Isaiah 6:1-8 , Psalm 29, Rom 8:12-17, John 3:1-17 New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition) Oremus Bible Browser

Trinity Sunday Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

‘The Trinity is the largest embrace in the universe…. All of us live within the circle of the Trinity. No one or no thing can fall out of this circle. In God there is no outside … regardless of how numbed, ordinary or dull a life might seem to itself or to others, each life is urgent with divinity… Each of us is born out of a different place in the circle of God’s heart. This is the reason why each individual is unique: each comes from a different nest in the Divine. It is towards this nest that our deepest longing tends: it is only here that the soul can discover her true poise and rhythm.’ Those words from John O’Donohue from his book The Priestliness of the Human Heart.

Trinity Sunday – is it a celebration of a church doctrine or is it an opportunity for us to contemplate the Divine? Some seem to be very wary of church doctrines; the reason that some, we, are wary is that doctrines we know often seek to capture and to describe and to define, that which is always and forever undefinable. The irony is that asserting that God is undefinable is itself a doctrine. The traditional emphasis that the Trinitarian formula - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - is perhaps where we first became aware of and wary of church doctrines. Father, Son and Holy Spirit somehow seems to be too limiting. It may well have suited a past generation, it may well have its genesis in a patriarchal hierarchy, but I wonder when those that sought and glimpsed the whole idea of Trinity, did they have an insight into the Divine that since then has become over-idolised in that traditional catholic formula? Was there a truth that was glimpsed and then in seeking to capture the truth - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - it’s as if we lost the initial glimpse. So maybe we should look again and explore the paradigm of a divine Trinity; let’s look at it as an invitation to more closely appreciate, to more readily apprehend, to more closely encounter and engage the Divine.

What if we see the Trinity as a divine dance that draws us into a living and moving relationship, of divine relationship? Rublev’s icon, which we briefly looked at at the beginning, like all icons, provides a window through which we can see the unseen. And it’s in being drawn into and through those windows that we glimpse a landscape of divine expression, and there we find for ourselves an invitation. Just as we’re drawn through the window of an icon to glimpse an expression of the Divine, so what we find is a call to us to also become an expression of the Divine. As we start closely contemplating the Divine, God, no matter where we start, what we do is we begin to create for ourselves a theology, a theology that’s born out of our encounter with the Divine. We then begin to find an understanding, not in our heads but in our being, something is uncovered: the Divine can be realised in humanity. ‘I come not worship God, but rather to realize God.’ And so we can be led in our contemplation of the Divine toward that promise of our baptism – calling us to shine as light in the world. All of that sometimes seems so far away from that classic doctrine of the Trinity.

There are some simple theological principles within the Trinity. Do we even begin to contemplate them? Have they been lost throughout the centuries? If we wound the church back to the early church – not the early, early church, but the early institutional church, the church that has started putting mitres on bishops’ heads and collars around its priests, that church - we would have seen them meeting together gathering to discuss the exact nature of the Trinity. You can now get a 90-something bus up to Murdoch and do units in the Trinity where we look at what the church councils managed to get from the idea of Trinity. You contemplate – well, you don’t contemplate, you study things such as procession – the Son proceeds from the Father, but is not generative of; the Spirit proceeds not from the Son, but from the Father and the Son and it’s heresy to say that it proceeds from one or the other. You get to study notions of substance – ‘of one substance’. No, no, not three persons as one, but three of one substance, and so on and so on and so on. All of these names from the past, these arguments that split hairs, councils which sound like, the debates that went on sound very similar to question time in parliament, arguing as to what the Trinity was, till finally it’s settled, we’ve got a definition and that definition can then overflow into credal statements.

Let’s just leave all that behind and try and go back to the early, early glimpse of the doctrine of the Trinity. Look at the simplicity of it, look at the implications of it, the implications of three as an enumeration of the Divine - the almighty One, we see as three. One of the simplest ways for me to look at the Trinity is to do it just with simple geometrical shapes. Three is perhaps the first and therefore the principle expression of one, of oneness and wholeness. Duh? How’d you get that? Surely a circle is the simplest expression of wholeness? Yes it is, in some respects, which is why the circle is often used as a symbol of the Divine, as a symbol of God. If you contemplate a circle with God in the foreground, then you can begin to form theological statements for yourself, to find an understanding and to enter into the mystery, for a circle is a line with no start or no end: it says something about God. A circle is all circumference – every point on a circle is similar in relation to every other point, so a circle does in fact, become a good image, a way symbolically to give voice to our experience of the Divine. The fact that a circle has no start or no end enables us to start looking at the abstract concept of eternity.

