Archive for the ‘Trinity’ Category

Life-giving, all-embracing Trinity

May 26, 2018

Trinity Sunday – 2018

John 3:1-17 (The gospel set for the day – not the starting point for this reflection)

Marian Free

In the name of the Trinity – boundless and abundant love, creative and life-giving force, all-giving and endlessly welcoming. Amen.

I have just started reading the novel, Gone Girl. The story seems to be about the disappearance of a young woman who has reluctantly moved with her new husband from New York to an uninspiring town in the mid-west. The novel is written from the point of view of the young woman, Amy, and her husband, Nick. Amy and Nick each have an opportunity to tell their side of the story. This means that while the readers are engaged in the investigation into Amy’s disappearance they are, at the same time, given a glimpse into the unraveling of what had appeared to be a perfect relationship – brought about by differing expectations and by different experiences of family.

Human relationships can be messy, complex and destructive, threatened by insecurity, damaged by carelessness and undermined by unrealistic expectations. The inability of some to form mutually respectful relationships is exposed not only in families, but also in communities, nations and the world as a whole. It is only too obvious that our world is not an harmonious place in which people rejoice in difference and seek the well-being of others. Our fractured and broken world is a place in which competition rules and in which suspicion and fear cause people to look inwards, protecting what is theirs and creating boundaries between themselves and those whom they believe threaten our security and our comforts.

Richard Rohr suggests that the Trinity provides the answer to the problem of relationships with each other, within communities and between the nations of the world. A greater understanding of the relational nature of God – Father Son and Spirit, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier might, he suggests, help us to relate better to God and more importantly to one another. He points out that the Trinity is a much-neglected aspect of our theology. The concept is difficult to explain, and most clergy are grateful for the fact that the Trinity is celebrated only once a year rather than on every Sunday of every year. Rohr quotes Karl Rahner who states: “Christians are, in their practical lives, almost mere ‘monotheists’. We must be willing to admit that, should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged.”

When I first read that quote, I thought that Rahner was right. I wondered how many of us would be truly distressed if we discovered that God was one and not three at all. We might even be relieved to learn that we no longer had to struggle with the conundrum of a threefold God.

On reflection though, it seemed to me that while we may not be able to articulate the meaning, most of us do relate to God who is three but is also one. God as Trinity is something we know intuitively. Over the course of a lifetime the Trinitarian God becomes part of our DNA. Though we tend to use shorthand when we pray – God, Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, we simply assume that when we pray to one we pray to all, when we relate to one we relate to all.

The problem – if there is a problem – is that because we take for granted the threefold nature of God, we may not take the time to reflect on the meaning of the Trinity and to consider what it really means to engage with God who is Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver and we (and perhaps the world) are the poorer for this. Perhaps, if we make an effort to struggle with the relational nature of the threefold God, we will be better equipped to share that mystery with others. If we really grasp what it means to worship a threefold God we might discover that the Trinitarian God is a model for all relationships and a solution to all the problems of our fragmented world.

Last year on this day, I read you the poem that is in the Foreword of Richard Rohr’s book The Divine Dance. I confess that I haven’t read the book to its end, but what I have read has been life-changing and faith-renewing. Rohr has helped me to know God in a new way and my faith is enriched by that knowing. In fact, I don’t think that I am over stating it if I say that I feel that I have found my way to the heart of the Trinitarian God. Rohr has helped me come to grips with the Trinity in a way in which all my academic study did not – indeed could not.

I have come to see that God who is three is relational. God relates to Jesus who relates to the Spirit who relates to God, who relates to the Spirit who relates to Jesus, who relates to God in an outpouring of love that flows from one to another and back again. A constant stream of love that in turn creates an atmosphere of love that cannot help but flow outward from the threefold God to the world – drawing the whole world into a loving and welcoming embrace. The love that each person of the Trinity has for the others is complete and without reserve. Nothing is held back, each person of the Trinity is totally open to the other members of the Trinity. Each person of the Trinity is completely vulnerable – having given everything of themselves to the other persons.

In their love for one another, the members of the Trinity create an energy that is life-giving and dynamic, a creative force that drives and empowers all that is good in this world. God in relationship is generous, self-giving and abundant. God in relationship is not remote and disinterested, but is fully engaged and participatory. God in relationship is fully immersed in the world and invites us to fully immerse ourselves in God. God who is relational has no boundaries, but welcomes us into the very heart of the Trinity that we might be caught up and held in the stream of love that flows between the three. The threefold God is not afraid that our presence (or the presence of anyone else) will contaminate their divinity, but rather has absolute confidence that our being in relationship with God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier will serve to enhance and enrich that relationship and our relationships with one another.

