The famous Jesuit spiritual director, Rev. Anthony de Mello, often warned his students: "Once you learn the name of the bird, you stop seeing the bird." In other words, at the point we can identify or label someone or something, we usually stop experienced that person or object in the same way.

Once Christianity cut off its Semitic roots in the second century and grafted Greek thought patterns into its faith, it began to downgrade experience and entered into the business of identification.

What once had been personally encountered was now accurately named, carefully categorized and conveniently forgotten.

Trinity mystery

A primary example of the naming process was the mystery we celebrate on Sunday: the Trinity. Few ordinary folk get "turned on" by the commemoration. We simply reflect on some aspect of Trinitarian dogma during the liturgy, then put it in the back of our minds until next year. Besides, most of us were taught in our catechism classes that no matter how hard or deeply we think about the Trinity, we'll never understand it. So we name it - three persons in one God - and turn our minds to something more comprehensible.

It's no accident that the Church didn't formally identify the Trinity until 313 at the Council of Nicea, long after it had abandoned its Semitic thought patterns.

We especially hear that Semitic mind-set in the first reading (Prov 8: 22-31). Instead of defining wisdom, the author paints a symbolic picture in which Yahweh infuses wisdom into every element in the universe. Wisdom, in this context, refers to the ability to surface God's patterns of behavior in the world which surrounds us.

"From of old I was poured forth," a personified wisdom proclaims, "at the first, before the earth,...I was beside Yahweh as His craftsman, and I was His delight day by day, playing before Him all the while, playing on the surface of His earth."

The language is poetic, not scientific.

Paul follows suit when he reflects on the effect the risen Jesus has and will have in his life (Rom 5: 1-5). Writing to the Romans, he clicks off a list of experiences that come from his imitating Jesus. Each has something to do with Jesus, the Father, or the Holy Spirit. The Apostle's thesis: Faith in Jesus brings us peace with God, changing the way we judge everything, even our afflictions.

"We know," he writes, "the affliction makes for endurance, and endurance for tested virtue, and tested virtue for hope. And this hope will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

Marveling

Once again, the presence of Jesus, the Father and the Spirit in our lives isn't a dogma to be defined and defended, but an experience to be marveled at and savored.

Even John, writing around 95, has Jesus deliver His Last Supper discourse in Semitic terms (Jn 16: 12-15). Centuries later, the Church would try to explain how the Spirit "comes" to us. Does it happen from the Father and the Son, or is it from the Father through the Son? John seems to care less. For him, it's only important that the Spirit actually conveys to Jesus' followers whatever they must know - even things the historical Jesus' disciples couldn't "bear to hear."

According to John's circular Semitic reasoning, those who have already heard and carried out those unbearable things have discovered that they're one with the Father because Jesus is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit only announces what "He...received from [Jesus]."

We often find John's reflection boring, waiting for him to get the point, to name the bird, so we no longer have to listen for the song with which the bird envelops our lives.

(6/3/04)