Fourth Person of the Trinity

rublev-trinityI want to introduce you to the fourth person of the trinity.  Unlike Douglas Adams, who we forgive for the subtitle of his fifth book of three ‘the increasingly inaccurately titled “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy”’, there is some difficulty in adding to the Holy Trinity, one might assume, however, as A.A. Milne should have said, bear with me.  In order to do this I need to enlist the help of the fifth century Russian Orthodox iconographer Andre Rublev and his Icon, ‘The hospitality of Abraham’.  Abraham and Sarah are visited by three strangers who they offer hospitality to.  During Abraham’s discussions with the visitors, Sarah is heard to laugh at the suggestion that she will bear a child at her great age.  The visitors are said to be angels, and they have been called the Old Testament Trinity.  Andre Rublev uses this image to depict the Holy Trinity.  It is arguably one of the greatest and most spiritually effective Icons ever painted because of the way it draws you in to the picture.
I grew up in a church culture which believed it was wrong to doubt faith.  The opposite of faith is not doubt it is certainty, for if everything is certain then there is no need for faith.  It seemed that we ought to believe what the minister said was infallible!  There were some who didn’t listen to a word the ministers said, pity, for they probably often had a good word.  These were honest and good folks, but there was a sense that no-one was ever doing it right, everyone was unworthy and it became a bit of a contest to become the most worthy and so very holy.  This, it seemed to me, was achieved by singing songs that claimed it was all about Jesus, sung with much gusto ad nauseum.  It took a long time to get over it and as this sermon is reflecting on it perhaps I’m still not there yet.  There is a good deal of sarcasm in that description, flavoured with a bit of a caricature.  In some ways these are the scars that never leave, but make us who we are.  A few years ago I found out that it wasn’t only me.  I had the delight to encounter an American Franciscan Friar and Roman Catholic Priest Richard Rohr as I drove him back to his hotel after his speaking engagement at the Greenbelt Festival.  He confirmed for me something that I suspected, but had not looked into all that much – that the church, by and large, gets by with very little usable, understandable theology.  And when it comes to the trinity, we don’t understand it – so we leave it on a shelf, let alone use it as a tool for evangelism.  How would that conversation go?  Well, there is God, but three different parts are really only one part, and we are lost in a mathematical problem of proofs which convinces no-one.

So what we did in effect, largely because we couldn’t cope with the idea of trinity, was to extract Jesus and hold him up and then it became a bit of a contest to try and win the favour of God.  That’s not what the bible teaches and certainly not what Jesus himself taught.  And we took Jesus and said that he is in the bread at the Eucharist, and you can have this bread, but only if you are good enough.  You can have access to Jesus and to God, in the bread which is kept in the tabernacle in the church, but this only happens when the Priest is doing the liturgy right, and if we are doing it right.  There is an old tradition that suggests if something is said wrong at mass, because it had to be perfect, then we have to begin again, I’m not sure we would ever get to the end, which for me is the most important part – the sending out.  When, in our best moments, we try and say God is everywhere, in effect God ends up being almost nowhere because we have tried to control the experience.  Constantly we are being told we are not good enough which is so untrue.  There is no contest, there is nothing to earn.  We have it already, it is given to us freely and all we need to do is recognise it.  Our minds, which deal in black and white, right and wrong, are great for everyday life for distinguishing between carrots and parsnips, but a mind like this shuts down at the notion of the trinity.  And now, today I’m inviting you to see the fourth person of the trinity.  For there is a wholeness in God in which there is room for everything.  I’m told a circle is am Infinite number of straight lines.  In an unbroken and perfect circle, there is room for all.  Everything belongs to God, which is so far from the message we often receive from christianity which says only some can get in, and only then if you are doing it right.  To me it seems so unnecessary to make it difficult.  What were we afraid of in Christian history?  What was there of God that we felt we had to own or control as if we could own or control God, but we tried and sadly we even went to war in his name to protect him from others.  The fourth person of the trinity, will become another impossibility in our minds unless we are able to begin to see differently.  Andre Rublev as well as being a master Iconographer was also  great at geometry.  If you draw a circle with a pair of compasses centred on the bowl on the table, encompassing the three figures, you will notice that it goes outside of the image, and draws in the one standing looking at the image.  This is a clever device, but important for the Icon as it is inviting us to sit at that table.  The table is laid for us.  The beautiful inconsistency in which God revels in for there is only one extra place laid at the table, and yet we are all invited.  We are all invited to join the hospitality of God and to join in the general dance, such is the beauty of the trinity.

