I’ll never forget one lunchtime in seminary when I stood in line for the salad bar at the refectory. As I waited, the seminary Dean, Martha Horne, took the place behind me. “Wanting to justify myself” (a biblical turn of phrase I use somewhat playfully but also with a degree of verity – who doesn’t want to score points with the Dean?) I turned to her and said, “Please, Martha, after you.” When the Dean declined my offer for an exchange of our places in line I insisted: “No, Martha… as it is written; ‘the first shall be last and the last shall be first!'” Martha looked at me and said, “Never trivialize, Jim, never trivialize…” Touche.
The origin of the word trivia is pretty interesting. In medieval Latin the “trivia” were the undergraduate building blocks of learning; the Artes Liberales of grammar, logic and rhetoric. Knowledge of the trivia established the critical foundation for advancement in higher education.
In The First Letter to the Corinthians St. Paul tells us that if we possess the tongues of mortals and angels but don’t have love we are noisy gongs or clanging cymbals; that if we possess prophetic powers and the understanding of all mysteries and all knowledge, and also faith, without love we are nothing; and if we give away all that we have but still don’t have love we gain nothing. According to St. Paul, along with faith and hope, love is our most essential – and a most trivial – foundation as Christians.
‘Tis the gift to be simple,
’tis the gift to be free,
’tis the gift to come down
where we ought to be,
and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained
to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
to turn, turn, will be our delight
till by turning, turning we come round right.
In the midst of our trivial pursuits, let each of us go forth and practice the grammar of faith, hope and love…