To the Holy Spirit that sanctifies us, with the Father that made and created us, and the Son that redeemed us, be given all honour and glory, world without end. Thomas Cranmer
Richard Rohr begins his most recent book, The Universal Christ,with a story from an autobiography of the twentieth century English mystic, Caryll Houselander. The story tells of how an ordinary trip on the London underground turned into a startling event that she says changed her life.
Houselander says, “I was in an underground train, a crowded train in which all sort of people jostled together, sitting and strap-hanging—workers of every description going home at the end of the day. Quite suddenly I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all. But I saw more than that; not only was Christ in every one of them, living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them—but because (Christ) was in them, and because they were here, the whole world was here too, here in this underground train; not only the world as it was at that moment, not only all the people in all the countries of the world, but all those people who had lived in the past, and all those yet to come.
I came out into the street and walked for a long time in the crowds. It was the same here, on every side, in every passer-by, everywhere—Christ.
She says that after a few days the vision faded. People started looking just like people again. She no longer faced the shock of insight each time she came face to face with another human being. And in the years that followed she had to seek Christ. But often she would find the Christ in others and in herself through a “deliberate and blind act of faith.”
She continues, “Christ is everywhere; in Christ every kind of life has a meaning and has an influence on every other kind of life…Realization of our oneness in Christ is the only cure for human loneliness. For me, too, it is the only ultimate meaning of life, the only thing that gives meaning and purpose to every life.”
Today is the day we celebrate that we are people of the Triune God. The word “Trinity” never occurs in our scriptures. But in a way to try to convey the vastness, the intimacy and greatness, the activity and presence of God in our lives, in the lives of others, and in our world, the idea of God as community—the One God as experienced as Creator, in Jesus of Nazareth, and as the Spirit who blows where it will, we are given the gift of God as Trinity.
I say it is a gift because it never stops surprising us, challenging us, stirring our hearts and our minds. As a seminarian, there was always a powerful fear in trying to put together words that would come even close to describing my experience of God. Now, I don’t fear that I will be banished from the church for my misstatements, but I am always trying to capture images that will open hearts and minds, that will invite all to encounter God who is at once beyond all of our abilities to understand, and yet is also everywhere and in everyone filling all creation with love.
The idea of Trinity as a doctrine can be off-putting, complicated to the point we would rather not think about it, and we fear attempting to wrestle with or engage this concept. Our creeds are sometimes not helpful in their attempt to put into words something that can really only be experienced. Because that is truly the essence of this day. It is to open our hearts to God who cannot be completely known, but longs to be fully loved.
Trying to contain God in words or images or a set of beliefs can keep God at a distance—separated as an outer being, disconnected from our daily longings, our dreams, our frustrations, and struggles. God can only be loved and enjoyed, which becomes its own kind of knowing.
One way to experience the Trinity is through relationships. From the beginning, God created us to seek out others, to care for each other, to learn and grow in the company of others. From our earliest moments of life, we are made to connect with another. While we are still in our infancy, we innately know our need and so we reach out, search for a face, lean deeply in so that we become bonded with another human being. This relationship is essential for our survival. We literally cannot live without each other. As we grow nothing teaches us more about who we are, what our world means, and what role is particularly ours to play in life, like relationships.
When God creates, God calls everything good. The only time this blessing is not heard is when God says, “It is not good for humans to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18).
God not only values relationship or thinks that relationship is good. God is relationship. God is community, intimacy, connection, and communion. In our Western culture, we have come to prize highly our independence, our self-reliance, our belief that the highest value is being a “self-made man.” But God says, “No.” No one makes himself or herself. All are made by God and in God’s image. All of us are made for each other. All of us need each other. When God creates, it is in pairs. In Genesis 1:26 we hear, “Then God said, ‘Let usmake humankind in ourimage according to ourlikeness.” The Hebrew uses plural pronouns. The Jewish intuition did not come from scientific evidence, but somehow they knew that energy comes from relationships, not individual persons or properties. Relation carries forth from the Creator to creation.
The energy in the universe is not in the planets or in the individual protons or neutrons. It is in the relationship between them. Biologically, the energy in our bodies is not contained in the individual cells, but in the way cells talk to each other and respond to each other. This carries through our understanding and experiencing God as Trinity. The Trinity is not about how we precisely define each person, but the infinite loving relationship between them.
