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The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity C ~ "Tango of the Sea" ~ Susan McGurgan

When my three sons were in grade school,

we travelled from Cincinnati to San Francisco to visit my brother.

Along the way, we stayed in Cambria,

directly on the ocean.

One evening,

we walked to the beach

to watch the sun set over the Pacific.

The waves crashed upon the shoreline,

then retreated back into the sea,

over and over,

up and back,

up and back.

Each wave was as fresh and new as the last.

And the rhythmic pull of the tide,

the soft golden light,

the sound of the water


onto the sandy beach

was powerful and hypnotic.

After a few minutes,

my husband nudged me,

pointing off to our left.

There on the beach,

my sons were dancing in time with the waves.

A trio of barefooted urchins,

suddenly as nimble and graceful as sprites,

raced toward the ocean in synchronized leaps

as the water retreated into the sea,

then back in perfect unison,

as the incoming surge crashed and bubbled on the sand.

Up and back.

Up and back,

laughing with joyous abandon.

We sat alone on the beach,

watching the waves,

watching our boys,

listening to the pulse of our lives

merge with the rhythm of the ocean.

I caught a glimpse of something to our right,

and turned to see three long-legged shore birds,

dancing the same Tango of the Sea—

Up and back.

Up and back in perfect step with my sons,

mirroring every move and dip.

Up and back.

We caught our breaths,

transfixed by the wonder of this utterly random,

completely unexpected gift.

It was a moment as close to perfect

as I have ever experienced.

A moment of connection

and gratitude

and yes, of worship.

In that moment,

we were taken up into a web of relationship,

a cosmic heartbeat that stretched

beyond our lives--

a heartbeat that pulsed to a common rhythm

of sons and shorebirds

and grains of sand

and the far horizons of sea and sky,

the blood moving through our veins,

and finally, our own breath,

echoing the ruah,

the breath and spirit of God.

This relationship,

this web of connection

lies far beyond our ability to define or describe—

or even fully understand.

But if we open our eyes and our hearts,

we can experience this truth in moments so profound

they curl our toes

and leave us struggling to find words

big enough,

gracious enough,

powerful enough

to bear the weight of our discovery.

These moments bring us very close

to the unthinkable, unknowable, unanswerable

questions of life--

questions such as “Who is God?”

“What is the nature of the universe?”

“How do I speak of Father, Son, Holy Spirit?”

“Where do I fit in this cosmic tango?”

There are textbook responses to these questions,

doctrinal answers

offered by brilliant theologians in ecumenical councils;

scholarly answers

published in weighty books with leather binding and fine print.

There are creeds

and documents

and libraries

filled with history’s efforts to describe the indescribable:

efforts to pierce the nature of God

and define our relationship with eternity,

and with shorebirds and sons

who dance to celestial music on a deserted beach.

We can grasp just a little of this enormity—

of a universe that is timeless,

without beginning,

without end,

and of a God who is three,

yet one,


yet beyond all knowledge--

creator, destroyer, friend, judge—

We grasp just a little,

and then in fear and panic we pull away,

like children

who have touched our finger to a blazing coal.

An Episcopal priest once said

that when humans try to describe God,

we are like a bunch of oysters,

trying to describe a ballerina.

We simply do not have the ability

to name something so far beyond us.

Our vision is too limited,

our words too frail,

our experience too small,

bound as it is by earth,

and sky,

and sea,

and shore.

Even the most learned theologian

begins to stammer

when trying to describe God.

And yet, try we must

for it is in our trying and searching

that we learn and grow in wisdom and grace.

The feast we celebrate today,

is dedicated to one of our greatest mysteries—

the mystery that One can be Three,

infinite and indivisible

and at the same time, distinct and individual—

that Three can be One.

In this mystery,

time folds in upon itself and sometimes,


so that Father, Son, and Spirit are not linear,

but co-eternal,

timeless, and at the same time


breaking into history, into today and tomorrow

and yet beyond our time completely.

At least one of the mysteries

lying in the heart of the Trinity

is the mystery of relationship.

God is,

among many other things,

embodied relationship.




God’s own self is revealed

in the relationship of the Trinity.

And that Truth allows us to experience magical moments

when we feel connected so deeply,

that shorebird

and son

and sand

and wave

and heartbeat

and the Lord of the Universe are


That Truth reminds us

that we are caught in a web of relationship

so close,

so profound,

so interwoven,

that if we were to pull a single thread,

everything in the universe would leap in response.

There are textbook answers

to the questions we have about God and faith,

and there are responses written in our experience,

in fleeting and fragile moments of life.

Both can teach us,

if we are open to learning.

Like all revelatory moments,

that moment on the beach was profound

and grace-filled.


like all revelatory moments in this world,

it was transitory,

all too brief,


even as we tried to grasp it.

A seagull shrieked overhead,

breaking the spell.

My sprites reverted to pirates,

digging treasure in the sand.

The shorebirds flew away,

and my husband and I stood,

brushing grit from our legs.

Yet, the magic and the mystery endure.

On dark nights,

when I secretly wonder if God is real and faith is true,

when I struggle with the doctrine of the Trinity

and the relationship between Father, Son, Spirit, you and me

seems beyond all understanding,

I close my eyes,

and see a shoreline bathed in golden light,

and watch once more,

the cosmic tango of boy and bird and wave,

and I hear the sound of joyous laughter.

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1 Comment

Love this. It's like poetry.

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