John 16:12-15 (Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity)
Catholics and members of most other Christian denominations believe that there is only one God, and God is Father, Son, and Spirit. St. Augustine expressed this conviction in another way: The one God is Lover, Beloved, and the Love between them.
Revealed in these terms of Father/Lover, Son/Beloved, and Spirit/the Love that binds them is a glimpse into the heart of God – relationship. If we are created in the image and likeness of God, then what animates us must also be relationship. If I want to be the “me” that God intends me to be, I must be more than just me. To discover and live my truest self, I must go beyond myself and relate with others. This is a truth we cannot afford to ignore especially in our very individualistic world today.
We might say, “Well, I already relate with others – my immediate family, my close relatives, my circle of friends.” But we cannot just limit ourselves to these people. It would have been simpler if God just remained in a relationship within Godself, but God’s love overflowed into creation. It would have been simpler if after creating the world, God just left the world alone, but God sought to bring creation into a relationship with God. This entailed the Son being sent into the world to redeem it even if we rejected him. This entailed the Spirit being sent to sanctify us even if we continue to turn away from God.
In a similar way, it would be simpler for us to just stay within our safe and comfortable circles, to relate only with those who look like us and see the world like us. But being created in the image and likeness of the God who is always pouring out Godself, we must also step out of the familiar and embrace what is “other.” After a divisive election period, this becomes even more important and urgent. How do we reach out to those we have “unfriended” because of our differing opinions? Do we continue building bridges when those bridges keep on getting burned from the other side? We believe in one God in three persons. How do we become one country again even as we remain different persons? We also cannot stop with just our country. Even with threats from other countries encroaching on our borders, how do we try to build one world? Belief in the Trinity is not just about memorizing a formula; it is about living it out in a complicated web of relationships.
What does it mean to be in a relationship? In our Gospel today, Jesus tells us, “[The Spirit] will take from what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14) But in the next verse, Jesus also says, “All that the Father has is mine.” Though Jesus uses the word “mine” more than once, if we reflect on what he really means, we can say that in a relationship, there really is no “mine” – or “yours.” Mine and thine: St. Augustine calls these ice-cold words, and there is no room for them in the warmth of a relationship. They must melt away into “ours” and be shared.
What does it mean to be in a relationship? Spiritual director Patrick O’Sullivan, SJ writes, “When power meets power, there is a power struggle. When power meets vulnerability, there is alienation. When vulnerability meets vulnerability, there is intimacy.” To be in a relationship means to be vulnerable to the other. It may seem strange to think about the omnipotent God and vulnerability, but what better reminder is there of God’s vulnerability than Jesus on the cross – a vulnerability that comes from a desire to relate with us? Because the Son never does anything apart from the Father and the Spirit, somehow (we just do not know exactly how) the Father and the Spirit were on the cross also, one with Jesus in his pain as God emptied God’s self for us.
The word vulnerability has its roots in the Latin word vulnus, which means wound. To be vulnerable is to be open to being wounded. Can we open ourselves enough to others to risk being wounded, yes, but to also enter into intimacy?
What does it mean to be in a relationship? Another way theologians have spoken about the Trinity uses the concept of perichoresis. The simplest – and most beautiful – way of explaining this is to translate the Greek as dancing (choros) around (peri). Jonathan Marlowe writes, “If any of you have ever been to a Greek wedding, you may have seen their distinctive way of dancing… There are not two dancers, but at least three. They start to go in circles, weaving in and out in this very beautiful pattern of motion. They start to go faster and faster and faster, all the while staying in perfect rhythm and in sync with each other. Eventually, they are dancing so quickly (yet so effortlessly) that as you look at them, it just becomes a blur. Their individual identities are part of a larger dance. The early church fathers and mothers looked at that dance and said, ‘That’s what the Trinity is like.’ It’s a harmonious set of relationships in which there is mutual giving and receiving. This relationship is called love, and it’s what the Trinity is all about. The perichoresis is the dance of love.” Barbara Reid adds, “The point of this dance of love, however, is not the enjoyment of the divine dancers only. The dance is an open circle that invites all onto the dance floor, drawing them right into the midst of the energetic flow of divine delight. If some hesitate, preferring to sit on the sidelines, the Three-in-One circle back again and again, extending the invitation over and over to each and to all, changing the pace and the rhythm, so that even the most clumsy of us can learn the steps in the dance of divine love.”
What does it mean to be in a relationship? I wish there were a simple formula we could follow when we enter into a relationship. But to be in a relationship is to dance. The best dances are danced not when the dancers are just following a series of choreographed movements. Dancing is not just going from step one to step two to step three. The best dances are danced not when you look at your feet; the best dances are danced when the dancers look into each other’s eyes and respond to each other’s movements.
What does it mean to be in a relationship? What does the Trinity mean for us today? All of the above and more. We cannot exhaust the mystery of the Trinity and relationships in one sitting. This is not because we are stupid and lack words but because the mystery is so great that whenever we say something about it, we find there is still more to say. I am sure that there is much lacking in the reflection above. I may have also missed a nuance here and there and may have even misspoke. But dealing with a mystery is also like dancing. Sometimes, you miss a step, and sometimes you even trip and fall. But you keep on dancing and just look into your partner’s eyes.
This Trinity Sunday, are you ready to keep on dancing with God? Are you ready to dance with others?