So when we isolate ourselves from each other, set ourselves apart and against each other, privilege some over others and pride ourselves on our autonomy we contradict God and God’s intent for creation. We need each other and we are finding that relationships are not only critical for our world, but for our personal health. Isolation, lacking close friendships, or failing to engage in intimate community is more dangerous than smoking or obesity. We are intended by God to be in community with each other. It is in relationship that we experience God’s fullness.
We also experience God in the magnificent gift of diversity. In the beauty of the seasons, the spectacular range of colors and shapes and sizes of humans and animals, and birds, and trees, and flowers, in the heart-opening splendor of the variety of sounds, from bird songs to human voices, in the marvel of learning and growing from the knowledge and stories of others, we encounter the greatness of God’s gift of diversity. Because we believe that God exists through the interrelationship of three beings, with each having their own way of embodying and expressing goodness, beauty, love, and righteousness, then there is an “intrinsic plurality to goodness.”“Goodness isn’t sameness,” Richard Rohr writes in The Divine Dance. “Goodness, to be goodness, needs contrast and tension, not perfect uniformity.” God carries this intent into creation. God’s goal is the making of a clear diversity, an open-endedness in all of nature. Heaven is not uniformity.
In the first chapter of Genesis, the Torah teaches that God created humans in the image of God. The ancient rabbis taught that the first human being was created as a single person to show the greatness of the Creator who is beyond all earthly rulers. For when a human ruler creates a tribute, such as a coin, in their image, every coin is exactly the same. But the Blessed Holy One shapes all human beings in the Divine Image, and yet not one of them resembles another. (Sahhedrin 38a) The very diversity of humanity shows the unity and infinity of God. God has created a universe of diversity where the infinite range of creatures and their impact on our world produces an awesome beauty.
So when we are taught that difference is something to restrict or to fear, when we look down on someone because they do not look or act like us, when we cause harm to someone because their difference makes us uncomfortable, we must examine our hearts to see why we fear the very essence that lies at the heart of God’s nature.
God has given us an almost infinite banquet of beauty and we are invited to see this gift for the delight with which it is offered. In the diverse range of people and creatures our heart is opened to the goodness of God.
The Trinity at its heart is an expression of deep, unfaltering, and life-giving love between the Creator, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The relationship between the three persons of the Godhead is not a relationship of domination, power, manipulation or jealousy. Trinitarian revelation says start with loving and this leads to the new definition of being. Richard Rohr invites us to see the Trinity not as a pyramid, with the Parent/Creator God at the top, and all else below in a hierarchical posture. But rather, if the idea of Trinity is the shape of God, then the more honest representation is a circle. And the good news is that all are included within the circle. C. Baxter Kruger says, “The stunning truth is that this triune God, in amazing and lavish love, determined to open the circle and share the Trinitarian life with others. This is the one, eternal, and abiding reason for the creation of the world and of human life…Before the creation of the world, the Father, Son, and Spirit set their love upon us and planned to bring us to share and know and experience the Trinitarian life itself.”At the heart of the experience of God, is eternal love. A love that cannot be earned or lost as a result of anything we may or may not do. God, as Triune, continuously and generously overflows love into each person and that love overflows into all the world.
On this Trinity Sunday, when we seek to know God by embracing the life-giving possibilities of relational living, of delighting in the infinite gift of diversity, and by rejoicing that all are included in the eternal circle of God’s love, we draw a bit closer to the Triune God by experiencing God’s faithful presence.
As Caryll Houselander was able to see Christ in everyone on her daily commute, she was awakened to the world where God is everywhere. This is how the doctrine of the Trinity is made true for us. But it is not something that we can expect to grasp or understand fully. To begin to explore the nature of God’s being is to come to the end of what human language can explain. It is a mystery, not in the sense that it cannot be understood, but in the sense that it for all time our work to seek what is true, to open our hearts to God’s love, and to trust in God’s promise. But how would understanding God as relational, loving, and infinitely diverse change the way we see and respond in the world? May we, with guidance by God’s Spirit, be filled with the love that is the ultimate meaning of life, the thing that gives meaning and purpose to every life.
I attribute much of my thoughts to the profound work of the Franciscan priest and theologian, Richard Rohr, whose writings have helped me explore the concept of God as Trinity and apply these contemplations to my life.
Richard Rohr. The Universal Christ: How a forgotten reality can change everything we see, hope for, and believe. New York: Convergent Books, 2019.
Caryll Houselander. A Rocking Horse Catholic. New York: Catholic Way Publishing, 2013. 107.
Richard Rohr. The Divine Dance: the Trinity and you transformation. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2016.
C. Baxter Kruger, The Shack Revisited (New York: Faith-Words, 2012, 62.