Trinity Sunday Year B
I have a poem I would like to read to you to set the mood. It is a poem by Hafiz is a 14th century Sufi poet, lovingly rendered by Daniel Ladinsky. It is rendered so as to catch the spirit of the poetry that is often lost by exact translations.
Last Sunday was Pentecost marking the end of the Easter season and thus we begin Ordinary Time the long stretch that closes the liturgical year before we begin again with Advent. And what better way to kick off the season by celebrating one of the most challenging doctrines of Christianity, the Trinity . In the world of deacons we often joke that this is one of the most likely Sundays that we are asked to preach. Of course, that is not true in my case, but I must confess that I’m glad that a certain seminary professor isn’t here. Why, you might ask, do I feel that way. Perhaps this Episcopal Church meme explains all: How not to commit heresy preaching on the Trinity – say nothing and show pictures of cute kittens instead! (Show picture). One, or speaking for myself, I can hardly ever talk about the Trinity without slipping into heresy of some sort or other!
The Trinity, as I said, is one of the most challenging of Christian doctrinal dogmas and can be a stumbling block for many – Unitarians come to mind. Who do you say the Trinity is?
Most familiarly we express the Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; or perhaps Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. You probably can come up with some other ways of talking about the Trinity (ask for suggestions). I sometimes pray “Heavenly Father, Divine Mother, Friend, Beloved God.
We say there are 3 ‘persons’ in one - my guess is that for non-Christians this might sound as if we want one God and many Gods. How do you explain the Trinity?
Cynthia Bourgeault in her book “The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three” (quite esoteric) points out a couple of things: 1. The doctrine of the Trinity evolved over the first four centuries of Christianity in response to “various doctrinal and theological challenges posed from both within and without” the Christian community. And 2. We, in the Western world at least, tend to think in binary terms: us or them, this or that, good or bad, etc., so it can be difficult to move to thinking in triads.
Here are some metaphors for understanding or speaking of the Trinity.
From Cynthia Bourgeault: a braid is made up of three separate strands of hair, together making one braid of one substance.
Kathleen Norris suggests that quark is a good metaphor – for those of you who don’t know, as I didn’t, quark is a subatomic particle that exists in threes. She writes, “There is no such thing as one quark, but only 3 interdependent beings. [She continues} I picture them dancing together at the heart of things, part of the atomic glue that holds this world together, and to the atomic scientist, at least, makes all things on earth more alike than different.”
Later in the same essay, Norris mentions coming across a metaphor for the Trinity in Tertullian, whom she calls “ one of the most curmudgeonly theologians of the early church. He likens the Trinity to a plant with “God the Father as a deep root, the Son as the shoot that breaks forth into the world, the Spirit as that which spreads beauty and fragrance.”
When I was taking Anglican Theology at SFD we had to read Dorothy L Sayers’ (yes, that one of Lord Peter Whimsy fame) book the Mind of the Maker – which, of course, I couldn’t find to check out if I was remembering correctly used the example of an author or writer as metaphor for the Trinity. There is the Author (Creator) and the Book (the Word made flesh) and the creative flow between the two. Or maybe it was writer, idea, and book. The more important part is that we the reader are invited into this relationship – to partake in it. We join the dance so to speak.
Is there any metaphor that you return to when contemplating the Trinity?
The thing to remember is that there are no words that can adequately describe God. It is why Sayers says that Nicodemus’ question is both reasonable and profound. Jesus wasn’t speaking literally, he was talking about being reborn in the spirit. It evokes the difference between time and timelessness. Sayers writes, “ Awareness of timelessness… does not belong to the order of conscious thought and cannot be expressed in the language of conscious thought, which is temporal.” Or as the week’s teaching for the World Community of Christian Meditation says: “The one thing that philosophy and theology teach us is the basic impossibility of our limited rational capacities to truly understand the Divine Reality. Any attempt only puts limits and restrictions on the nameless and formless.” In other words, language is a problem when we talk about God – for anything we put into words when talking about God puts a limit on God! Yet it is what we have, so philosophers, theologians, and we do our best with what we have.
Maybe we can think about the Trinity as a Zen koan – when we contemplate the Trinity we are knocked out of our rational or left side of our brain, to the creative, experiential, right side brain. It is an invitation to join into the flow of the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For Christians, according to Kathleen Norris, the Trinity is “the primary symbol of a community that holds together by containing diversity within itself. “ The Episcopal Church with its slogan that all are welcome would agree in principle if not in fact. I think that is why her metaphor of the quarks appeals to me - it reminds me of the interconnectedness of all creation, nature and us joined together in the great cosmic dance of the Trinity.
Before I wander off into heretical musings about the Trinity, I will end by saying that no matter how we talk about our Triune God, if we remember what it all boils down to in the end is that God is Love. And if we accept the invitation to join in the creative Trinitarian dance, surely the kingdom of God will reign as we join in the chorus singing
Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
We will praise you and highly exalt you forever