Isaiah 6:1-8 | Psalm 22: 29 | Romans 8:12-17 | John 3:1-17
There are two kinds of people in the world, I think—those who understand they are beautiful, and those who are beautiful but have not yet figured it out. I’m talking about real beauty here—not the beauty so often defined by our western culture that is apparently accessible only between the ages of 25 and 30, not the surface kind of beauty that is driven by insecurity and the kind of advertising that pedals scarcity and uncertainty. I’m talking real beauty. Deep beauty that knows it’s beautiful.
I’m talking about the beauty that I think Jesus is talking about when he tells Nicodemus you must be born again, born from above. I’m talking about the kind of sublime beauty that Isaiah captures in his vision of a Holy God that scares and even shames him, and yet he can’t not follow. He can’t but find strength and courage within himself. I’m talking about a beauty I hope I am beginning to understand, although I may be mistaken. For certain, I have a long way to go.
I think I started taking pictures a few years ago as a way of trying to get to this kind of beauty—a training regimen of sorts. There’s something about an image, and, I suspect even more, about training the eye to capture an image that speaks to the kind of beauty I’m trying to talk about and I think Trinity Sunday is trying to name in a way.
There’s a photographer called Jimmy Nelson who understands something of this, I think. You may not know the name, but you have probably seen some of his
pictures. He’s traveled to some of the most remote parts of the earth to take shots of some of the last primitive tribes on the planet. He has literally traveled to the ends of the earth in search of beauty.
This is the real thing. You know why they look like this, and why I broke my back to photograph them and present them to you? It's because they have these extraordinary rituals… When they're teenagers, becoming a man, they have to shave their heads, and they spend the rest of their life shaving their heads every single day, and what they do with that hair, they make it into a creation, a
creation that's a very personal creation.
It's their creation. It's their Huli creation. So they're called the Huli wigmen. That's a wig on his head. It's all made out of his human hair… they spend the rest of their life recreating these hats and getting further and further, and it's extraordinary… So the Huli inspired me in that they belong. Perhaps I have to work harder at finding a ritual which matters for me and going back into my past to see where I actually fit.
This Sunday is, of course, also about what it means to be human—what it means to live lives that respond to this life-giving Presence that dances around us, that is bigger and more generous than our imaginations and our abilities to perceive, that grasps our beauty, our adoption as children of God in ways that take a lifetime for us to discover. This is the God whose glory fills the temple, who meets Nicodemus at night, whose Spirit whispers to us to let go of our need to control and instead to come to the table and to give into the God who calls us to a dance in which many become one, in which our own beauty is revealed in its fullness.
Trinity is poetry, not science. Trinity is relationship, not equation. Trinity is an experience before it is a doctrine.
Interviewer to Mother Teresa: “Why are you so holy?”
Mother Teresa: “You sound as if holiness were abnormal. To be holy is normal. To be anything else is abnormal.”
Only a couple of weeks before his talk, Jimmy Nelson went back to visit the Himba in northern Namibia. He wanted to present them with his book, to show them the pictures, to get into a discussion with them and say, “This is how I saw you. This is how I love you. This is how I respect you. Was I right?”
It was an emotional trip for him, and one night as he was sitting with them around the fire under the stars, he noticed that a fence that had been there on his last trip was missing. It was a big protective fence that was gone.
And they looked at him and said, “Yeah, chief die.” I’ll let Nelson describe it:
And I thought, okay, chief dying, right… What on Earth does chief die have to do with the fence? "Chief die. First we destroy, yeah? Then we reflect. Then we rebuild. Then we respect." And I burst out in tears, because my father had only just died prior to this journey, and I didn't ever acknowledge him, I didn't ever appreciate him for the fact that I'm probably standing here today because of him. These people taught me that we are only who we are because of our parents and our grandparents and our forefathers going on and on and on before that.
Some have thought that Trinity is something like a tribal name, like a Native American story name—a story that speaks of movement and journey and finding oneself and becoming beautiful. I suspect there’s something deeply true about that to grow into as well. So, I’m going to borrow from an idea of Nelson’s. Because you too are a tribe and the quality of our life depends on each of you. So I want you to look deep within yourself and grab a hold of that beauty that is within you, planted there deeply before time by the God whose glory now fills this temple. And I want you to sit, or if you can, to stand tall. Because I want to share you with the world.