Thursday, June 24, 2010

Three's A Crowd

When, in confirmation class a few years ago, the priest described the Trinity as a "perichoresis" or a dance, the image was supplanted in my imagination by that of a subatomic particle -- an unseen thing comprised of relationships, attractions and repulsions, within a quarky cloud of strangeness. And now that I've offended both the theology community and the atomic physics community, let me hasten to add that I make no claims whatsoever on behalf of my subatomic Trinity model. If there's one bloodsport I desperately wish to avoid it's online theological disputations with their attendant arrogance, smugness, self-righteousness, condescension, triumphalism and abuse. (Viz. the internet comment box as a 21st century image of Hell.)

Seduced by a fancy Greek word, Rublev's famous icon and my own sub-atomic imaginations, I came to embrace the Trinity. If we're going to talk about Something that is by definition inexpressible we need a grammar and a vocabulary of some complexity and tangentiality. It can be argued that perhaps it's best simply to stop talking, but I find myself in Episcopalia, not Zenlandia, so, for the moment, I'll keep yammering.

I realized, the other day, that I have been deeply confused about Who we talk about when we talk about God. Our church had convened a meeting to review a newly devised Mission Statement. I have lived in a world of non-religious "mission statements" and "vision statements" and, I must confess, they tend -- like all organizational and managerial language -- to make me flee as fast as I can. Screaming. As if my hair were on fire. But, since "mission" is certainly an ecclesiastic concept, I decided to cut the process some slack and attend the meeting. It was a good statement. Brief, comprehensive, solid. But, I noticed, it referenced "worshiping God" and "serving Christ in all persons."

Where, then, was the Holy Spirit, I asked, putting in a good word for the Trinity.

The answer was that the "God" referenced was the (Triune) God, and, that to mention the Spirit separately might imply that the aforementioned "God" was simply the person of Father/Creator.

Boy, was I ever confused. So I did what all good residents of Episcopalia do in moments of confusion, I whipped out my Book of Common Prayer. I turned to the Evening Prayer collects, and to my very favorite one:

O God, the life of all who live, the light of the faithful, the
strength of those who labor, and the repose of the dead: We
thank you for the blessings of the day that is past, and
humbly ask for your protection through the coming night.
Bring us in safety to the morning hours; through him who
died and rose again for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.

So there it is: addressed to "God," with final allusion to "your Son." Clearly two persons.

It was a classic case of lex orandi lex credendi -- as I had prayed, so had I believed, or at least understood. We are praying to "God the Father," aka God, through the mediator Son.

The Son who, as so many of the collects conclude, "lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever."

By now I had come full circle deep within the swirling quantum mechanics of the Trinity, the fabulous algebra of 1+1+1=1. Dark nights such as these have been known to drive people to the Unitarian Church down the road.

I was clearly in way over my head, but, then again, aren't we all ? So, as all supra-addled, Catholicophilic residents of Episcopalia do in such times, I turned to the Latin text of the Exsultet.

O vere beata nox, in qua terrenis caelestia, humanis divina junguntur !

There it was: O blessed night, wherein earth and heaven, human and divine are joined !

I had a vision of the Trinity the other day, a brief glimpse into its terrain. I was drying my hair, so maybe it was simply the product of an overheated brain not yet bathed in adequate levels of caffeine. I can't recall what train of though brought me into the Trinitarian landscape, but once I was there I knew where I was.

From all appearances it was a battlefield. The battle was over and what remained was carnage. Strewn limbs, blood, decomposition; a wasteland of trenches, craters, mud, smoke and stench under a black sky. Vultures, barbed wire. A landscape of pure wound, pure affliction, pure suffering. Of catastrophe.

That was it.

It was like being in a fragment of a lost icon of Rublev, the upper right corner, with the rest scoured to invisibility by time. I will leave its reconstruction to scholars.

And, from now on, I will leave explicating the Glorious Blessed and Undivided Holy Trinity to the theologians.

I promise.

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