I want to talk about God this morning. Not that we don’t talk about God every Sunday morning. It’s just that Trinity Sunday gives us an excuse to talk about this God whom we earlier affirmed that Cameron and Neely are children of, an excuse to continue the conversation begun centuries ago by our forefathers and mothers in faith. I want to talk about the God I “believe in,” that is, I trust in–the God I don’t pretend to comprehend, but who I am committed to staying open to. When people say to me, “I don’t believe in God,” I say to them, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in and chances are I don’t either.” “What is the character of your god?” Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan always asks. That is the critical question. What kind of God do you or don’t you believe in?
Back in the 4th and 5th centuries of the Common Era, the Trinity was a hot topic of conversation. Barbershops buzzed with questions of whether the Son was co-equal with the Father, and taxi drivers–or the 5th century equivalent of them–asked their patrons what they thought about the Holy Spirit. And of course, in good “Christian” fashion, wars were fought over parts of the creed that talked about whether the Spirit came from the Father or was co-equal with the Father. I have to say, the conversations at the Clip Shop these days aren’t anywhere as elevated!
But, as New Testament professor Karoline Lewis says, “The Trinity can’t be the only way to get God. It is as limited and finite as our humanity. It is one attempt of the church to articulate the being of God in a particular time and place.” [Dear Working Preacher, 5/15/16] The Trinity was an answer to the question, “How can we experience God in Jesus and the Holy Spirit without making 3 Gods?” The Greek Cappadocian Fathers who articulated the doctrine of the Trinity were steeped in metaphysical mysteries, but trying to fully get inside their heads to understand their amazing vision from our scientific, 21st-century mindset is like trying to translate a Shakespeare sonnet into computer code. Neither one comes out whole.
For one thing, the word that we translate as “persons”–”God in three persons”–has much more of the sense of “state of being”–like ice, water, and steam are three states of H2O. And the interrelationship between the three that these church fathers were trying to describe was much more of a circle dance than a fixed triangle. So, as Karoline Lewis says, there is some cause to “fear when a doctrine takes over our imagination for God.” (Op cit.) The original, mystical, dynamic attempt at understanding how God works has over the centuries become a static symbol for who God is.
Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault writes that the Trinity is a process rather than persons, describing how God changes from one state to another, interpenetrating and manifesting in ever new forms. [The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, p. 15] Rather than being a circle dance that simply spins around itself, Bourgeault is convinced that, perhaps unbeknownst even to the early church fathers, the idea of the Trinity is part of an ever-unfolding “Law of Three,” a metaphysical principle that was synthesized within the Wisdom Schools in central Asia [where some of the earliest Christian communities started], that states that the interweaving of 3 interrelated forces or principles produces or manifests a 4th in a new dimension. This is the “driveshaft of all creation,” she says, so that “the Trinity reveals the knowledge of how God, the hidden, unmanifest, inaccessible light, becomes accessible light, manifesting and creating love; and how love in turn becomes the driveshaft of all creation, bringing all things to their fullness not by escaping createdness but by consummating it.” (P. 17) Let that burn out a few synapses in your fuzzy, Sunday morning brain!
“I still have many things to say to you,” Jesus told his disciples in John’s gospel, “but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…” You have more to learn, in other words, you don’t have all the answers. That is as true of John’s community as it is of ours. “God is still speaking,” is another of putting it. How different that is from the sign outside of one church I saw which said, “God said it. We believe it. That settles it.”
God is still speaking and Wisdom is still dancing, still calling to all human beings. “Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?” Proverbs says. “On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand, beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: ‘To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live….The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.”