Some words from ‘Eager to Love’  Richard Rohr’s Book which inspired the above.

Seek grace not instruction, desire not understanding.
Seek the groaning of prayer over diligent reading.
Seek the spouse more than the teacher,
Seek God not man, darkness not clarity,
Not light, but the fire itself.

Unless we are able to view things in terms of how they originate, how they are to return to their end and how God shines forth in them, we will not understand

The fourth person of the Trinity?

rublev-trinityAnd so on Trinity Sunday we reflect on the godhead of the Christian faith, alternatively the mathematical impossibilities of three in one and one in three.  That which few understand and fewer share, yet the part which is present in pretty much every liturgy – God: Father, Son and Spirit as if rising from the dead and vanishing into the clouds wasn’t enough we complicate the story even further.  So much so that theologians have argued over the exact composition for centuries. That all might be true, but I’m not sure it should be.  Despite the complicated ideas bounded around the trinity should be one of the simplest ideas to express.  The idea of the trinity allows a creativity, one which is expressed beautifully in the image prayerfully painted by Andrei Rublev.  The three persons of the ‘old testament trinity’ or ‘hospitality of Abraham’ as Abraham and Sarah entertain angels under the oaks of Mamre.  Only the three angels find their way onto the canvas – more for the theologians to muse and argue over which character is which – or perhaps it doesn’t matter, perhaps actually for once working out what is going on is not the point at all.  These icons are to be meditated on not thought about and this one in particular as it is perhaps the best of its age.
Just to complicate matters even further, i’d like to suggest that there are four in this trinity – I know, we’re back to the mathematical impossibilities again, but bear with me.  The trinity icon draws you into it, probably due to the clever use of lines of perspective, but never mind the technicalities from the 15thC.  However it happens we are drawn in to the table and become ourselves the fourth person of the trinity.  It is an invitation to move from isolation to community.  An invitation to join the dance as it were.  To sit at table in the midst of all that is known and understood, and all that is unknown and to be discovered about God.  This is our invitation and it is so very simple.  God acts and works in community, and we are a part of that action if we accept the seat at the table. To accept the seat is to be part of God in community Holy and One.

God of the Gap

You might be forgiven for thinking I was about to launch into something regarding a certain clothes store which had undertaken an alternative advertising programme.  Well you’ll be forgiven, and gladly, wrong!  As far as I know the afore mentioned clothing outlet is not claiming any particular condescension by some deity or other.  God of the Gap relates to the Trinity, the season into which we are about to launch ourselves for a full 22 weeks, that’s twenty-two.  Liturgically described by one as ‘boring green’, the other seasons being full of fun and frolics of course! The phrase God of the Gap(s) relates to a relatively old argument regarding what couldn’t be proven by science as God space, therefore into the ‘gap’ God was inserted to ‘account’ for the mystery.  You might be able to tell by the tone of the ‘apostrophies’ I don’t necessarily agree with that idea.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was eloquent on the subject, you’ll find his comments on the Wikipedia entry of this search.  What has all this to do with Trinity?  I like the phrase ‘God of the Gaps’ it has something of the ordinary about it, it reminds me of the London Underground, Welsh homework, mountain passes and quiet Sunday afternoons.  God as the in-between, the all-around, surrounding and enveloping.  It fits nicely too with the image of the Trinity as a triangle, a ‘person’ at each corner.  The largest extent of that shape is the gap in the middle, this is the God Space, neither one nor other.  Trinity becomes more than a mystery to be unravelled, a math problem never to be solved, it becomes a potential.  It becomes a space in which to move, to neither be polarized or pigeon-holed onto one path or direction.  It is the God of the gap which moves between us all with love.