These Desperate and Opportune Times – Br. Curtis Almquist
Saint Augustine, the African bishop and theologian of the early 5th century, spent many years writing about God as a Trinity of Persons, a mystery which both consumed his attention and yet eluded his understanding.[i] So the story goes, he was walking by the seaside one day, meditating on the Trinity, how God could be One essence, and yet, at the same time, three Persons. He came onto a little child. The child had dug a small hole in the sand, and with a seashell was scooping water from the ocean into the hole. Augustine watched him for a little while and finally asked the child what he was doing. The child answered that he wanted to scoop all the water from the sea and pour it into the hole in the sand. Augustine felt impelled to correct the child. “That is impossible,” Augustine said. “The sea is too large and the hole is too small.” And now it was this child who was impelled to correct Augustine. The child said, “That is true, but I will sooner draw all the water from the sea and empty it into this hole than you will succeed in penetrating the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your limited understanding.” Augustine turned away in amazement, and when he looked back, the child had disappeared. Augustine had been put in his place, not a bad place, but simply in a place of recognition that he, too, was a child of God, a God whom he would mysteriously experience but never fully understand.
God as a Trinity of Persons is a mystery, not because we cannot explain the mystery. We cannot. The mystery that God invites us into a circle of relationship. God desires to be in personal relationship with us, a relationship not as a distant God. God desires to love us as God loves God: Person to person. That is what our baptism is all about, of God coming to live within us – not just beyond us, or around us, but within us: to love us as God loves God. And this eludes our understanding. As soon as we can define or describe God, we surely have missed God. God is always More. But we can experience God as three Persons, which is what our Creeds, what Saint Augustine, and so many others have tried to describe. Jesus, living a fully human life – Jesus whom we call God’s Son – prays to God whom he calls, whom we call “Father”: “our Father in heaven,” as Jesus says. Jesus is “one” with “the Father,” he says.[ii] “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” he says.[iii] And as Jesus prepares to leave this earth, he promises to not leave us alone. We will be left with “God’s Spirit,” who will continue to lead us and empower us. The best the Church has been able to describe this mysterious experience is to speak of God as essentially One, yet in three Persons, a Trinity. Imagine God as Trinity, and then go one step further. Try imagining a fourth person. We are the fourth person in the circle. We all are. That is how much God loves us. That is how much we all belong, we who have been created in the very image and likeness of God. God desires to love us as God loves God, a circle of belonging and love.
Experiencing God as a Trinity of Persons makes a profound difference, not only in how we belong to God, but how we belong to one another. We are distinct persons, all of us, and yet our essence is the same. We are all children of God. We all need water and food, shelter and rest, love and safety, education and encouragement, health and hope to be alive and thrive. We are all so much the same. We will hear geneticists tells us that we all are almost, almost identical. And yet the slight differences evident in humankind seem almost infinite. We must be in relationship with one another. We have been created by a God in relationship – a Trinity of Persons – who invites us all to be in personal relationship – relationship with one another and in relationship with all that God has created – because this is the essence of God, to be in a circle of relationship with all whom God has created.
During this Coronavirus pandemic, we have learned a lot about living in relationship. We have infected and affected one another, for the better and for the worse. There has been so much suffering: the incalculable suffering of those afflicted with the virus, their family and friends; the health care community, who have given up their lives so courageously and generously; those who grow, transport, sell, and deliver our food; the multitudes of other caregivers who help meet our needs, often at great cost and risk; the government leaders and civil servants who seek to serve under such strain. And there is the suffering because of unemployment and financial catastrophe, the disruption of education, the strain among family members. On it goes, and for how long, we do not know. And yet, amidst such suffering, we see the daily evidence of so much care, kindness, beauty, generosity, and hope in life together. We are reminded each day how interdependent we are, how related we are and must be to one another, how much we need one another. We are meant to live a shared life. All of us are distinct persons, and yet we must live in relationship with one another, because this is the essence of how we have created: to live in a community of love.
If I were to theologize what is going on around us, I would describe life as an invitation for us all to be participants in the divine nature of God as a “Trinity of Persons”: God’s beautifully-splendent self-giving love into which we are invited to be both receivers and givers. God as Trinity reminds us that we belong to one another. We need to belong to one another. We are complete and whole only as we do belong to one another, all of us different persons who belong to the One God of all creation.
It is so terribly tragic, so unconscionably unjust, that some people do not know that they belong: that their uniqueness because of their skin color, or cultural or ethnic or religious heritage, or education, or age, or abilities have been used against them to keep them out and to push them down. But God’s intention is just the opposite. All of these differences we display as children of God are evidence of the majesty of God, who has created and shared life with us in a world with almost infinite differences, such a panoply of beauty and wonder because of all these differences, all of us intended to be in relationship to their Creator, all intended to be in relationship creature-to-creature.
