Archive for the ‘Trinity’ Category

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

Unknowable

Indivisible

All

and if Everything is All and All is One

One is Alone

Self-Centred

Not Love

Not Laugh

Not Sing

TWO

Ying/Yang

Dark/Light

Male/Female

contending Dualism

Affirming Evil/Good

And striving toward Balance

At best Face-to-Face

but Never Community

THREE

Face-to-Face-to-Face

Community

Ambiguity

Mystery

Love for the Other

And for the Other’s Love

Within

Other-Centred

Self-Giving

Loving

Singing

Laughter

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.

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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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