Trinity Sunday again, the day we explore the paradoxical limitation of words with not a little confusion. Perhaps most apt it follows the cacophony of Pentecost voices. The explication of Trinity is as much to limit our grasping at God as to seek to explain. There’s not a lot we can do about this bit of the family inheritance bestowed us, well we could ignore it, but it’s not gone away and actually it’s quite a central identifier of Christianity.
Trinity brings with it incarnation, which we’re pretty OK with and the Holy Spirit of Pentecost that illuminates the wondrous colours of our diverse composition. Again, we’re OK with this. And of Creator, probably something we’re slow to contest. So that kind of leaves us with a Trinity. What can it teach us about incarnating, being the life of God in the world? Is it just theory or is there something real in it?
If we’ve hung out with the divine for a bit we’ve probably had to negotiate the highs and lows that come with relationship. Perhaps along the way we decided to wrestle with the theory, the theological stuff and it may’ve caught our interest. Even so next to the real life experience of God in relationship the theory can seem a little dry. What’s more engaging is working out what difference this God relationship makes – to our life, to the life of the world, to what we do, to how we live.
What affects us most significantly is our experience of the divine, more than words or theory. For to name, create concepts of God, even if they’re concepts intended to defy or deny conception, objectifies and dulls the lustre of rich relationship forged in the tussle with real life. Relationship that helps shape our hopes and aspirations, slakes our thirst for purpose and meaning.
The way God has come to be named is outcome of human discerning, of human perception. With words we name and communicate an experience of divine other. Not just this faith lineage but also other faith lineages are populated with people who've experienced transparency to that which is other, named divine. This is the grounding of the religious enterprise.
Naming God as outcome of relationship and lived experience, naming our aspirations to live as God people in the world is all well and good. But how do we move from word to act? Maybe our wrestle with the notion of Trinity is resource for us? Let me expand.
This last week I found myself faced with a situation of dishonesty and injustice. I could name the injustice but how could I speak so justice might prevail? Speak in sense of that first Genesis story whose narrators declare: God speaks creation into being, the ruach, Spirit of God breathes creation into life and creation becomes. Echoing in the poetry of John’s gospel, “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and was God and all things came into being through [that Word.]” Faced with situation of dishonesty and injustice what words could be spoken so justice could come into being. How many of you have found yourself facing such situation? You’re willing to name injustice and want to be part of dismantling it. You’ve a fair idea of how it’s come to be and some idea how and why it’s perpetuated. How do you speak so word becomes act that unravels and unstitches the unjust system? Not in word and act of the system of injustice for that works to empower and feed such system. How does naming our desire for full inclusion of all people, naming the embrace and welcome of diversity as normative and authentic Pentecost church be word and act that makes it real? Not just an aspiration, a hope, a desire to be willed but this other-wise way of living and being made real in time.
The reality is we cannot undo our foolish ways, as the hymn words proclaim, with the same mind that teaches us our foolish ways. To be changed we need source beyond ourselves, beyond our limitations and the limits of our context. One to which we willingly cede, trust ourselves to, in process of transformation and renewal. For we cannot do what we do not know. Can we enact a church of full inclusion and embrace of diversity if we’ve no experience of it, if the structure and system of church isn’t formed this way? We can name we want to, but how can we do this when it isn’t what we know, our heads may want to but the habits of our hearts and bodies aren’t shaped this way. Just so with overturning systems of injustice we’re habituated into. Of course it’s possible, times of history attest to that. But it’s also important to know our limitations. Such change happened but not by sheer dint of unchanging will. Rather by concerted collaboration and a will that was changed.
The formulation of Trinity arose within an historical and political context, one not without intrigue. Words and concepts of that time were used to express in time something beyond time. Unless we can deposit ourselves back in time, or spend a lot of time banging our heads against philosophical conundrums and disentangling political scheming to gain glimpse of perspective, there’s not much we can do about this. However we could take a gentler approach, generate a more sympathetic attitude toward those who crafted these words rather than thinking their God as Trinity formulation was set up just to confound us. A story may help, recounted by Ernesto Sirelli as part of a TED talk, he’d read it in what he described as a futuristic magazine:
There was a group of experts who were once invited to gather together to discuss and consider the future of New York. In 1860 all came together and all speculated about it, what would happen to the city of New York in 100 years. And the conclusion was unanimous. The city of New York would not exist in 100 years. Why? Because they looked at the curve of population growth and they said if the population keeps growing at this rate to move the population of New York around they would have needed 6 million horses and the manure created by 6 million horses would be impossible to deal with. They were already drowning in manure. So from their 1860 perspective they saw that this dirty technology was going to choke the life out of New York. The inevitable conclusion was that the city of New York would cease to exist. But in 40 years’ time what happens? In the year 1900 in the US there were 1001 car manufacturing companies. The idea of a fundamentally different technology not even previously imagined had absolutely taken over.
We too only have the language and the understanding of the time and place in which we’re located to imagine and express things beyond our knowing. Things we’ve perhaps intuited, experiences we’ve had beyond the reach of our ways of knowing, beyond the edges of our present reality. Of justice made real, radical inclusion and diversity celebrated. This story has a very concrete and historical location yet perhaps it speaks to the dilemma we face with Trinity. We wrestle with these ancient inaccessible words yet we too in our time are trying to find words to authentically express our knowing and experiencing of God. Words that will provide continuity into the future, connect with the experience of God in the lives of people yet unborn in a world we can’t imagine. Words that express something of our experience, while aware they’re inadequate in face of God’s continuing self-revelation. It’s tempting to ignore, disregard or discard the words and wisdom of so many years ago. The discipline of tradition, however, advises against such action, suggests rather we’re to learn from and add to. That it’s difficult may prove quite useful – preventing us from grasping God, forcing us rather to learn from our experiencing of God.
It seems a human conundrum, as David Hart reflects in his book The Experience of God, “To speak of God properly … to use words consonant with the teachings of orthodox Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Baha’i … and so forth is to speak of the one infinite source of all that is … and for that reason absolutely [intrinsic] to all things. God so understood is not something posed over against the universe, in addition to it, nor is God the universe itself. … All agree as well … that God can genuinely be known: that is, reasoned toward, intimately encountered, directly experienced with a fullness surpassing mere conceptual comprehension.” 
God can be genuinely known. God is intrinsic to all things. Is God we can genuinely know intrinsic also to us? As we experience and come to know God more genuinely, might this suggest we also come to know ourselves more genuinely? As we experience God, dare to put words to describe that which we experience, do we describe something of the way we are and the way the world is? To talk of Trinity is to say something about mutuality, interdependence, being distinct but not separate from, that the expression of any part is an expression of the whole that the act of any part impacts upon and affects each part of the whole. Are we also speaking of how we, created in image of God, actually are in relation to one another and the world, whether or not we’re aware of it? If this were to be so it might make us very mindful of what we say of God and full of care in how we act.
 Hart, David Bentley. The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014, 30.