The Trinity models the love that can be the salvation of the world – love that heals and sustains, love that delights in the other, love that gives itself entirely without losing anything of itself and without seeking anything in return, love that embraces difference, love that seeks the well-being of the other and love that refuses to exclude anyone from that love.

God who is one could be aloof and alone. God who is two could be self-contained – each focussed wholly on the other. God who is three is other-centred, inclusive, life-giving and welcoming. The Trinity, God who is three invites us all to be a part of this loving community, to allow ourselves to be loved and to give ourselves in love and in so doing, to contribute to the healing of the world.


Love, Laugh, Sing

June 10, 2017

Trinity Sunday – 2017

Matthew 28:16-20

Marian Free


In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, three in one, one in three. Amen.

Every now and again one comes across an image or a phrase that brings utter clarity to an idea that until that moment had been clouded or obscure. Such was the case for me when I read a poem by William Paul Young (author of The Shack). In the foreword to Richard Rohr’s book on the Trinity The Divine Dance[1], Young has written a poem that, for me, shone a light on the Trinity in a way that nothing else has. It goes:

ONE alone

is not by nature Love

or Laugh

or Sing

ONE alone

may be Prime Mover




and if Everything is All and All is One

One is Alone


Not Love

Not Laugh

Not Sing





contending Dualism

Affirming Evil/Good

And striving toward Balance

At best Face-to-Face

but Never Community






Love for the Other

And for the Other’s Love







A fourth is created

Ever-loved and loving.

The contrast between One alone and three in community spoke powerfully to me. A God who is alone could be aloof and unapproachable and, without others, may not laugh and sing. A God who is two has the potential to be divisive – one pitted against the other, each competing for attention. A God who is three yet one is a God who is community – loving, playful and joyful, inviting relationship, inviting us into that relationship.

It is easy for us to imagine that a Triune God is the invention of the Christian church, that God who was one, suddenly became three when Jesus entered human history. That, of course, is nonsense. God is God. God doesn’t suddenly morph from one to three just because, in God’s great love for us, God entered into the stream of human history.

God has been in relationship from the very beginning: creating humankind in God’s image, choosing and speaking with Abraham, communicating directly with Moses and with the prophets. God the Creator gave Godself to humankind in revelation over and over and over again long before God gave Godself to us in the form of Jesus. At the same time over and over again, God has created a response from humanity, working within us in Spirit so that we might know and respond to God.

From the beginning of time then God has been known and expressed as Godself, as God’s self-communication and as God’s presence within us enabling us to respond to God. It is only since Jesus’ presence among us that we have named God as three persons – Father, Son and Spirit – only since the early days of the church that we have struggled to form a doctrine to express in words something that we have always known in our hearts, that God is Creator, Revealer and Enabler.

As the poem suggests, this is important – not least of all, because a Trinitarian God is a God in community. A creative, energizing force is not alone or competitive, but is a divine dance of love that knows no division or separation and creates, sustains and embraces us. The relationship between the Father and the Son, the Father and the Spirit, the Son and the Spirit, the Son and the Father, the Spirit and the Father and the Spirit and the Son is such that none are separate, but all three together incorporate the relationship between the Father and the Son and the Spirit.

A God who is relationship both demonstrates relationship – a relationship that is inclusive, self-giving and open – and invites us into that relationship so that as God is one, so we are one with God.

The Trinity is a gift and not a burden. Instead of trying to get our head around the doctrine, the how and why of it all, let us simply rejoice in a God in whose being is Love and Laugh and Sing and who includes us in the loving, the laughter and the song.

[1] Rohr, Richard with Morrell, Mike. The Divine Dance:The Trinity and your Transformation. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2016, 19.

Earth-Maker, Pain-Bearer, Life-Giver

May 25, 2013

Trinity Sunday 2013

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Romans 1:1-5, John 16

Marian Free


In the name of God, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver. Amen.

The MIddle Ages was a time in which there was a great flowering of spirituality.  After the morbidity and fear of the Dark Ages, in which judgement and hell were predominant religious themes, the spiritual tenor of the Middle Ages was an understanding of God’s love and Jesus’ saving passion. The spirituality of the time was more intimate and forgiving. God was not envisaged as a distant judge but a close and familiar friend.

Many of our favourite and most well-known saints belong to this period of history – Francis and Claire of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen and Catherine of Sienna – to mention a few. The spirit of the age was such that it not only saw the emergence of mystics and saints, but also the renewal of faith of much of the general population. This was demonstrated by the number of people in all walks of life who went on pilgrimages and by the groups of women (Beguines) who, while not entering a religious order, lived together in community.

