TRINITY SUNDAY 2012 B
Words to speak of the Divine. In reflecting on even the most fragile gift of creation, Julian of Norwich came to understand: “ ‘It lasts and ever shall last because God loves it. And in this fashion, all things have their being by the grace of God.’ In this little thing, I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second is that God loves it. The third thing is that God keeps it. And what did I see in this? Truly, the Maker, the Lover and the Keeper.”
These are the words of the English mystic Julian of Norwich, in the 14th century, (1342-c. 1416) who probed the mystery of a God who loves as Father, as Son and as Spirit; or, as she put it, as Maker, Lover and Keeper.
While other theologians attempted to muse on the profound mystery of the Trinity, she explored the manner in which the triune God is experienced by human beings.
Julian felt God was saying, “I am God, the power and goodness of fatherhood; I am God, the wisdom and lovingness of motherhood; I am God, the light and the grace which is all blessed love; I am God the Trinity; I am God the unity; I am God the great supreme goodness of every kind of thing; I am God who makes you to love; I am God, the endless fulfilling of all true desires.” Words to speak of the Divine!
Although the dogma of the Trinity was officially formulated only in the fourth century at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, the persons of the Father, the Son and the Spirit are clearly acknowledged, as in today’s text from Paul’s correspondence with the Christians in Rome.
G. K. Chesterton once said that one of the reasons he believed in Christianity was because of its belief in the trinity. If Christianity had been made up by human person, it would not have at its very center a concept that is impossible to grasp or explain: the idea that God exists as one but within three persons.
So how do we understand the trinity? We don't! God, by definition, is beyond conceptualization, beyond imagination, beyond language. The Christian belief that God is a trinity helps underscore how rich the mystery of God is and how our experience of God is always richer than our concepts and language about God. Yet when we contemplate God, even though we realize that God is way beyond anything that our imaginings can cope with, we realize that God brought us into being and loves us deeply and calls us to love in return.
From the very beginning, humans have always had an experience of God and have worshipped God. However, from the very beginning too, humans have also had the sense that God is too rich and too-beyond any one set of categories to be captured in any neat package. Hence most ancient peoples were polytheistic. They believed in many gods and goddesses. They experienced divine energy and the need to celebrate divine energy in many different areas of their lives and had gods and goddesses to accommodate that. Thus they had gods and goddesses for every longing and every circumstance, from war, to growing crops, to fertility, there was a god or goddess to whom you could turn.
Sometimes they believed in one supreme god who ultimately ruled over lesser gods and goddesses, but they sensed that divine energy was too rich a reality to be contained in a single being.
Many of the most powerful myths ever told, arose out of the experience of God's overwhelming richness and the ancient peoples' incapacity to conceptualize God's activity in any singular way. Ancient religious practices and the great mythological stories speak of how rich, untamed, and beyond simplistic imagination and language is the human experience of God. The ancients believed that their experience pointed to the existence of many deities.
And then a massive shift took place: Judaism, soon followed by Christianity and Islam, introduced the strong, clear idea that there is only one God. Now all divine power and energy was seen as coming from a single source, monotheism, YHWH. But reflecting on the teaching of Christ and following his resurrection, Christians began to struggle with simple monotheism. They believed that there is still only one God, but their experience of God demanded that they believe that this God was somehow "three."
They were monotheists; God was revealed as Abba. Yet, Jesus too was God, as was the Holy Spirit. There is three persons in one God. Yet, no formula can ever capture the reality of God. Polytheism rightly sensed the divine hidden under every rock.
To what does this call us?
To humility. All of us, believers and atheists, need to be more humble in our language about God. The idea of God needs to stretch, not shrink, the human imagination. Julian of Norwich compared Jesus to a mother who is wise, loving and merciful. Because she believed that a mother’s role was the truest of all callings on earth, she associated God with motherhood in terms of God’s creative power, God’s tender protection of every creature, God’s desire to be so close to humankind as to become incarnate.
The story is told of a priest sitting in an airport waiting for his flight. A fellow killing time struck up a conversation. Said he, "Father, I believe only what I can understand. So, I can't buy your Trinity. Perhaps you can explain it to me." The priest reluctantly put down The New York Times. "Do you see the sun out there?" "Yup." "OK, it's 80 million miles away from us right now. The rays coming through the window," said the priest, "are coming from the sun. The delightful heat we are enjoying on our bodies right now come from a combination of the sun and its rays. Do you understand that?" The fellow answered, "Sure, padre." "The Trinity," the priest went on, "is like that. God the Father is that blazing sun. The Son, Jesus, is the rays He sends down to us. Then both combine to send us the Holy Spirit who is the heat. If you understand the workings of the sun, its rays, and heat, why do you have difficulty believing the Trinity?" The man said something about catching a flight and was off.
As G.K. Chesterton would say, “Thank God, for the complexity of the doctrine of the Trinity!”