Monday, July 25, 2011

Quiet Adventures in a Border Town

I am winding down from a very good, but very draining week. I spent said week in Columbus, NM at a ministry called Our Lady of Las Palomas (OLLP). Included is a picture of where I was staying at Compassion House, the retreat center of OLLP. Columbus is a very small village, with a population under a thousand, right on the US/Mexican border. Poncho Villa raided the village in 1916, and but as far as I can tell, things have been relatively quiet in Columbus since then. This last year a number of town officials were arrested for selling guns to various Mexican drug cartels, and most have plead guilty. Columbus is also very poor. They have no police force as of a few months ago, instead relying on the county sheriff's department for law enforcement, the public library is open three afternoons a week and paved roads are the exception. I was sent there by the priest in Demming, the nearest good sized town, to see the ministry at OLLP, which St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Demming supports, and to assess "how we can build Christian community in Columbus." I felt a bit like an ecclesiastical scout, and despite the fact that I had no idea how I was supposed to approach this assignment, I had a very rewarding experience. Let me try to explain what OLLP is, and what I was trying to accomplish there.
OLLP has this mission statement on their website:
"Our Lady of Las Palomas is a multi-faith multi-cultural community of contemplation, prayer and action committed to the life of simplicity, presence, and service in right relationship with God. We are a beyond borders interfaith community with people of the United States and Mexico participating in a cooperative community of justice and sustainability"

In fact, OLLP functions as a sort of umbrella organization which encompasses a number of ministries, mostly in Palomas, Mexico rather than in the village of Columbus. Palomas is directly across the border from Columbus, and there is a lot of traffic back and forth. I was discouraged from going across the border during my time there, and followed that advice, and so did not see the ministry there first hand. Palomas is not a safe place right now, for reasons which are obvious if you have been following the progress (or lack thereof) of the Mexican drug wars.
OLLP supports, through classes and donations, the work of The Border Cooperative/ La Cooperativa. The Cooperative works to train women, mostly in Palomas in skills like weaving and jewelry making so that they are able to start their own businesses and attain a degree of independence.
They also support the Hunger Project, a feeding ministry in Palomas.
OLLP itself was also founded to be an interfaith retreat center. I must confess I had some difficulty with this aspect of the ministry, but I am not going to go into it now.
At this point OLLP has relatively little outreach in Columbus itself, although there is sometimes a midweek service, when local Episcopal/Anglican clergy are available for it.
They are at a point of transition in their ministry, because the Rev. Deacon Kris Lethin and his wife, the Rev. Judith Lethin, the real visionaries behind the ministry, are not able to devote all their time to it right now, but divide the year between ministry here in New Mexico, and in their native Alaska.
I was asked to see what was needed in Columbus, to go around talking to people, to see what the needs are in Columbus, and come up with some ideas for how OLLP could accomplish this. I was also asked to consider whether it would be worth the time and resources to try planting
I was initially horrified by this task. First of all, I had only about four and a half days to do this, had little idea what to expect going in, and I am terrible at just starting up conversations with strangers.

What surprised me most about my time there was that I found that God really did send me the people I needed to talk to. I enjoyed the whole process of getting to know the town, and thinking of ways to build community. By the time I left I felt a real affection for the place, and wished I could spend more time there and actually put some of my ideas for building community into action. Columbus is the sort of town that is so small that everybody really does know everybody else, and you can sit at the patio of the one hotel in town and quickly get a good sense of the state of local politics.
Columbus does have spiritual needs, including getting some kind of clergy association established.
It will need to do a lot of healing, I imagine, given the recent arrest of so many officials. Among those arrested were the Chief of the now dissolved police force, and the mayor, so yes, times are tough in Columbus.
I wont go into detail just now about my thoughts on how OLLP should get involved in Columbus, because I have been asked to prepare a report for the Deanery and for the board of OLLP. I have not submitted that yet, and I don't think it would be appropriate to state all my thoughts publicly here, before sharing them with the kind people who sent me to Columbus in the first place.

What I will say is that God gave me a lot to think about in my time there. I found that I was really drawn to idea of ministering in a poor town like Columbus. In addition, I saw proof that if God puts me in a place to do ministry, he will also give me the means to accomplish that ministry. He will send me the people I need to talk to, and give me words to say. I knew this already, but it was deeply encouraging to see it in action. It was, as I said, a draining experience, because it was so new and different, but it was a real blessing to see God's faithfulness in action.

I will also add, that I think that the most effective thing that OLLP could do for Columbus is simply to be a presence there. I think that if OLLP was able to establish some sort of intentional, semi-monastic, community in Columbus, which would just be a model of prayerful, gospel centered community, it would do a great deal of good for the place. More active ministries would, of course, develop from this, but prayer and presence are the place to start.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Further Reflections after Summer Camp

I got back to Las Cruces yesterday, from a long week at Camp Stoney. As I have observed before, I am not a natural summer camper. If you have ever seen the film "Adams Family Values" the camp sequence summarizes my own basic feelings about camp very well.
However, for this week, I tried to put my own grumpy, introverted prejudice against all things Summer camp aside, and judge the camp on its own merits.
Overall, I think the camp is doing a good ministry.
There were certainly things I would do differently if I were setting up the structure of the camp, but I want to share one deeply moving thing that happened at the end of camp.
We were not expecting to be able to have a final Eucharist, but a priest was able to come at the last minute. Before the Eucharist there was an Agape meal. The agape meal was simple, with the kids sitting around tables arranged in the shape of a cross, and a lot of candles scattered about.
The kids were asked to read a lot of verses about love, and one of the counselors explained the meaning of agape love.
We sang some worship songs (I am not a big fan of worship music, but these were all reverent and well known songs) and as the evening went on, it got darker, and finally the only light in the room was the candles.
It was already pretty dark when the kids were asked if they would give any testimonies they might have. It was at this point, that things became heart breaking. One of the first kids to speak up was a little boy, maybe twelve years old who talked about how he had heard God's voice holding him back during a suicide attempt. And many of the kids had similar stories. These were young kids, from difficult backgrounds, and almost all of them had gone through far more suffering in their lives than I have ever had to face. I confess, I was crying by the end of the night.
I was grieved and outraged by the pain these children were going through. I don't want to sound pretentious, but I thought of the Brother's Karamazov and Ivan's anguished discussion with Alyosha, about suffering, and with Ivan I wondered how anything could ever possibly justify or rectify the suffering that these children have in their lives.
And the only response I have is to cling to the cross and to the Eucharist, where the Lord's death is proclaimed until he comes again, where God is with us in the most small and hidden of forms.
And when it came time for the Eucharist, which was very simple, just following the so called "Rite III" in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the priest celebrating for us paused to explain that as Episcopalians we believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist, feeding us. At the fraction, he pauses again to explain that the fraction signifies Christ's broken body, but also our brokenness which is made whole by Christ's. It was the best thing I think he could have said to those kids.
I had the honor of helping distribute communion, and I am deeply grateful for it.
"If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:51

Friday, July 15, 2011

Liturgy and Anglican Catholicism.

I dislike the use of the terms "Catholic" and "Evangelical" to designate parties or forms of Churchmanship. To the extent that one is Christian one is both Evangelical and Catholic. However, I don't have a better set of terms so I will use the accepted terms "Catholic" and "Evangelical" to designate two of the major forms of Churchmanship within Anglicanism.
I had an enlightening conversation with a more Low Church friend recently.
We are classmates, both preparing for ordained ministry in the Anglican Communion, and both of us expect to be Church planters. My friend was asking how it could be possible to incorporate all three streams of Anglicanism (Catholic, Evangelical and Charismatic) into a Church plant - especially if such a plant was based on small groups.
Catholic worship generally requires more resources than Evangelical or Charismatic, and so, my friend reasoned, the Anglo-Catholic tradition is less feasible in a small parish or church plant. From some conversations I have had, I think a lot of people also believe that Anglo-Catholic parishes are not accessible to the poor or less educated. I think that the history of the Ritualist movement shows that this is false. After all, the SSC began in the London Docks, where Charles Lowder would preach on the streets and break up drunken brawls. It was as bad as any urban slum today. But I digress.

It dawned on me during this conversation that most Anglicans think that Anglo -Catholicism is fundamentally a matter of Liturgical preference or worship style. But Anglo - Catholicism is not fundamentally about liturgy. It is a theological position not a liturgical preference. My friend was surprised by this, and I realized that I had not articulated the point so clearly before.

A knowledge of the the Oxford Movement makes this obvious though. It is a well known fact (among those who care about such things) that E. B. Pusey celebrated the Eucharist in cassock, surplice and hood to his dying day. Pusey even distanced himself from the SSC because he was not completely sanguine about the ritualism of the Society.
Some of the theological distinctives of the catholic movement as I understand them are:
  • The Church is understood to have a historical continuity which is manifested visibly in the ordered life of the Church (Bishops, Priests, Deacons and Laity).
  • A belief in the efficacy and importance of the sacraments.
  • The Church is primarily a worshiping and Eucharistic community. That is, the Eucharist is the central act of worship, and from this act of worship flows the whole life of the Church. The Eucharist is "source and summit" of the Christian life, to quote Trent (something I don't usually do). This is a somewhat different emphasis from the Evangelical view, which tends to see the Church primarily as entrusted with the task of evangelism. Of course, worship and evangelism are not mutually exclusive.
  • The Scripture must be read in the context of the Eucharistic Community of the Church. This is another way of saying that Anglo - Catholics recognize the authority of Tradition.
  • Anglicanism is understood as an expression of the one Church. In other words, Anglo - Catholics do believe that we must be catholic first and Anglican second. Anglicanism is a valid expression of the catholic Church to the extent that it is possible to be faithful to the tradition of the universal Church within Anglicanism. Many of us, myself included, think that it is actually easier in some ways to be faithful to true catholic tradition within the Anglican tradition than within the Roman Church.
  • Anglo-Catholicism does not necessarily entail a wholesale rejection of the reformation. I for one, think Cranmer's highly Reformed homily on "lively faith" gives excellent expression to the Biblical doctrine of justification.
It is in fact possible to hold to all these distinctives while practicing any number of liturgical styles. One of the most formative times in my spiritual life was spent worshiping in a little Anglican Church with very simple low church worship, but catholic theology, which was manifested in the teaching, and various other ways.

Now I think that most Anglo-Catholics would agree that some liturgical styles give better expression to catholic theology than do others. I don't know what theology is expressed by clown Eucharists, for example, but it's certainly nothing catholic in any meaningful sense. There is a reason that ritualism grew from the Oxford Movement, but my point is simply that Anglo-Catholicism, if it is anything worth while, is more than a merely aesthetic movement. Rather, it is a theological and pastoral movement, with aesthetic and liturgical implications. I think this is important to remember, especially for those of us like myself, who have some interest in planting churches, or those who are in poorer parishes. We will necessarily have simpler liturgy, but there is no reason why our churches cannot be fully catholic in doctrine.

We have everything we need for catholic worship contained in the historic Anglican liturgies.
Significantly, one of the principles of the Oxford movement was strict loyalty to the BCP. If it comes right down to it, we don't need smells and bells to have fully catholic worship; all we need is the church gathered together in a place, faithfully maintaining apostolic teaching and fellowship, and celebrating the sacraments.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

On Mary and the Church

I have been thinking a lot about Mariology of late - at least since May, when I read a bit by Henri deLubac on Mary and the Church. Until fairly recently I tended to think of Marian devotion as a relatively unimportant part of the Church's life. It has always been important to my personal, private devotional life, but I thought that it really was only a private matter. I am beginning to change my mind.

Even Karl Barth observed that Mariology and Ecclesiology are directly correlated. It is part of catholic tradition to identify Mary with the Church. This is more than just a metaphor. It is true that Mary is only a member of the Church, but a member who stands for the whole in an irreducibly unique way. In some sense, every member of the Church has a unique role, but that is especially apparent in the person of Mary, because only one member is the Mother of God. When Jesus Christ took human flesh, he did not take on human flesh in general, he took flesh "of the virgin Mary his mother," a Jewish woman with a specific address somewhere in Nazareth of Galilee.

Mary's uniqueness is especially important. Marian doctrines are really doctrines about the incarnation. This is well known, and has been repeated many many times by Catholic apologists, but it bears repeating here. For example, Mary is called Mother of God, because otherwise Jesus is not God, and we are not saved.

Now granted, Mary had a unique function, but we may ask: So what? Isn't it the function, or office "Mother of God" which is really important, rather than the individual person Mary? Once Mary's gives birth to Jesus, there is really nothing more to say about her.

This, so far as I can tell, is the attitude of many who reject devotion to the Mary.
But I can think of no attitude more contrary to the meaning of the incarnation. To think that way about the economy of salvation, is to reduce persons to merely functional, interchangeable individuals of a set. Part of what the incarnation proves is that the particular and the individual matters to God. Persons are not ciphers, they cannot be reduced to their functions, and God does not deal in mere generalities -he most certainly does not save generalities - he deals with persons.

If Mary is reducible to a function, then so perhaps is her son. It is not just Jesus' function as atoning sacrifice which is important, it is his identity as the unique Son of God. Or perhaps the best way to put this is that function and person are inseparable. Jesus is an irreducibly unique person, and so is his Mother.

And the unique person Mary of Nazareth stands at the place of continuity between the old and new covenants. She is both Israel, and the Church. She is the first person to accept the coming of the Messiah, responding in faith to the word of God. There was a time when it could be said, quite literally, that Mary was the Church. Before anyone else, Mary accepted God's Word, and was saved by faith in Jesus Christ. She was the faithful remnant of Israel. She had the prophetic work of presenting the Word of God to the world, and she did it more perfectly than any prophet before her. She proclaimed God's word in the Magnificat, but she brought forth the only begotten Son who is the true Word of God.
She walked in faith beside her Son, and though she seems at time to have misunderstood him, she was among those who stayed with him to the last. She shared in his sufferings (I should note I do not mean to imply that Mary's sufferings added something to Christ's, nor do I accept the Roman Catholic doctrine that Mary is Coredemptrix. She shared her son's sufferings in the same way we all must if we also hope to share in his resurrection). In Mary's fruitful virginity we also see the greatest expression of God's work of bringing life from barrenness, a pattern seen in women like Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth, but most perfectly in Mary. Mary's life, in short, recapitulates the whole life of the Church.

This only makes sense, of course, if you have a sacramental view of reality, in which individual objects become the places where greater spiritual realities are embodied and revealed. Mary stands for the Church in a way which is more than merely metaphorical or symbolic, but which is almost sacramental.

Mary's role as Mother of God places her in a unique relation to the Body of Christ, in every sense of that term. She is the one from whom he takes his humanity - the same humanity which saves us and to which we are united by baptism and Eucharist. If the Church is truly the Body of Christ, then Mary is also mother of the Church.

Of course, in a basic and utterly central way, all Christians are equal in Christ. But the equality we have in Christ does not mean that we do not have distinct roles. I think this is clear from the metaphor of the body which St. Paul uses to such great effect, and I think it is also part of what is going on in John's gospel when Jesus gives his Mother over to the care of the beloved disciple. In the shadow of the cross, Jesus is establishing his Church, and the church takes the form of a new families. And in families, people have different roles. Mary's role is that of mother, and by virtue of our membership in the Church, Mary is our mother, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Marian devotion shapes the way we think of the Church then, because we can look to Mary to understand how the Church should look. First of course, there is Mary's title of Virgin. Mary's virginity, as I already mentioned, seems to me to be the climax of a long drawn out theme in scripture. Sarah, Rachel, Hannah and Elizabeth gave birth from barrenness - God can create life where hope seems lost. But in Mary God's power is shown even more strikingly. In the case of the other women, childbirth was unlikely, but not quite impossible, but in the case of Mary God leaves no doubt that it is his power which brings life from barrenness.

If Mary is the exemplar of the Church, then it is this sort of fruitful virginity which is to characterize the Church's life. This of course, is the same truth which is also revealed in the cross. It is God's power to bring life from death.

If we really believe that Mary has a unique role in the Church, then so do other members of the body. The Church isn't just a democratic society in which every member is identical and interchangeable functionary, it is a family in which each member is unique and irreplaceable. I think this will also incline us towards a catholic view of Church order, in which there are necessarily orders in the Church.

In addition (and I will have to see if I can find precisely where Barth said this) as Barth pointed out, where there is Marian devotion, synergism follows. Mary is the symbol, and the instance of humanity cooperating with God for salvation. Her choice of obedience undoes Eve's choice of disobedience. Meditating on Mary's life, we are likely to come to a synergistic view of salvation.

There is a great deal more to say about Mary and the Church, but I am not going to try and list all of it now. For one thing, we could go through the whole Magnificat, looking at exactly how Mary describes herself; her humility and lowliness are major themes. Also, there is what seems to be her characteristic activity of contemplation, of keeping all the things she sees in the life of her son, and pondering them in her heart. We can ask what it means for the Church to "treasure up all these things and keep them in her heart?" (Luke 2:19, paraphrased).

And of course, it is still worth asking, what form devotion to Mary should take. It is one thing to meditate on the lives of the saints, and another to invoke the saints, asking for their intercession. Perhaps we could restrict our Marian devotion to simply thinking about Mary - not actually speaking to Mary. I doubt this approach is plausible though. If we believe that Mary is our mother, then it would be a very strange family in which the children only thought fondly of their mother, but never spoke to her. This would be odd, because to know another person means more than just knowing about them; it means having a living relationship with them, communicating with them, empathizing with them, and having an interest in them precisely as another person, as a "thou" to be addressed.
If, as I have suggested in this post, it is important for the life of the Church that we be conscious of the Blessed Virgin as a person, that awareness must somehow grounded in a living relationship with her.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summer Camp

Well, this is shaping up to be a somewhat difficult week. I am at Camp Stoney, where the diocese of Rio Grande holds its summer camps. The camp is a good ministry, but I am reminded once again that I don't really do well with Summer camps. I have never enjoyed silly activities, and while I know that they shouldn't, it just makes me uncomfortable to do goofy songs with hand motions (e.g. a blessing, complete with shark fin hand motions, to the Jaws theme music).
Again, I know that everyone is doing it, and it's just for fun, but I still get embarrassed. It's an introvert thing. Camp was not designed for introverts.
Besides which my ritualist tendencies just make me cringe at worship music like "Drop Kick me Jesus." I might enjoy camping if we were doing actual wilderness activities, but that is not really how summer camp works.

One of the serious challenges is that I am not sure exactly what my position here is - I am not a counselor, but I am about the same age as the counselors and I am not clergy. I think my main job is to observe the ministry being done, and learn what I can from it. I know there will be a lot of times in ministry when I don't know exactly what is expected of me, so this too, is a learning experience.

This week they are doing "Grace Camp."
The ministry of Grace Camp is a good one, and I am glad to get to see it. The kids are almost all from difficult backgrounds, many of them with one or both parents currently incarcerated. They are good kids, and I am glad that they have a place where they can come, and just be told about how much Jesus really does love them. To my surprise, I rather like working with the kids.

I am also trying to keep up with my other work, researching Churches, writing the pastoral care manual for St. James and calling people I need to call.
This Thursday, if all goes well, I shall be meeting with the bishop. I am looking forward to getting to talk with Bishop Michael, and I think it will be a good conversation.

My reading list continues to go well and to grow. I have numerous people telling me about books I should be reading, which makes it difficult to keep up. I have finished The Great Gatsby, Slaughterhouse 5 and The Celebrant, a novel about the Martyrs of Memphis. The Martyrs were Anglican Nuns and priests who stayed in Memphis in the late 19th century to treat the sick and dying during one of the cities periodic yellow fever outbreaks. This last novel was particularly moving because the Sisters of St. Mary, now reside in my home diocese of Albany.
I am now reading Philip K. Dick's book Valis. PKD was a fascinating writer, but you can tell that he was beyond mere eccentricity and into insanity by the time he wrote Valis. The book is mostly auto-biographical, and what is fascinating is how self aware he seems to have been about his mental illness. He seems to have know that whatever the nature of his religious experiences (which are at the center of the novel), they were mixed with a heavy dose of mental illness, but he does not seem to have been able to sort out what was insanity and what was something more.
For those of you who don't know much about PKD, here is a link to R. Crumb's comic book bio of him. I am not a big fan of Crumb, but this is an entertaining way to get the background on PKD's stories.

I will be writing some more theologically oriented reflections, occasioned by interesting conversations I have had. But those reflections will take a bit more time to formulate, and for now, my time is limited.
Pax Tibi

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Trinitarian Reflections after a Zen Encounter (Part 1).

Not too far from my apartment in Las Cruces there is a small Zen temple. It is almost a store front place, but it is well arranged. The abbot is a friendly and pleasant fellow, an American who was taught by a Japanese priest. I have an ongoing interest in Zen, and Buddhism generally, so whenever I find out there is a Zen center near by I go and visit it.

This particular Zen center has a couple of weekly groups that meet for discussion, including an Inter-faith discussion group that meets on Monday nights. The abbot invited me to come to this group, and since I am thoroughly open to interfaith discussions, I accepted. This was about a week ago now. The topic for the evening was Confucianism, and I found that overall the tone of discussion was respectful, the comments intelligent and the conversation productive.

Christianity came up only in passing, but often enough that I could get a sense that everyone there had certain fixed notions about Christianity. Two ideas in particular came up repeatedly. Christianity was contrasted with Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, which, it was asserted, do not divide the world into the sacred and the profane. Christianity by contrast divides the world into the sacred and profane, or secular. What is done in Church is sacred and important. God is more present to us at certain times and places, such as in Church at the Eucharist. There is sacred and secular time (for example, the daily office).

Also, Christianity begins with the individual, and is primarily concerned with individual salvation. The starting point for Christians is: how can I as an individual escape the wrath to come? Asian religions generally, and Confucianism in particular, are far more oriented towards the group; family, city, nation, world, etc. The individual’s identity is derived from those around him.

To both of these ideas I want to say, “in a way yes, and in a way no”.
In simplified form, my responses to these critiques of Christianity are as follows.
Christians cannot divide the world simply into sacred and secular. The incarnation means that God is with us, dwelling among us. God becomes present in the everyday realities of human life, in the person of Jesus Christ. This means that there is no aspect of human life so trivial that God does not care about it, and so we as Christians must seek and acknowledge God in every aspect and moment of our lives.

Secondly, Christianity is the only religion I know of in which God is a community. God is Trinity and not a monad. Part of what that means is that individualism is totally excluded. A person alone is no person; if that is true for God how much more so for his creatures.

Now, here is my answer in a more complicated, and possibly less helpful form.

I think that in orthodox Christian theology, there is a dialectal relationship between the sacred and secular, the material and spiritual, the transcendent and immanent.

John Henry Cardinal Newman said that if he had to name the central idea of Christianity, he would say it was the Incarnation, and I think he was correct. The incarnation is an inexhaustibly rich idea, with many implications. Part of what the incarnation means, is that there can be no clear dividing line between the sacred and the secular. God in his transcendence becomes present to us in our finitude. Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man, and God who dwells in light inaccessible, also dwells among us in the everyday circumstances of human existence.

The same God seated between the Cherubim, who was hidden from access in the Holy of Holies was also held, as a helpless child in the arms of his mother, grew up in a backwater of the Roman Empire, worked in the carpenter’s shop, got tired, hungry, sweaty and had to perform even the most apparently meaningless of necessary tasks like eating, drinking and relieving himself. I am not trying to be crass, but to make the point that even the unpleasant and trivial aspects of human life are sanctified by the incarnation.

If our lives are suffused with a deep awareness of the reality of the incarnation, then we cannot relegate God’s presence to particular times and places. God is present in everything and all circumstances, and we are called to "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances" (ESV 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Our whole life must become a witness to the presence of God.

Anything less is frankly Gnostic, not Christian. In Gnosticism, there is not only a division but an opposition between the material and spiritual, the sacred and secular. The God of the Gnostics is blissfully unconcerned with the unpleasant realities of material existence. Not so the God of the Bible. I do grant that there are many Christians who are poorly catechized on these maters, and who don't really live in a way that fits the implications of the incarnation. That is a matter of insufficient instruction though, and not a matter of a basic flaw in Christian thought.

Why then do we have "sacred times" and "sacred places"? In Catholic and Orthodox tradition, certain objects (relics) are even understood to bring us closer to the presence of God or the saints. If God is everywhere present and filling all things, how can God be more present at some times and places? I don't have a complete answer, and as I recall St. Augustine addresses this question to some extent in the first book of the Confessions and more or less concludes that it is a mystery, and I doubt I can do better. Still, two thoughts do occur to me. They may be contradictory, or at least in tension. Judge for yourself.

First, designations of sacred time, like the practice of saying Morning and Evening Prayer, or keeping the Sabbath holy, are not intended to limit the presence of God to particular times and places. Quite the opposite. By setting aside certain times to focus on God, I become more aware of God the rest of the time. "Sacred time" is really a way of constantly returning and remembering God's presence. We have special times for doing that, partly as a concession to our weakness as human beings. Unless we have periodic reminders we tend to forget God's presence. So having sacred times does not mean that other times are less sacred, but rather all of time is sanctified by means of constantly returning and remembering God's presence. The same can be said of Sacred places.
Even Buddhists, Confucians and Taoists implicitly concede the need for this sort of constant return and reminder. After all, Buddhists have temples and sacred places, and devote a certain amount of time to meditation each day.

At the same time, while it may seem to contradict what I have just said, I think there is some sense in which God is truly closer to us at certain times and in certain places. For one thing, being material beings means that we live in time and in place. For material beings to be is to be in a given place and time. If God is going to communicate himself to his creation without violating its very nature (i.e. destroying it) he must do so in a particular place and time. Jesus Christ, the ultimate revelation of God, was a particular individual human being, born of a particular woman on a particular day.

Sometimes, people try to make the incarnation into merely an idea. I think Hegel started this trend. On this interpretation, the incarnation merely signifies the unity of the immanent and transcendent. It is not necessary, according to this interpretation, to believe that Jesus Christ, the particular individual, was the unique instance of this union. That, it seems to me is to miss the point. If the Transcendent is to be united to the immanent, the material and the particular, without simply absorbing the material and particular, it must be united at a particular time and place. Otherwise, we are back at Gnosticism and saying that the material does not matter.

And it seems to me that the only way to hold together the particular and the universal, the immanent and transcendent, is through a robustly sacramental theology and spirituality. In the sacraments God is revealed to us in material elements of Bread, wine, water and oil, precisely in their materiality. The bread and wine of the Eucharist are a sign, but they are not merely a sign. God is particularly present to us in these ordinary things, because God was really present in the particular man Jesus Christ, and because God wishes to be present to us as particular persons who are living in a particular place and time.

Now I don't think that means God is absent at other times, but it certainly means that somehow, mysteriously, his presence is first there in the sacraments. Jesus Christ is present everywhere, because he was first present in Nazareth of Galilee. Similarly, all times and places can become sacred, because certain times and places are sacred first. All our meals can become sacred and sacramental acts, but only because of the sacred meal of the Eucharist. Again, this means, that in some way there are truly sacred times and places, which are really more sacred than others, but it does not mean that the rest of time is somehow unimportant. Its importance is derivative and dependent, but not non-existent.

So far, as you may have noticed, my reflections have been more incarnational than the Trinitarian. That is why this post is only part one. Of course, the incarnation and Trinity are closely connected, with the Incarnation leading us into the Trinity. I will try to share some more explicitly Trinitarian reflections in part 2.