One of the expressions of spirituality at that time was that of anchorite. Men and women had built for themselves single rooms attached to churches or Cathedrals in which they confined themselves for the remainder of their lives – praying, meditating and reading their scriptures. Julian of Norwich was one such person[1]. Little is known of Julian except that when she was thirty and a half, in 1373 she was ill to the point of death. During this time she had a series of revelations (Showings in her terminology) which she recorded in both a shorter and a longer account. It is through these writings that she is known to us.

The church emerged from the bleakness of the Dark Ages with an image of God that was less distant and wrathful, more forgiving and understanding, full of tenderness and compassion. Julian’s experience of God reflects this trend. Perhaps the most powerful illustration of this is the illustration which imagines God as a mother who may sometimes allow a child to fall, for its own benefit, but who can never suffer any kind of peril to come to her child because of her love. On the other hand, the child, when it is distressed and frightened, runs quickly to his mother (300).

Even though Julian claims to be uneducated, the style of her writing and her knowledge of scripture indicate otherwise. For example, though her language is vastly different, her theology is not too dissimilar to that found in the readings from Proverbs and Romans today (the presence of Wisdom, or the second person of the Trinity at creation, the delight that the Trinity takes in creation and the notion that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit).

Julian’s homely and familiar relationship with God embraces her understanding of God as Trinity which is expressed in such language as God’s courtesy, that God loves us tenderly and that there is no wrath in God only endless goodness and friendship. The relationship is mutual. Just as the Trinity rejoices in humanity, so the Trinity fills our heart with the greatest joy (181). In fact joy, bliss and delight are words that are repeated in Julian’s description of the relationship between God and humanity. Her experience tells us of God’s confidence in and presence in us: “we are in God and God is in us” (286). When the Trinity created us, he “joined and united us to himself and through this union we are kept as pure and as noble as we were created” (293).

The Trinity, a concept that many of us tend to make hard work of, seems to have been as natural as breathing to Julian. That God is one and God is three, is the basis of her faith. She doesn’t labour over the nature of the relationship, but it is clear from what she writes that she did not think of God in any other way. While she speaks of the individual persons of the Trinity, it is clear that her concept of God is primarily Trinitarian.  For example, she can say: “the Trinity is God and God is the Trinity. The Trinity is our maker, our protector, our everlasting lover, our endless joy and our bliss, from our Lord Jesus Christ and in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (181)

All members of the Trinity are all engaged in our creation and all take delight in humankind and “it is their greatest delight that we rejoice in the joy which the blessed Trinity has in our creation.”(286)  “God the blessed Trinity, who is everlasting being, just as he is eternal from without beginning, just so was it in his eternal purpose to create human nature, which fair nature was first prepared for his own Son, the second person, and when he wished, by full agreement of the whole Trinity he created us all at once.” (293)

Interestingly, though Julian refers to Jesus as “he”, she constantly refers to the second person of the Trinity as “Mother”.  This was consistent with the spirit of the time which, in reaction to the harsh and distant God of the previous generation, discovered in Jesus the love and compassion often attributed to a mother. So for example, Julian can say: “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother. Our Father wills, our Mother works, our good Lord the Holy Spirit confirms. In these three is all our life: nature, mercy and grace (296).” “And so in our making, God almighty is our loving Father, and God all wisdom is our loving Mother, with the love and goodness of the Holy Spirit, which is all one God, one Lord” (293).

It is too easy to dismiss the Trinity as difficult to understand or explain. Mystics like Julian remind us that it is not a concept to be feared, but to be embraced; to know ourselves known and loved by God – Father, Son and Spirit, Earth-Maker, Pain-Bearer and Life-Giver, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.  Three persons, one God whose creative power breathed us into being, whose saving power restored us and whose in-dwelling presence continues to fill us with love and joy.

[1] Colledge, Edmund, O.S.A., Walsh, James, S.J. Julian of Norwich: Showings. The Western Classics of Christianity. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1978.

God rejoices that he is our Mother

June 2, 2012

Trinity Sunday – 2012 

Marian Free

 In the name of God, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life giver, Amen.


God chose to be our mother in all things

and so made the foundations of his work,

most humbly and most pure,

the Virgin’s womb.


God, the perfect wisdom of all,

arrayed himself in this humble place.

Christ came in our poor flesh

to share a mother’s care.


Our mothers bear us for pain and for death;

our true mother, Jesus,

bears us for joy and endless life.


Christ carried us within him in love and travail,

until the full time of his passion.


