by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator, Anglican Church of Southern Africa
TRINITY- THE CIRCLE DANCE OF LOVE
Isa 6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.
6:2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. Isaiah 6:1-2
What is your image of God? In Isaiah we have a vision of God sitting up on a throne, high and lofty, served by attendants. For most Christians, this is our image of God, a powerful emperor, normally an old white man. This image of God is modelled on the Roman god, Zeus, from which the Latin word for God, Deus comes.
Our image of God forms our spirituality . If our image of God is wrong, then our faith journey is heading in the wrong direction.
How does the concept of the Trinity help us to understand God? The Creation story uses a plural pronoun “Let us create in our image” (Gen 1:26-27). It took Christianity a long time to come to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity. Judaism was strongly monotheistic, and Christians rejected the multiple gods of the Romans and Greeks.
Finally with quite surprising lateral thinking an image was found, actually taken from Greek theatre -perichoresis – ‘a circle dance’. In this image there is no hierarchy – it is not a pyramid with the Father at the top, the Son next and the Spirit somewhere in between. This is rather a dance of love and creativity, fluid. The Trinity means a dance, the Trinity means relationship.
It does not mean that God is made up of three separate dancers – God is actually the dance itself – God is a flowing movement, not three statues. We don’t need to understand the dance of the Trinity to take part in it, we are already part of it in body and mind and spirit.
When we accept the doctrine of the Trinity we start with God as relationship. In this way we base our spiritual journey on a very different foundation. This foundation is not static but continually evolving and creating new forms of communion and interdependence.
Our image of God affects our relationship with other human beings. Most of us grew up with a static pyramid with God at the peak, men below God, women a bit lower down, and all those who are different to us, somewhere down below. Misogyny, racism, xenophobia, classism, caste system, homophobia, abuse of indigenous peoples, these all have their root in seeing ourselves as higher up the pyramid than other people.
For example, we all love the Hymn, “all things bright and beautiful “ but the third verse has usually been dropped from hymn books
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate;
God made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.
The hymn writer, Cecil Alexander lived at the time of the potato famine in Ireland, when a million people died of starvation and another million emigrated to the United States. The rich man in his castle was the Protestant Englishman and the poor man at his gate the starving evicted Irish peasant.
When we see the world as a pyramid of hierarchy, then those who are different to us in religion, gender, race or culture are lower down the pyramid- just as God ordered.
How would the image of the dance of the Trinity challenge these values – in a dance we would celebrate our differences – dancing the dance of life – unity in diversity.
Before he returned to God, he prayed (John 17:20-24):
I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
A Trinitarian view of our relationship with all of humanity would allow us to create authentic community and unity in diversity and freedom. God clearly loves diversity- God created us all so different! It is only humans who prefer uniformity. We like to create our ‘in group’ so that we can place others lower on the pyramid than us. In Trinitarian love, diversity is celebrated.
Western modern individualism has reversed the Trinitarian understand of community – as people in relationship with others – to a separate and independent set of individuals.
I am a rock
I am an island
I’ve built walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain
… and an island never cries (Simon and Garfunkel)
In the African concept of Ubuntu “umntu ngumntu ngabantu” we see that a person is a person through other people. Our value is based on relationships with other people.
The doctrine of the Trinity shows us that in God there is neither hierarchy nor inequality, but only unity in love amid diversity. The Christian community can become an image of the invisible God when its life mirrors the inclusivity of divine love.
Can we take this concept of the Trinity – the circle dance of love – into our relationship with Creation?
The most common understanding of our relationship with creation is the same hierarchical pyramid with God at the top, then humans, and then creatures below us.
So called ‘dominion theology’ is based on verses such as Genesis 1: 28
“Be fruitful, and multiply,
and replenish the earth, and subdue it:
and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air,
and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
“You made him ruler of the works of Your hands; You have placed everything under his feet”:…
This theology has led to an incredible destruction of biodiversity, the unravelling of the web of life. In my life time, we have destroyed two thirds of the populations of wild animals, filled the oceans with plastic and burned down vast areas of the rainforests. Unless we change our relationship with nature, then the future is bleak.
The principle of Trinity can help us to see that we should be in a dance of love with creation. We are not separate from creation – we didn’t even have a separate day when we were created – according to the Genesis account we were created on the sixth day together with all the other animals. How can the principle of the Trinity help us to understand our relationship with the web of life? We are not separate from creation, we are part of it. We are one part of the Community of all Creation.
What is amazing in our modern times is how we are seeing the patterns of the Creator God in creation. From atoms, to galaxies to organisms, we are seeing the essence of the Trinity replicated. Science and faith are beginning to understand each other in the mysteries of the universe. Scientists are telling us that everything is in relationship with everything else. Trinity is even mirrored in the three particles of every atom orbiting and cycling around one another—the basic physical building block of the universe.
In our gospel reading we find John 3:16, probably the most famous verse in Scripture – God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten son. And for most of us growing up we understood it to say God so loved all the people of the world. However in Greek the word for world is kosmos – how differently do we read the verse when it says “God so loved the cosmos that He sent His only begotten Son”. God loves the whole world, rivers and mountains, oceans and forests – and God loves us as part of this wonderful web of life.
So we must ask ourselves, what then is sacred – is it only the sacraments or is the whole of creation sacred? We need to move from a relationship of ubuntu (we are who we are through other people) – to an even broader relationship with all of creation – ‘eco-ubuntu’ where we are who we are through all of creation.
Romans 8:12-17 teaches us that we are part of the family of God, and yet that family is not limited only to human beings. It is interesting to see in Psalm 148, that creatures, eco-systems and humans all join together in a wonderful choir of the web of life, in praising God. And yet St Francis takes this choir one step forward in his Canticle of all Creation – Laudato Si- not only do we praise God with the Moon, the sun and the rivers, we praise God with Brother Sun, Sister Moon, brother Wind and sister Earth, our Mother. We are not only worshipping God in the same choir, we are now part of the same family. We are kin.
We see this same family relationship in indigenous understandings of our relationship with creation. When we read
The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace. Psalm 29:11
in the tradition of Native American Christians, the phrase “the people” refers to all species, minerals even stars in the heavens. Among these people are the human people, the plant people, the four-legged, flying and swimming peoples, rock people, star people and more. God gives strength to his people, God blesses his people with peace thus has an incredibly powerful message of hope for the whole of creation.
So this Trinity Sunday can we embrace the Circle dance of God, Father , Son and Holy Spirit and extend the dance to mould our relationship with other humans and to all of creation?
Let us end with a poem from Meister Eckhart, the fourteenth-century German Dominican mystic:
Do you want to know
what goes on in the core of the Trinity?
I will tell you.
In the core of the Trinity
the Father laughs
and gives birth to the Son.
The Son laughs back at the Father
and gives birth to the Spirit.
The whole Trinity laughs
and gives birth to us.
Based Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations on the Trinity, 2016 and 2017
by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, South Africa