For my ordination exam during seminary, one of the questions went like this: A theologian says the Trinity is obsolete and irrelevant to today. In 900 words or less, explain how the Trinity is important and practical in everyday life.
Naturally, I think I was probably the only one out of my classmates who was thrilled by this question. And as luck would have it, I flunked and my classmates passed with flying colors. So today, over half a decade later I finally have the chance to redeem myself on Trinity Sunday.
Across the centuries, theologians have tried to explain who God is in the formula of the Trinity. One God, three persons. Easy to say, hard to understand, even harder to apply to one’s faith and daily life.
Some compare the Trinity to water — able to be in different physical states but of the same substance. Others describe the Godhead as a dance — the Trinity is dynamic, active, relational — God exists more as a verb than a noun. Augustine describes the Trinity as a loving relationship: God is the lover, the beloved and the love that flows between the two. Irenaeus describes the Trinity as rivers emptying into the sea or rays of light emanating from the sun. Some say the Trinity is like a family — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some think of the Trinity as the source for creativity, healing and life: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.
All these words and metaphors help us to know, love and pray with God. And yet they fail to fully capture all of God. And so God’s ways, God’s being remain a mystery to us.
No matter what you believe about the Trinity or which person of the Godhead you relate to, there is something really beautiful about this mysterious theological formula we Christians hold dear. In a world filled with so much diversity and division, it is wonderful to know that we are created in the image of a Triune God who is the essence of oneness and community and who calls us to be part of this loving divine relationship. We are created to live into the fullness of who we are by also becoming one with all things.
Desmond Tutu describes this communal love as Ubuntu.
“Ubuntu speaks of the very essence of being human. To say ‘you have ubuntu’ means…you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. Ubuntu means, ‘My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours.’ We belong in a bundle of life.” – Desmond Tutu
What perfect words to describe how to live a Trinitarian life. To hear God say to us, “my being is inextricably bound up in yours. We belong in a bundle of life together.”
If we are to consider the Trinity as important to our daily life, this means we must live the truth that I cannot become my best and truest self apart from you. And you cannot become your best and truest self apart from me. To be fully known, loved, healed and transformed, we must learn to live and love in community.
Triple Colloquy — which my spiritual director morphed into the Quadruple Colloquy is a conversation with the Trinity in prayer.
Pray with Mary — human to human; disciple to disciple.
Pray with Jesus — the union of our humanity with the divine. It is to say my soul is inextricably bound to God. We belong in a bundle of life.
Pray with God the Father or the Creator — the one who knew us and loved us before we were even born.
Pray with the Holy Spirit — the spark of life.
Praying with the fullness of God moved the Trinity from being a theological formula to a relationship. The more I engaged the fullness of God in prayer, the more I was able to engage and love the fullness of God in the world.
The Trinity teaches us that our “Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another.” (Desmond Tutu)
For me, the three persons of the Trinity are like doorways into deeper relationship with God. Like rooms in a house, each person of the Trinity allows us to sit and be with God in different spaces and places in our lives.
- God the Father is like the bathroom — either cleansing and relaxing or you are paying for the sins you ate during the day.
- Jesus is like the kitchen — where all the life and work happens to feed and nourish.
- Holy Spirit is like bedroom — the one who helps us dream, who brings passion and rest to our lives.
- And then there are other spaces like the living room, the dining room table or a balcony where everyone gathers and connects. Where all become one.
This week, I invite you to take time to pray with the three persons of the Trinity in prayer. Speak with each one as you would a friend or mentor or parent. Start with Mary or one of your favorite saints or disciples. You can also pray with someone who has been a meaningful part of your spiritual journey. Then move to Jesus, then God the Father and Creator, then the Holy Spirit. Use whatever words or metaphors that allow you to connect and go deeper with God.
Praying with the different members of the Trinity can deepen your spiritual life and has practical benefits for your relationships in the world. The more engage and embrace the fullness of who God is in our prayer, the more we are able to engage and embrace God in all people and places. After all this time, who would’ve thought the Trinity would be relevant and practical to our life today!