And when all was completed

and he carried us so for joy,

still all this could not satisfy

the power of his wonderful love.


All that we owe is redeemed in truly loving God,

for the love of Christ works in us;

Christ is the one whom we love.

That canticle sounds very much like something that might have come out of the feminist movement in the 1980’s, but you might be surprised to learn that it was written in the 14th century and very much reflected the theology of the time. This canticle was written by Julian of Norwich, but if you turn to page 428 in your prayer books, you will find something very similar canticle written by  Anselm of Canterbury in much the same period.

The time of Julian and Anselm– the Middle Ages  – was a time of great spiritual renewal, they gave birth to some of our most loved and well known saints, saw a revival of the religious life, an enthusiasm for pilgrimage and a wealth of spiritual writings. One characteristic of the time was the emphasis on God’s love and compassion which was in stark contrast to the austere, distant and vengeful God of the Dark Ages. It was this recognition of God’s gentler side that led to the language of God and Jesus as mother even though God was still referred to by the masculine pronoun.

Julian of Norwich was, by her own admission, an uneducated person, yet when she was thirty she suffered from a terrible illness. During this time she received a revelation of Christ’s passion, and drew from the vision an insight into God’s deep love and compassion for humanity. In describing God as Father and Mother she, with her contemporaries was trying to capture God’s familiarity and warmth. She did not set the feminine against the masculine, but saw the characteristics of both as integral to the nature of God and as essential to our understanding of God. Julian’s perception of God as Father and Mother allowed her to speak of God in homely and comfortable terms rather than through difficult and intellectual concepts.

Julian’s visions were primarily a graphic depiction of Christ’s sufferings, but through them she developed a deep and profound understanding of the nature of God and in particular the nature of God as Trinity. In simple and often homely language, Julian explores the unity of the Trinity, the role of the Trinity in creation, the love that the Trinity has for us, the fact that we are intimately connected with the Trinity and that it is the Trinity that is at work in us when we pray.

It is powerful to hear in Julian’s own words her understanding of God’s overwhelming love for us. She writes of Jesus for example: “We are his crown, which crown is the Father’s joy, the Son’s honour, the Holy Spirit’s delight” (278). Of God she says: “So I saw that God rejoices that he is our Father, and God rejoices that he is our Mother, and God rejoices that he is our true spouse, and that our soul is his beloved wife. And Christ rejoices that he is our brother and Jesus rejoices that he is our Saviour” (279)[1].

Not only does she describe how much the Trinity loves and delights in us, but  she also understand that we are so intimately bound up in the Trinity and its operation that it is if we are one and the same. In her words: “I saw no difference between God and our substance, that is to say that God is God and our substance is a creature in God. For the almighty truth of the Trinity is our Father, for he made us and keeps us in him. and the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, in whom we are enclosed. And the high goodness of the Trinity is our Lord, and in him we are enclosed and he in us. We are enclosed in the Father, and we are enclosed in the Son, and we are enclosed in the Holy Spirit. And the Father is enclosed in us, the Son is enclosed in us, and the Holy Spirit is enclosed in us, almighty, all wisdom and all goodness, one God, one Lord. (284,5).  In her mind, we are so connected to the Trinity that the Trinity is at work in us when we pray – God causes the longing of our souls which are then united to the will of Christ by the operation of the Holy Spirit (59).

It is our union with the Trinity rather than any externally imposed rule or law, that leads us to reject sin and evil-doing. While we will never be perfect in this life, the Trinity works in and with us for our redemption. The Trinity directs and guides us: “Our faith is a light, coming in nature from our endless day, which is our Father, God; in which light our Mother, Christ, and our good Lord the Holy Spirit lead us in this passing life.” (340).

The great theologian Karl Rahner, said that there is a great danger in discussing the Trinity in the abstract[2]. God as Trinity is something we know because of our experience of God. Julian’s personal and intimate experience of the Trinity deepens and enriches our own understanding and draws us into a relationship with the Trinity that is familiar, comfortable and personal, and which reveals to us the presence of the Trinity working within us.

Julian deserves the last word: “The Trinity filled my heart full of the greatest joy, and I understood that it will be so in heaven without end to all who will come there. For the Trinity is God, God is the Trinity. The Trinity is our maker, the Trinity is our protector, the Trinity is our everlasting lover, the Trinity is our endless joy and our bliss.” (181) May this be our experience also.

[1]  All quotes are taken from the translation of the original text by Edmond Colledge, O.S.A and James Walsh, S.J for The Classics of Western Spirituality: Julian of Norwich: Showings.  New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1978.

[2] In Colledge and Walsh, p 69.

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