There’s a famous story of St Augustine, a Catholic bishop who lived in the 300s, and the seashore. The story goes that as St Augustine struggled to understand the mystery of the Trinity, he found himself walking along the beach ruminating. If you have never encountered Christianity, the Trinity is the unity of Three Persons in One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s a mystery which makes sense but which is truly mind-boggling. No wonder St Augustine, brilliant man that he was, had difficulty wrapping his mind around the mystery!
Well, as he was walking along the beach, he noticed a small boy ladling water from the sea into a small hole in the sand. On response to his inquiries, the boy explained that he was trying to move the ocean into his little whole. St Augustine laughed warmly at such a naive attempt. And then, the little boy retorted, “It is easier to fit the ocean into this hole than it is to fit the mystery of the Trinity into your mind.”
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God (a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins).” The ocean, grandiose as it is, is so small compared to God. Still, it is one of the most vast things we can see, and I love it for that.
That’s a line from a non-favorite hymn of mine. (You Satisfy the Hungry Heart : I consider the song kind of wishy-washy, but some of the lines are profound.) What the song proclaims here is true: God, who is greater than our minds can fathom, comes to dwell in human souls who love him. There’s an analogy, imperfect though it be, with the sun shining on the ocean. The ocean itself would vaporize at the approach of the sun, and yet it may reflect the sun’s light.
To return to the story of St Augustine, the little boy cautioned Augustine that he couldn’t fit the Trinity into his mind. We cannot wrap our minds around the greatness of God, and, yet, He gives us the very gift of Himself within our souls. And, we are not so much an ocean as a puddle in the sand. Even the tidal pools and puddles catch reflections of the sun’s glory.
“If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to make our home with him.” (Jn 14:23)