As you well know, many parishes have their patron saints—saints after which they were named, like St. Alban’s and St. David’s. And as I have said before, this is a custom that originally grew out of the practice of building churches over the tombs of the martyrs. For churches named for saints, their patronal saint days are important celebrations. These are the days when their particular saints are commemorated, and they become days of special significance.
Well clearly, we here at Trinity do not have a particular saint for whom our church is named; but, honey, we have the whole Godhead! That makes today a very special day for us. Today is Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday always falls on the Sunday after Pentecost and marks the conclusion of the liturgical commemorations of the life of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit. It points to the fullness of the Godhead in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And while we say that the Trinity is a mystery that cannot be fully comprehended, there are some things about which we can speculate. And we just may want to take our cues for this speculation from some ancient and deep spiritual wisdom.
In the fourth century in Cappadocia –which is the territory that occupies the present day Turkey—there arose a great contemplative wisdom school led by three of the giants of our spiritual tradition—Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus. Moving beyond just their minds and opening their hearts, they touched the power of the archetype of the Trinity.
Now I think it’s safe to say that the religious leaders who initially pounded out the theological concept of the Trinity earlier in that century and put it into the creeds were probably more concerned about political expediencies and organizational uniformity than they were moved by any kind of spiritual motivation. Nevertheless, these Cappadocian Fathers looked more deeply than the need to bring uniformity to the Christian belief system. In fact, they looked more deeply than the individual persons of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and they intuited in the relationship among the three the flow of loving energy that was shared one to another. Not only did they find the code that pointed to the mystery of God, but they also found life’s very pattern.
What is symbolized here in the Trinity, then, is a mutual outpouring. The Father pours himself into the Son and the Son pours himself into the Spirit, and the Spirit pours itself into the Father—and around and around we go. And do you know the word that is used for this outpouring? Kenosis. You’ve heard me use that Greek word before. It is the life-giving surrender taught and, even more importantly, lived by Jesus. It is a dying into full kingdom life through the outpouring of love and through surrender to the flow of the divine energy.
But the Cappadocian Fathers took it one step further. They saw in the Trinity the inter-circulation of love, the perfect receiving and the perfect giving of love that they called perichoresis. This is an ever flowing mutually of giving and receiving. And literally translated, it means “the dance-around.”
Well, off course, that’s it: the dance of life! The dance of reality! Jesus comes forth from the Father and the Spirit and enters human life—and not so much to die for our sins—although I know that’s the standard doctrinal line—but to illumine the pattern of life and its code. But this is something that happens more than just between Father, Son, and Spirit. Jesus becomes the incarnation of this loving dance-around in order to invite us to the dance!
Now, don’t you just know this to be true?! Can’t you feel that in your very bones? If you do, you know it not because it’s what you’ve been taught; it’s because you know it to be true through your own intuition and experience. This is called participatory wisdom, because you know it from the inside.
Now, hang on to that for a minute while I shift gears.
Many religious people are at odds with scientific people because they think that modern science is undermining religious belief. You know, creationism versus evolution, and that sort of thing. And of course, if you are only operating on a literal level, you’d better be threatened by science because it will contradict everything you believe is true—but again, only if you’re operating on a literal level.
But I love science, especially what I understand of quantum physics, and I welcome its discoveries. Because do you know what they are finding? And their conclusion holds true whether the trajectory of inquiry is in the direction of the smallest sub-atomic particle or the vast expanse of interstellar space. The energy of the universe, they are discovering, is not located in the protons and neutrons; the energy, they are discovering is not found in the planets or the stars. The energy is in the very space—the relational space—between them. Reality, they are finding more and more, is relational, and the energy comes from their abiding relationships with each other.
In other words, Good People, it’s not in the objects—it’s in the dance between them. Science here seems to be confirming the mystery of the Trinity—this dance-around. Again, it’s not in the Father—it’s not in the Son—it’s not in the Holy Spirit—it’s in the mutual outpouring between them. People, it’s in the dance—the dance-around.