Recently a father of three adult children said to me that, “as a father, you are only as happy as your least happy child.” We are family, the human family. The suffering, the loss, the injustice we witness around us wounds us all to our core because we belong to one another, all of us children of God, who invites us into relationship. We can only be as happy as the most downtrodden among us are happy.
Most of the world will not know or value that today, in the Church’s calendar, is Trinity Sunday. But for those of us who do know, we have both the power and responsibility to communicate and mediate this circle of belonging to one another. Our human vocation is to live in communion and mutuality with one another, which is rooted in our creation in God’s image and likeness. The very being of God is community; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One in reciprocal self-giving love.[iv] So for us. This is our vocation, our reason for being, in these especially desperate and opportune times.
[i] Saint Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo (in modern-day Algeria), was a prolific author. His is a “Doctor of the Church.”
[ii] John 10:30.
[iii] John 14:6-9.
[iv] Quoted from SSJE’s Rule of Life, chapter 4: “The Witness of Life in Community.”
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[…] This is because, as creatures made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), we reflect the communal nature of our Creator. Our Lord is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three and yet one. In a marvelous sermon on the Trinity, Br. Curtis Almquist of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston elaborates: […]
From reading the above comments about the male in the Trinity………I think the
Holy Spirit is guiding us to include Mother Mary in the Trinity and create a
Quartet as we go forward in this time. I feel this very deeply. Thank You.
I had to smile a bit when you mentioned bringing in a fourth person. I had just been talking about Trinity Sunday with a friend (not Anglican) and had said , light heartedly, ” And there is always St. Patrick and the clover – which makes me think about four leaved clovers.” . So perhaps there is a theological reason for those after all.
On language – let’s not forget that the ‘gender’ in language is generally an arbitrary designation allied with how the noun is declined, not what the gender of the thing could be. After all, girl is neutral, roof is feminine and circle is masculine. (Of course, German is even more confounding – a fork is feminine, a spoon is masculine and a knife is neutral.
Beautiful sermon as always Br. Curtis except for the gender issues Margo
Trinity Sunday: images quickly shift from “Three Persons” to three people to three blokes (or two blokes and a bird)! The word “persons”, for the Trinity, is originally the Greek ὑπόστασις (hypostasis). Three persons; one being – the Greek for “being” is οὐσία (ousia). Maybe we will be less confused and confusing if we just stay with the Greek.
The Greek ὑπόστασις (person) is a feminine noun. And the Greek οὐσία (being) is a feminine noun. So, if anything, Christians are saying God is three feminine ὑπόστασες in one feminine οὐσία. No blokes!
We are in Ordinary Time – not “ordinary” as in “unexceptional” but in the sense of “in order”. It is the weeks that are laid out in order – at most 34 of them (outside the Seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter). The Sundays are Sundays in those Ordinary Weeks.
There are only 33 weeks needed this year (it is a 52-week Church Year). So, Week 7 has dropped out – Week 6 was before Lent, and this week after the Day of Pentecost is Week 8. The Sundays for Ordinary Week 8 and Ordinary Week 9 are Festivals: The Day of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday.
It is 500 years since the conversion of Ignatius Loyola. There is much in his life and teachings that can enrich us in our contemporary context.
Rev. Bosco Peters
Was your comment meant to unite or divide us? Jesus said there is no male or female and yet we all recognize that our language developed in a bunch of male dominated civilizations. You are more than my adopted sister in Christ, you are my neighbor and neighbors here in Texas were taught to help each other.
This gender issue is so divisive and confused in our current social situation, we must be careful how we speak. Your comment moved my thoughts from the love of God evidenced in the Trinity to all of the hurtful feelings around gender. Is that what you intended? Rick
Dear Brother Rick, It is not meant as either uniting or divisive but as a reminder of what many many women experience every time one is faced with yet another ‘ignoring’ of the gender issue which is continually both painful, demeaning and excluding when attempting to talk of the wholeness of God. I as a female do not have the choice to consider the ‘love of God evidenced in the ‘all male’ Trinity without these feelings. Margo
Love Peter Bosco’s comments, Please tell Br. Curtis,
Please note that as soon as a woman in this case me, voices a negative comment about a glaringly obvious fact the males rush to one another’s defense in declaring said women to be in need of ‘mental health’ counseling so she may alter her opinion and fit in with their interpretations. She must be angry. Anger expressed by a woman is wrong. Do something to silence or discredit her.
May I repeat. The foundational doctrine of Christianity is the Trinity. It is the backdrop for everything else. There is a need to state it in plain ordinary unambiguous every day English language that respects and reflects both genders equally. We have lost and are loosing too many women who find our ‘stories’ too male and themselves relegated to subsidiary or non existent roles by the dominant tribe. This is becoming more true with the very public nature of ‘media’ exposure.