But let’s come back to the mortal because at the end of the day, for most of us God is only a secondary interest. Our primary interest for most of us of course is ourselves and an eternal line doesn’t quite fit life experience – I want a straight line, beginning on my birthday, ending …. sometime in the future. If we start contemplating life as a line, then what about togetherness, what about our line in relation to other lines? Well, you can join them together. The interesting thing is if you put two lines together, they still have a start and an end; in some places they’ll be closer than they are to others. What does the angle of two lines coming together mean? And what does the openness, the pointing in different directions, what does that say about relationship of two lives coming together? What if they crossed each other, just briefly passing? They’re very simple shapes but they can lead us into ideas.

When we come to a triangle, then we start to find an expression of the Trinity, for there is wholeness in a triangle – the angles within a triangle will always add up to the same. As two sides get longer another can get shorter or longer – it’s got an infinite number of possibilities of shapes. Three is seen as a very stable structure, specially if you look at legs on café tables – three legs are always better than four. Yet the funny thing, Jung sees four as the stable number. The four gospels, or perhaps four is us and the Trinity together. When we look at a triangle, what we find is that one line leads on to another, it begins to become a circle. The interesting thing is if we start bringing lines then into the triangle, so that it becomes a square and so on and so on and so on, the more and more and more lines we add, the closer and closer it takes the shape of a circle. Maybe that says something about the movement of humanity towards divinity. I cannot live on my own as one line, for there is only then start and end. If I join to another it does add something to my life, but it still leaves a beginning and an end. It leaves maybe an openness or maybe almost a parallel direction, but always pointing somewhere different. Only when I bring another line in is there a sense of being joined.

It’s interesting how we hang onto our families – it’s a very post-Enlightenment idea. And the reason that it’s an idea – if you look at the Enlightenment and the big shift that occurred, the shift in the Enlightenment was a shift from a ‘we’ to an ‘I’ and families actually then become extensions of the ‘I’. When we do things for our family we feel that we are giving: we’re conning ourselves, we’re being selfish, we’re only giving to an extension of the self. It’s only when we go beyond that, beyond that, to reach out and give outside, that we engage a different process altogether.

And it’s as if a triangle invites that contemplation. Who is the significant ‘other’ in my life – that might lead us to find two lines, one joining point in our lives; who’s the next significant other? If we constantly keep looking at adding lines to the line of our life and joining them together, then surely, geometrically we move towards the image of the Divine, the image of God.

It’s a simple look at the Trinity to sit down with a circle as an image of God, then overlay it with a triangle, as an image of God in three persons, the Holy Trinity, to then look at those and to see our own lives and the geometrical shape that they take. The Trinity I believe can be used to enter into those seeking questions that Nicodemus raises. It draws us from the dark into an encounter with mystery. We begin to look at being born from above, being born after having grown old - what might that mean? Perhaps the movement through life is not the movement from youth to old age and death, maybe there’s another movement that we can encounter in life. What if there is a movement that we’re actively involved in today and in every moment, which doesn’t end in death, which continues? ‘Born of water and spirit’ and what about that wind, the wind that we hear but we’re not sure where from it blows or where to. In Romans today we hear that all who are led with the spirit of God are children of God. A simple line, it raises the question, am I child of God? Am I led by the spirit of God? What am I led by? What is the image, the icon, I have of my life?

The reading from Isaiah says that unclean lips when touched by a burning coal will open the ears to the divine voice and draw out a response of knowing ourselves as sent. What does that mean? Do we wait, do we go to churches on Sunday in the hope that someone might tell us, that someone might leap down from the sanctuary with burning coals and touch our lips, so that we then know ourselves as sent? Perhaps that’s why we have doctrines such as the Trinity, for they do not provide us with answers. The Trinity is not a definition of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it’s not a description of reality, it’s an invitation for us to look and to go beyond reality.

The Trinity is a divine dance of love, a living relationship far more intimate, more intimate and more whole than our post-Enlightenment expressions of self and other. The Trinity asks us not to make icons of God, the Father, not to make an idol of Jesus Christ, the superstar son of God, not to seek an infusion from these two venerable beings of the Trinitarian spirit; no, that’s not what the Trinity asks. The truth that the Trinity invites of us is to contemplate that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not - they are not and they are not to be - the objects of our sacrifice or worship.

The process, the activity of the Divine, the living nature of God, that which we call God is relationship, calling us into its wholeness; the Trinity takes us beyond the concept of ‘me and God’. It takes us beyond the concept of ‘not-me and not-God’, rather it invites us into the paradigm of the ‘and’. Not ‘me and God’, but the ‘and’, the relationship, the activity, the process, of making whole. ‘The Trinity is the largest embrace in the universe.’

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris

Textweek Trinity