Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ...
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ...
-- John Donne, Holy Sonnets XIV
My whole life I've been taught the image of God as three-in-one, one-in-three. I learned the Trinity as one egg with three parts: white, shell and yolk. Water as ice, liquid and steam. Also, I think there was a metaphor using an apple?
I'm grateful for that sort of teaching and the layers of understanding that were added as I grew up in the Church. But it wasn't until I served as a shepherd over a worship ministry that I began to ask questions. Questions like, "So what?" and "What difference does it make?"
Turns out it makes a world of difference. In the three-person'd God we are invited, commended even, into mystery. Egg yolks and apple seeds aside, our most intellectual theologians can only barely imagine the wonder of "let us make man in our image". For myself, the invitation toward mystery looks a bit like the Ghost of Christmas Present lifting his robe and bellowing, "Come in and know me better man!"
Beautiful mystery, yes. Also, beautiful community. The Psalmist tells us that God puts the lonely into families. He should know, he lives and moves and has his transcendent Being as one-in-community. He is a We.
This matters more than we imagine. If He is a We than how possibly can we think ourselves solely as a me? We must submit everything we do to mark ourselves a Christian to the power and beauty of this spiritual reality. Distinct as persons, yes. Made in the image of God as a man or a woman, in particular, and then as a unique person. Mysteriously and gloriously, this designed particularity never finds itself as an identity apart from the created Whole.
The great part and whole paradox transforms everything. The answer to the question, "What difference does it make?": all the difference in the world. We submit every part of our lives -- individually and corporately--to the Three-in-One God. How we gather, how we pray, how we sing, how we make, how we intercede, how we eat and play together and alone. How we hear music, read books, return emails, browse Facebook, shop at the market and weed our gardens. All of it comes under submission to the Three-person'd God.
|Celtic Knot, embroidered, via Wikimedia Commons
Donne gives another poetic description for our three-person'd God as the "knotty Trinity". The poet-theologian seems to be saying this reality is beyond our intellectual grasping no matter how many metaphors we dream up but we are drawn to keep on trying. He reminds us that the work of communicating mystery is no banal task. Every day we have the opportunity to try again. The great Three-in-One captures our imagination, making the Trinitarian Presence irresistable to the working out over millenia. We are caught up as one part of the Whole. Paradoxically, we find true solace surrounded by an ancient and future communion.
As a newly-minted Anglican, I've relished the practice of marking myself with the sign of the cross. This physical discipline trains my ears toward the Trinity, crossing head to heart, left to right at the mere mention of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. It is an act of submission, an antidote to spiritual amnesia. Even that self-sealing motion is done as one in a whole. I know this because each week I've learned my cues while I, hopefully subtly, study my worshiping community. Trying to sync my rhythm with theirs, with the Church in time before me and time to come.
When I led a worship ministry I lost sleep almost every week, tossing and turning with frustration with one particular team member. At the time I thought our arguments were about a difference in worship style preferences. Now I realize we were really arguing what it means, practically, to worship a Trinitarian God. This beautiful woman had been so wounded growing up without the security of family and home, she could never see the truth of the Worshiping We. She sought solace in the individual attention of God her Father, imagining the emotional pleasure she felt to be the work of His Spirit. And, yet, her view of worship was not practically Trinitarian -- no matter how many times she prayed in the name of Jesus or welcomed His Spirit in worship. I suspect that her longing for a gracious, all-loving Daddy turned into a practical rejection of His We-ness, cutting her off from most of the good gifts of community and other-ness we wanted to share with her.
Corporate worship that is not Trinitarian in both word and deed, leaves us as juveniles seeking our own versions of fantasy worship. Seeking to heal ourselves, pleasure ourselves, know ourselves all by ourselves. Practically speaking, this a rejection of the very nature of God. Yes it matters very much. It matters when we are gathered together and when we are scattered, sent out to reflect the image of our Three-In-One God to a world broken off from the Whole.
I read once that the film Babette's Feast presents within its storyline a beautiful representation of the Trinity. Writing this post, I watched again an excerpt, and all I can say is YES! Imagine for a moment, the absent father for whom the feast is called as our own God the Father. And Babette, giving up all her fortune to serve the feast as our own God, Jesus. And the exuberant General, instructing the people in the joy of the feast, as our own God, the Holy Spirit. Gorgeous imagery, indeed.
Watch the clip as a meditation today. What do you see?