This absolutely changes everything. Don’t you see? We thought that spiritual life was about us. We thought we were supposed to attain some certain level of goodness or holiness to please God or to be rewarded by him. Or if we were really devoted, we thought it was about Jesus and our being like him in order to get to heaven. And we thought that we could get there by our moral righteousness or by our correct theological and doctrinal systems of belief. And God love us, we have worked that just as hard as we could. We’ve tried to be good. We’ve tried to be righteous. Our efforts by-and-large have been honest and sincere. But it’s not about any of that. We’ve tried to believe all the right stuff, but it’s not about that either. It’s about the dance. Or let me repeat the word I used a minute ago. It’s about the flow—the flow of life that is the dance. And what the Trinity reveals is that we are invited to the dance.
And so it’s not about being right or good or righteous or upstanding or any of that stuff. It’s about entering the flow. How do you do that? Look at the Trinity. Here is the pattern of life right in front of us. It’s a mutual outpouring: perfect receiving and perfect giving.
You see, it’s not really about the protons and the neutrons, and it’s not about the planets, and, look it, it’s not really about us. We’ve thought of ourselves as these solid little bodies, these little subjects, as if we were solidly moving though life. But that’s the wrong model because it’s not about the electrons and the protons, it’s not about the planets and the stars, and it’s not about us. It’s about the flow of life that flows with us, and around us, and through us.
And in order to move toward perfect receiving and perfect giving, we don’t have to believe certain things and we don’t have to do more—we don’t have add up moral actions—we don’t have to achieve anything. We actually need to do less. It’s about surrendering and letting go. It’s about getting ourselves out of the way, so to speak, in order for the flow to move through us. In other words, my friends, it’s about the dance.
And here’s the thing. The flow isn’t something that we’re responsible for creating. It already exists; it’s already here. In fact, we’re already in it, and all we have to do is to open to it and to say, “yes” to it. All we have to do is not to block it. But I know, I do, that that is sometimes easier said than done. Because as we get older—and I know that some of you have considerably more than my nearly sixty-one years—we often get more tired and more fearful; we get stuck in our ways and cranky when they seem to be threatened. And we are tempted to say “no” to life instead of “yes.”
But let me say this. “No” will not get you what you most deeply need. Only “yes” will. And that is because it is not so much you and your little self that is supposed to fit into this pattern of life. You have been created with that pattern inside your very being. Your DNA is the same as God’s DNA. You have been created for the dance, my friends. It is your deepest nature. And it is the dance that will set you free—free to receive and free to give.
I end with a vision. It is the vision of the dance as it may be expressed here in this parish family—in the family we call “Trinity.” It is a vision of diversity—different kinds of people with all kinds of differences of belief and orientation. But it is a vision of the dance here in our little corner of the world—with each of us honoring the others in respect of their differences. But all of us engaged with one another in the flow—the dance of life. It is a vision of the People of God. It is vision of the Trinity.
Perhaps this vision is expressed in Rublev’s icon, “The Trinity.” Andrei Rublev worked in the Moscow artistic school in the first part of the fifteenth century. He was a painter (or we say, a writer) of religious icons. More than just an ordinary painting, an icon serves as a window from this world into the divine realms. They, therefore, cannot be grasped or understood by the intellect alone.
This subject matter of this well-known icon is taken from the mysterious story in the Old Testament where Abraham receives three visitors as he camps by the oak of Mamre. In Christian interpretation the three guests were linked to the three Persons of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. So while on one level this picture shows three angels seated under Abraham’s tree, on another it represents the dance-around of the three persons of the Trinity.
And while there are many aspects of this icon that might draw our attention and many subtleties over which we might pray, I want to end simply by directing your attention to the open space in the front of the table. Do you see it? That space is for you—actually, for us. For we are invited to complete the circle by joining in the dance. God desires us to join the dance and enter the flow.
Besides the Cappadocian Fathers, I am indebted to the spiritual writings of Cynthia Bourgeault, Richard, Rohr, and Raimon Pannikar for their work inspired reflection on the Trinity.