Among the legends about St. Patrick is the familiar story of how he explained the nature of the Trinity using a shamrock. Apparently he used the three leaves as a way to describe how three things could still co-exist as one.
Another less known legend about St. Patrick is that whenever he would go to a place to preach, he would put his walking stick into the ground, and leave it there until his missionary work was done. This was to let people know that he was present, and that they could find him in that place. Whenever he left the place, then he would take up the walking stick and go to the next place.
In one story, it’s said that Patrick was in a place for so long that his walking stick actually took root and began to sprout branches. The point of course being that Patrick would never give up on his mission, and then there is this wonderful symbol of new life associated with it.
But there is part of me that wonders if Patrick was in that place for so long, because it was the same instance when he was trying to explain the Trinity. Maybe he spent the evenings banging his head against a wall because people weren’t grasping the concept—and finally, he came up with the shamrock thing and called it a day…
Whatever the case, the reality is that trying to explain the nature of the Trinity is really difficult. It might be compared to something like trying to dress an octopus in trousers—or explaining the color blue to someone who is colorblind. It’s a difficult subject is what I mean; and if anyone spends any time thinking about it at all, we may come to something that makes sense to us, but is difficult to explain to others.
It’s probably for this reason that the nature of the Trinity seems to have very little importance to us and our personal faith—that is unless we get into an argument with a Jehovah’s Witness. Otherwise, it’s possible that many of us find the subject, for the most part, unnecessary.
However, there is something about the Trinity and trying to understand how it all works that gives us a deeper understanding of God and God’s relationship with us—it also gives us some insight into our own nature as well.
Now, for myself, I have still not mastered the best way to explain the Trinity. All the same, the best way that I’ve been able to broach the subject is by starting the discussion by dragging three unsuspecting people to the front of the church. I then would have them join hands and begin dancing in a circle.
Now, rest assured that I would never do that in this group—and if anything, the conditional, passive language that I used should confirm that. So, you may have to use your imaginations and that very cool icon on the front of your bulletin.
Anyway, as I said, three people dancing in a circle. The reason for the dancing isn’t an attempt to be sentimental or new agey; rather it reflects the word that is used to describe the way in which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist together. This is a word that has the same root as the word choreography (dancing), and it helps us to try to gasp the way in which the Three Persons of the Trinity process in and through and with one another.
What this also helps us to visualize is the fact that a single Person cannot really love, as such. Obviously there would need to be another Person to share and participate in that love. Equally, if this love were to be shared between only two Persons, it could easily become an objectifying kind of love—a love that doesn’t create or facilitate community.
Now, I’m not advocating poly-amory—this is a different kind of love, not romantic love; agape’ love, the love of God for Creation and love between friends and family.
So, as Three Persons then, God as Trinity is the perfect example of wholeness and community at the same time. These Three are somehow very distinct Individuals—but are separate—they’re also somehow perfectly one.
Everyone still with me? I know my head is hurting already.
Well, the fascinating thing about this is what it says about us as God’s creation, and how we are created in the image of God. It shows us that we are very much created to be in community. You know the only time in the Creation story that God says something isn’t good is when it says that God saw that Adam was alone…
We know from studies that humans by nature must have community, or else certain sociopathologies begin to arise.
We also know that love (especially this agape’ love) is useless without it being invested in others—and when that happens, it multiplies and transforms lives.
Finally, then, this idea of where three or more are gathered, God will be in the midst of them begins to make a little more sense. Again, there is this understanding that love is something that must be shared in community—and as we all know, God is Love. And who doesn’t want to be close to God or share God?
I’ve often said that none of us is a Christian all by ourselves, and considering the way in which we try to grasp the nature of God; we begin to see that our call to love and be in community is not only a command—it is the practice of being perfect as God is perfect. And while none of us will ever really reach perfection, as such—there is this unmistakable sense that love is something deeply sublime and undoubtedly divine.
The wonderful thing about this is that God as perfection of community of One Being allows us—calls us—and longs for us to become part of this perfect community of love. A love which is perfectly completes us, but never disallows us to be individual. God offers us not only a place of safety, wholeness and healing, but offers us to be in community—communion with God. It sounds pretty good actually.
If there were just a way to explain that in a less convoluted way, and put it on a sign outside the church—I’d imagine we would standing room only. That said, it places the responsibility on us—the Imago Dei, those made in the Image of God to be witness and show forth God’s nature: holy, loving community.