The Trinity: This Time It’s Personal

Every year on Holy Trinity Sunday I recall a homily from roughly thirty years ago: We were invited to spend some time in reflection on the three persons of the Trinity, discern with which one we had the weakest relationship, and to spend a year in prayer, study, and meditation to strengthen that relationship. I was somewhat surprised that my reflection/discernment led me to the conclusion that my weakest relationship was with the Holy Spirit—surprised, since my ministry has been largely in music and the liturgical arts, which had led me to presume that the source of artistic in-spirit-ation would be the person of the Trinity I’d have the best relationship with. (Nor was it the Father/Creator—my spiritual life was very oriented toward the Word-made-Flesh/God incarnate at the time.)

I took the challenge to its next step and spent a year strengthening my relationship with the Holy Spirit through prayer, study, and some spiritual direction. It was such a fulfilling experience that I decided to begin a rotation of a person-per-year, a rotation I went through a number of times.
Since I received a good deal of my formal theological education/formation during the 1980s, I’d lived through the days when the matter of naming the persons of the Trinity was definitely on the front burner. I’d been at any number of liturgies where we signed ourselves with the Creator-Redeemer-Sanctifier, or with the Divine Parent-Divine Child-Divine Spirit, and so on. Though this certainly opened me up to new ways of imaging/imagining God, which enriched my spiritual life, it also had the unintended consequence of turning the persons of the Trinity into functionaries or categories. So, my exercise of developing personal relationships with the persons of the Trinity entered a second phase, through which I eventually deepened my understanding of their own inner relationships with each other, with creation, and with the human family. This phase turned out to be both necessary and beneficial.

This year’s Trinity Sunday preaching made mention of the 2013 YouTube video “Patrick’s bad analogies” (courtesy Lutheran Satire), in which St. Patrick attempts to use various things—sun, water, clover—to explain the Trinity to Irish peasants of his day. The peasants, of course, accuse Patrick that his analogies perpetrate various heresies: modalism, partialism, Arianism. The mention of these heresies led me to recall a paragraph that I’d read recently by the Reformed/Presbyterian theologian Frederick Buechner.

Buechner posited that modern-day heretics don’t explicitly contradict doctrines as much as they are indifferent to them. They oppose doctrines by placing their own lives, wholesale, outside of the doctrines. It seemed to me that perhaps what he was referring to wasn’t so much heresy as excommunication. Though not using the vocabulary and categories that have become all too familiar, it seemed to me that he was describing the “nones” and “dones” and “spiritual but not religious” and moral-therapeutic-deists who are steadily self-excommunicating via apathy, or sometimes anger.

(In the course of a Facebook discussion on the topic, a friend recommended “The Heretical Imperative” by Peter Berger, a look at contemporary ways to view heresy.)

As a liturgical musician, I have devoted much of my life to Trinitarian doxologies. As a disciple, I have given a large amount of my life over to developing and strengthening my own relationships with the persons of the Trinity. At this juncture, the question I have to ask myself (and one I’d ask of other liturgists), is how do we take all of our Trinitarian doxa (glory) -logy (speaking) and use it to make our very lives a glory-speaking, a glory-bearing, a glory-bringing for others and for the world?

If all my work with Trinitarian relationships in my spiritual life somehow doesn’t have an impact on, or leaves me indifferent to my relationship with others and the world around me, I’m not sure it’s been all that successful after all. There is a way in which my hoarding the glory-speak for myself or for the liturgy has one of my feet pointed toward the ex-communio door, with the other one dancing on the head of a pin. Appropriately enough, it seems like it is time to head out on a third phase of the questing begun by that homily many years ago.

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