“Proverbs responds to the question, ‘What is the world like? How does it work?’” writes biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann. “Wisdom identifies 3 relationships that are crucial to the working of the world. First, wisdom has a peculiar relationship with the creator [“I was by his side at creation”]..Second, wisdom describes its (her?) relationship to all the creatures who come after and in the wake of wisdom…They are [all] created in and through the work of wisdom.” So there is a built-in wisdom in all things. You might say this is “intelligent design,” but it has a very different meaning than those who protest the teaching of the theory of evolution in schools mean by it. And third, “wisdom has a practical connection to human beings who live in God’s created, well-ordered world.” The rest of Proverbs talks about some of the specifics: “respect for the poor, the importance of [life-giving] work, the danger of careless speech, the risk of unpayable debt, the hazard of having the wrong kind of friends,” all of which impact the well-being of the community. [Brueggemann, Odyssey Networks Scripture, 5/22/16] [That’s what makes it so hard to watch this presidential campaign!]
Wisdom, or sophia, which is the Greek name for wisdom, is one of those forces or principles that make up the evolving series of trinities in Cynthia Bourgeault’s Law of Three “driveshaft of creation.” Like the Word, or logos, which John’s gospel says was “in the beginning,” wisdom/ sophia is part of that dance, that ever-evolving, ever-creating dance of God. The Word and Wisdom, the logos and sophia, come together in what we might call Christosophia, male and female, “the cosmic Heart of God,” present “in the beginning,” before the world was created. Listen to this description from the Book of Wisdom, part of the Apochrypha, which our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters consider scripture– “She is the mobility of all movement; She is the transparent nothing that pervades all things. She is the breath of God, a clear emanation of Divine Glory, no impurity can stain Her. She is God’s spotless mirror reflecting eternal light, and the image of divine goodness. Although She is one, she does all things, without leaving herself, She renews all things. ” (Wisdom, ch. 7)
“I still have many things to say to you,” Jesus told his disciples in John’s gospel, “but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…” This Spirit of truth, this Holy Spirit, will be with John’s community and our community, Jesus promises, and will continue to teach us. “The Holy Spirit bears within it,” Bourgeault writes, “the deep imprint of Jesus’ human life and, because of this, a sensitivity to our human limitations and weaknesses that come from ‘having been there.’…It also bears all the gentleness and delicacy…from its ‘maternal’ side: its deep rootedness in the ground of Sophia…For the Holy Spirit is really neither Jesus nor Sophia but Christosophia, that primordial archetype of androgenous wholeness, now fully actualized.” (P. 172) Wow. And we thought gender-free bathrooms was a big deal!
Do you believe in God? What is the character of your God? How is your God? You might not want to talk about the Law of Three or Christopsophia at the Clip Shop, or the morning coffee crowd, or the locker room, but you might also guard against making God too small, too human, too tidy, even when talking with your friends. A community that professes its belief in this God who is still speaking, still creating, is a community still dependent upon the Spirit of that God to teach us. It is a community that makes space for conversation, for questions, that values different voices and experiences. It is a community that looks outward, not just dancing around in our own self-serving patterns, but seeks to embody and manifest the kingdom of God here and now. (David Lose, inthemeantime, 5/17/16) We are part of the unfolding of God’s creative intentions, as we become alive to “the emerging spiritual consciousness of our times,” as Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee describes it–
As we silently work upon ourselves, the energy of our devotion becomes a point of light within the world. At the present time a map is being unfolded made of the lights of the lovers of God. The purpose of this map is to change the inner energy structure of the planet. In previous ages this energy structure was held by sacred places, stone circles, temples, and cathedrals. In the next stage of our collective evolution it is the hearts of individuals that will hold the cosmic note of the planet. This note can be recognized as a song being infused into the hearts of seekers. It is a quality of joy that is being infused into the world. It is the heartbeat of the world and needs to be heard in our cities and towns.” [cited by Bourgeault, op cit., p. 180]
The need to be a light in the world has never been more urgent. The lessons of Wisdom/Sophia have never been more important to learn. Our birthright as sons and daughters of the God of love and light has never been more important to claim and to live out. So may we sing the song of joy, the heartbeat of the world. May we trust and believe and come fully alive in this God of love and mystery and all creation. Amen, and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark