Forty-or-so years ago, a Jesuit priest anthropologist published his study of a pygmy tribe in Africa. He had discovered that one of the chief features of their extraordinary way of life was this: The entire village would arise early from sleep every morning; the women would tend to the children, feed the animals, prepare the day’s meals, and perform other domestic chores. The men would repair or continue constructing the thatched-roof dwellings, hunt and fish, maintain their weapons, prepare firewood, and so on. But all of this for a short time — three or four hours at the most — and then everyone, the men, the women and the children, would spend the rest of the day at play.
There were games for the adults and for the children, games that involved whole families, song, conversation and relaxation. But even more interesting than the enviable imbalance that favored recreation was the theological or religious statement this chosen lifestyle was meant to express — the belief of these people that they were never being more faithful creatures of the Great Spirit than when they were playing, carefree and confident, in God’s presence, “at God’s feet”, as they put it.
Isn’t that a beautiful sentiment? “Primitive” we sophisticates call them while we are at the same time challenged by them and ask if it is possible that their philosophy of life and their idea of God are not in some important ways truer and more sensible than our own.
The Old Testament speaks of Wisdom as a person, a part of God and yet outside of God, playing in God’s sight and finding happiness through contact with the very creatures that she — Wisdom — had fashioned in compliance with God’s loving command.
That said, we can see more quickly and clearly that our ancestors in the Judeo-Christian faith understood that in the Mystery called God there were dialog & conversation, listening & responding & community. And they realized that we humans are “made in the image & likeness of God “. And so it is that we cannot be happy and fulfilled without cultivating those same qualities and dynamics in our personal lives. We are designed and we are destined to find our true selves by constant dialog and interaction with each other, filled with grace and charity and forgiveness.
I suppose it’s the same with you, but I get so relentlessly busy with things I believe have to be done that I don’t always make enough time to be silent in the inner presence of the Spirit of God. I work as if everything depends on me, almost forgetting that God is our generous and powerful provider, the source of our strength. For 60 years I’ve been visiting the Trappist Monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts, in order to reorient myself. There, observing the prayer life of the monks, I renew my intention to keep my priorities in proper order.
Our world is, really as never before in human history, so full of sound and non-stop activity, that we view God as a crutch for times of crisis, a last resort, when we should instead maintain an awareness of God’s minute-by-minute presence within us, always ready to guide us and always loving us. This is how we can best manage our lives and gradually become all that we were created to be for ourselves, for others, and for God.
Today is the Feast of the Trinity — “three Persons in one God”, we were taught, beginning with our infancy. Jesus would not have known what we were talking about, since the doctrine came into being more than 300 years after his life, death, and resurrection. (You won’t find it in the bible.) It was and remains one of the countless efforts we humans make toward understanding God, an impossible task. But what Trinity means at rock bottom is that in God there are love and relationship and conversation and sharing and all the elements that make up community. And we are made in the image and likeness of God.
And that’s why we pray “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”