The Trinity is something that has always confused/ inspired/ confounded/ intimidated/ embraced me depending on the day. While "The Trinity" as such is not found explicitly in the Bible, each member of the divine trio is lifted up and worshipped at various points in Holy Scripture. This mysterious treatment of the divine is something that I have learned to embrace for the sake of its mystery.
Who was Jesus?
Son of Man. Son of Mary. Son of God.
The Word of God made flesh. The flesh that gave us words to pray.
The one with the winnowing fork. The way, and the truth, and the life.
There is never any one answer. The answer is a profound and faithful "Yes!" to all these identities, names, and titles. The answer is the unnamable Truth in the paradox of life found in Jesus Christ.
And so it is with God.
Who or what is God?
Father. Mother. Creator. Destroyer. Redeemer. The one who walks in Gardens. The wind over waters. The fire that burns through bushes. The Liberator. The Justice-bearer. The one wrapped in swaddling clothes, cradled by his mother. The one who laid the earth's foundation.
The answer is inexplicable.
Our faith is one that demands that we put aside our feeble attempts to perfectly understand and requires that we live into the paradox. That we live into mystery. That we live into the way the world somehow never fits together the way we think it might or think it should. Nothing about our faith makes logical sense. While I respect the early church's efforts to philosophically explore and explain the puzzle of how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit exist as one God - my own faith pushes me to spend less energy on trying to understand and more energy on engaging the mystery for its own sake. To me, pushing away our own desire to have power over the world through understanding it entirely (which is impossible) is where the journey of faith begins. Faith means not knowing and being alright with that.
At the same time, faith does not teach us to say, "We know nothing - everything is a mystery." That, I believe, is becoming an ever more common knee-jerk reaction by those who prefer to remain as entirely agnostic about religion as they are about God. Yes, faith is paradoxical. But it is paradoxical because it is difficult to fully grasp, not because there is nothing there to reach for.
Christianity gives us some pretty explicit branches to reach for as we begin to climb our way up the tree of Life. For most of us, Jesus is that first branch. Because I was not raised a Christian, I first and foremost had a love for God, but it wasn't until I had Jesus as a figure to ponder, worship, and follow that I began to really feel myself growing and maturing in faith.
Some of the ways that the stories about Jesus have opened my heart and mind to new truths about God in recent years are as follows:
- God is as fragile as God is mighty. God came to earth in the form of a human infant - a baby with tender skin and a wobbly neck that cried for its mother.
- God doesn't do much work alone but chooses to change the world through community. We don't know much about the first 30 or so years of Jesus life, but it was when he began to bring a community of disciples around him that the Kingdom was reimagined.
- Like the disciples, we are always messing up, not understanding, and making mistakes. But God loves us anyway.
- God teaches us through stories or parables. Most of them were confusing and paradoxical. That confusion is actually the clearest way God can teach us. Wrap your mind around that.
- God doesn't care about your fancy education, or your fancy clothes, or your fancy friends, or your fancy job - God thinks the most outcast member of society is just as beautiful and blessed and worthy as you are. It behooves both fancy people and outcasts to remember this.
- God is in the outcast because God was an outcast.
- Our sins are many. There is real evil in this world. God is not immune to this evil. God died upon a cross because of this evil.
- But there is nothing so evil that God cannot overcome it. Evil never has the final word. Always wait for the third day. Have faith in Resurrection.
There is infinitely more to say than these eight. But these are some of the branches I have found in my own faith - ones that I am eager to share with others as a Christian and as a minister.
The Holy Spirit is another branch of faith that is at times readily accessible and at others - more elusive.
As a Christian who was raised a Unitarian Universalist, I am very open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in certain ways - and admittedly skeptical of others. I grew up signing a beautiful UU hymn written by Carolyn McDade called "Spirit of Life," which poetically called for a falling of the Spirit in this way:
Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.
This song still moves me tremendously whenever I have occasion to sing it. There is something beautifully effervescent about the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of Life - when captured in this way. And I believe this captures the calling of Spirit that our world is hungry for.
It is my opinion that both the rise in global Pentecostalism and the increase of those in America who claim to be "spiritual but not religious" are two sides of the same coin. Fundamental to each movement is a longing for experience over dogma that can be found in the image of the Holy Spirit. And if I am being honest with myself, this trend is as frightening as it is exciting to me.
On the one hand, a focus on the Holy Spirit brings freedom of spiritual movement. It brings a renewed focus on experience and creativity. It is, in some ways, the essence of God is Still Speaking... But when left unchecked, it can be co-opted by human sin and love for power. This is what I so often see in charismatic movements that have gotten out of hand making claims about our own power and using the Spirit as a manipulatable tool in order to heal, or cast out demons, or make us rich. Similarly, an overemphasis on the Spirit by those who eschew organized religion can leave us without the more tangible teachings that come from knowledge of God through Scripture, tradition, and reason. We can easily slip into spiritual narcissism when we are forever looking for a experiential high.
Thus, I believe it is always best to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in community and in harmony with our teachings about God's other images: Father and Son. Indeed, in all matters of faith balance is essential. The Trinity itself calls us to that highest ideal!