Fr. David’s Homily May 22, 2016

Mindful

I know this is the feast of the Holy Trinity, but I’d like to enter into that mystery by commenting on one of the most beautiful psalms in the bible, the psalm we heard sung today, psalm 8.

I mentioned Calvin Trillin before. Trillin wrote a book about his wife, Alice. It is entitled simply About Alice.[i] They were married 36 years before Alice died. In this book, and other essays he wrote, Alice often played a big part. I gave the book to a friend who was also a husband and a father. I asked him, after he had read it: “Well, what did you think?” He said, “The book made me nervous. I suspect it would make many husbands like me nervous. By ‘like me’ I mean the ordinary, absent minded kind—husbands who have little more than a 50-50 chance of guessing correctly when their wives ask, ‘Honey, do you notice anything different about me today?’”

Throughout their 36-year marriage, Trillin catalogued Alice’s sense of humor, her sense of style and her childlike sense of wonder. He noticed little things about Alice that most spouses let slide like fish over an open dam. This may explain why a young woman once wrote Trillin and confided that “I sometimes look at my boyfriend and ask myself, ‘but will he love me like Calvin loves Alice?’” What seems to have separated Trillin from some husbands, indeed from many of us, is mindfulness. Trillin was mindful of Alice, so his delight in her presence remained undimmed. While it is overreaching to say that God loves us as Calvin loved Alice, it may be that their marriage provides a window into the kind of relationship that God chooses to have with you and me, indeed, with all humanity.

The ancient poet who gave us psalm 8 suggests as much. He acknowledges that the creator whose glory exceeds the heavens—who set the moon and the stars in their place—is nevertheless mindful of each one of us. This reality, the psalmist concludes, is as remarkable as the act of creation itself. Mindfulness is a divine attribute that has received too little attention.

Perhaps this is because it is so easily absorbed into the broader category of love. The distinction I would suggest is this: mindfulness is love that resists distraction. It is a staunch refusal to fall into absentmindedness. It is focused, sustained attention toward the beloved. In this way, mindfulness seems less tied to the intellect and closer to what we call an act of will. Mindfulness is choosing to cherish and then choosing—again and again—never to back away from that initial decision. Devoted spouses, dedicated friends, caring parents are all mindful of the ones they love. Above all else, God: Father, Son and Spirit, is mindful of humanity. To paraphrase Karl Barth: God chose—before the foundation of the world—to be the God for humanity. On the basis of this primal act of divine will, we can be assured that God’s attention never wavers. Our creator is eternally mindful of us. Often God’s hands are tied, even when he continues to be mindful, tied by our own limitations and forgetfulness. The surprising reality that the psalmist considers and deems remarkable is God’s special love for human creatures despite the fact that we are not all that lovable.

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” writes the psalmist. Human beauty lies squarely in the eye of the divine beholder. Yet, because God chooses to be eternally mindful of us, there is a special relationship between God and humanity. God cares for all creation, for “all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea.” But it is we human beings whom God “crowns with glory and honor.” We are the ones “made just a little lower than God.”

The difference seems to boil down to intimacy. As Julian of Norwich put it, human beings are “clothed” in divine love: “our Lord . . . Is our clothing, for God: Father, Son and Spirit is that love which wraps and enfolds us, embraces and guides us, surrounds us.” In other words,

God is mindful of us in a way that is unique in all of God’s creation. We who are so loved by God embrace this remarkable reality as we become mindful of others. This may have been where Paul was leading when he wrote: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). The peculiar thing about Jesus’ mind was that it was always directed toward others. Jesus was divine mindfulness incarnate. He noticed those who were forgotten. He cherished those who were despised. In the midst of a crowd pulsing all around him, Jesus noticed the touch of a despairing woman who merely grazed the “hem of his garment.” On the cross, Jesus noticed the penitent thief beside him making room in his heart for God. In lesser ways, we are called to be mindful of one another. This is our choice to make again and again.

Near the end of About Alice, Calvin Trillin relays an experience that his wife had while volunteering at a camp for terminally ill children. Alice befriended a young girl, “a magical child who was severely disabled,” whom she remembered simply as “L.” “L” was courageous and optimistic. One day while l was absorbed in a game of duck, duck, goose, Alice spotted a letter that “L”’s parents had written her. She could not resist reading the first few lines: “If God had given us all the children in the world to choose from, “L”, we would only have chosen you.”

Alice passed the note to a fellow counselor, whispering breathlessly, “Quick. Read this. It’s the secret of life.”

The psalmist suggests that in a similar way God delights in our presence. God chooses to cherish humanity, and God never wavers in this decision. In a nutshell, I think what psalm 8 suggests is this: our creator is mindful of each one of us, and we who are made in the image of God are called to be mindful of one another.

If I’m right about this, then psalm 8 may be more than a hymn of praise. It might just be the secret of life. “Quick, write it down.”

[i] Calvin Trillin, “About Alice,”Random House, Dec. 2006

Psalm PS 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9

R. O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
When I behold your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars which you set in place —
What is man that you should be mindful of him,
or the son of man that you should care for him?
R. O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
You have made him little less than the angels,
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him rule over the works of your hands,
putting all things under his feet:
R. O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
All sheep and oxen,
yes, and the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fishes of the sea,
and whatever swims the paths of the seas.
R. O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!

Gospel JN 16:12-15

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”