health problems, as if it’s a badge which everyone needs to have achieved otherwise they haven’t really lived. As Christians we shouldn’t be surprised that folk struggle with their mental health. After all sin takes hold of humanity because of the Fall and two of the consequences of this is that suffering and struggling at work are introduced in to the world (Genesis 3). Human beings are made gloriously in the image of God (Genesis 1) and part of that is our capacity to love. Our longing for God means we can also long for other things, some good and some bad; our not having all that we long for is a consequence of being separated from God and we therefore have a sense of inadequacy and of being impoverished. Sin’s hold on our lives means there are barriers that exist between us and others, and between us and God: Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3); Cain, having killed Abel, is sent away too (Genesis 4).
We cannot therefore say that mental health problems are new for these feelings have been experienced by each and every generation. We perhaps are more aware of it now for two reasons: first there doest seem to be a heightened sense of spirituality in our age, a recognition that we are not just physical, visible bodies. There’s a great yearning for ancient wisdom, for spiritual protection, for a clarity about who we are. With that longing and awareness comes increasing anxiety about how incomplete we are. And secondly, we must surely conclude that we have created a society in which people are more likely to suffer with poor self-esteem and loneliness. The mobile telephone, I am afraid, though capable of great help, is being misused by us. We cannot blame technology for society’s problems because we are the ones, the only ones, who give technology its role in our life.
In the solutions that people recommend to solve mental health problems we see part of where society has gone wrong. First, people identify the need for routine, the absence of which makes life tiring: God didn’t make a world where we wondered what time the sun will rise or in which the length of days changed each week or the number of days in a week altered from one to the next. He made a world founded on routines, predictable movements, some things set in stone and taken for granted. Secondly, speaking to someone is seen as something that will help our mental health. And yes, God did not create a world where some people were meant to be by themselves all the time. “It is not good that man should be alone,” God says of Adam (Genesis 2:18). Yes, this is part of the foundation of our understanding of marriage (St Matthew 19:5-6) but it much more generally is a reason for us to realise we are to be social beings: we are meant to speak to other people.
The quality of our conversations can also sometimes be pitiably woeful. Hello. How are you? Yes fine, thanks. How are you? Yeah good thanks how are you? Going round in circles until someone realises this is ridiculous! We can be afraid to share how we feel: worried about how it will be received (Will they think I’m boring or stupid?); we can be filled with arrogance (I don’t want them knowing details about my private life or I don’t need to speak to anyone, I’m fine); we can be full of fear (“they might tell someone else”). These barriers need to be overcome if we are to flourish as individuals who are meant to be part of communities, the community of the human race, the community of the Church.
Now, I’ve not mentioned so far any of today’s Scripture Readings nor indeed today’s Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, Trinity Sunday. What I’ve been saying about mental health though stems from what we see of God as we consider today’s celebration. The revelation that God is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is not something easy to communicate. One plus one plus one normally makes three, but with the Trinity, we know one plus one plus one makes one. There is one God, who is three persons. We are invited as Christians to bear the image of God and to wear that in our daily lives while recognising He is beyond our comprehension, “His thoughts higher than our thoughts,” (Isaiah 55:8). Moreover in only a few places in the Scriptures is it clear that God is three persons and one God, yet it is fundamental to the knowledge of the true God. God communicates who He is over time, gradually revealing Himself and then most fully showing who He is in the person of Jesus. Communicating who we are then will also involve patience and commitment, patience with ourselves and patience with those who listen. It will require commitment to being in a meaningful relationship with others, however that relationship should look.
God’s relationship with His people takes a fresh turn in our first reading from Exodus 34. The two tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments on are being clasped by Moses and God descends, revealing Himself to be “a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.” “God is love,” St John writes, the subject of our Study Group for the next two Tuesdays, and that could also be the summary of St Paul’s closing words to the Corinthians, which we heard in our second reading: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” God is a fellowship of love into which we are to be caught up. This love, this revelation of who God is, is costly, leading to death on the Cross. “God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.” God is misunderstood however because we hear people accusing Him of being condemnatory or unsympathetic to those who suffer or falsely claiming He is the cause of evil. It ought not to surprise us that sharing how we feel involves a bit more than we are readily inclined to give.
God’s costly communication with us continues beyond the Cross, indeed it happens every time we gather for Mass. Under these forms of Bread and Wine God is present, God empties Himself again. He becomes droppable, small, fragile, hidden, easy to ignore. But this is the way He has chosen to feed us, His people. We give special thanks for this next Sunday when we celebrate Corpus Christi and I hope we all have in our diaries that as well as Mass there is a Procession and Benediction at 11am at Mary’s. Do be there. Do invite others to come along. The reason it’s such an important Feast is that it would be so easy to ignore God’s presence in the Sacrament, to think “oh it’s only a piece of bread” but how sinful this would be to ignore God and the call He gives to us. To ignore next Sunday’s Feast would make us be a little less aware of the cost and sacrifice involved in God communicating Himself to us.
So, my friends, in our prayers today we remember all those who are struggling with their mental health. Let us commit to be willing to talk about our own feelings and needs, to sharing with others, that they might also be willing to share with us. Just as importantly though we need to build a community where folk don’t get lonely, where they’re not eating by themselves behind closed doors all the time, and where all the engagement people have is through a computer screen, a telephone handset or what pops up on their watch. So often I’ve seen in the last few years examples where people stopping coming to church is the beginning of the onset of some mental health problems and this is because of the consequent loneliness. By forming such communities we ensure more and more people are open to God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons and one God. May we praise and worship Him for telling us who He is and in that knowledge may our relationship with Christ grow and grow. Amen.