Based on John 16:12-15
Despite our common practice suggesting otherwise, it is difficult for rational people to speak “Christianly” about God. Ninety-Nine-point nine percent of the time we speak as if God were not in the room. Sooner or later we will embarrass ourselves; like saying something about someone, then all the facial expressions you see lead you to realize and say, “She is standing right behind me now. Isn’t she!” That moment is what we call “awkward.”Same with God, but even more awkward. We talk about God all the time. “About” language is necessarily 3rd person language. We have few ways to speak about God than to speak as if God is mute or absent and so not participating in the conversation. We theologian types get doctorates in talking and writing “about” God, but with the requirements for God talk being very exacting. Indeed, the most exacting terminology doesn’t make much sense to the average Joe and Jane, and, frankly, is unpreachable. Whether written from an ivory tower or spoken in a pub, God-talk too often ends up referring to the long-bearded “man upstairs” looking at a picture of me on his computer screen, ready to push alt-delete.
Trying to speak rationally of what is so all-encompassing of us and yet so “different” from common sensual human experience and rationality is a basic problem that has concerned all people of all faiths over all ages. For us Christians, the language of the doctrine of the Trinity has been our best, if still problematic, answer. It mattered a lot to the earliest Christians to speak of God as both one and three. It mattered a lot that God be known as other than human and yet at the same time essentially social. It mattered in the utmost that God be known as the union of human time and divine eternity, that God reconciles the one and the many, that in God all things live and move and have their own being, distinguishable while inseparable. It mattered so much, for early Christians that they talked about it daily and openly in the market places, hookah parlors, and coffee shops.
It was not odd that the barber and customer talked about how the one God in three persons could count the humanly innumerable hairs on one human head. It could be said sincerely that the one God in three persons was even involved in the hair-cutting. Try telling your hair stylist today that she is doing the work of the Holy Spirit, while God the Father was keeping watch and Jesus making side comments because the external works of the Trinity are indivisible (opera trinitatis indivisa sunt!). Do that today and I’ll bet you get more than your hair cut. Early Christians knew that the world was charged with grandeur of God, to use the 19th century Gerard Manley Hopkins’ words. But so ruggedly individualistic are we moderns that we have at best a compromised sense of belonging and very little sense of electricity in our relationships with each other and the world. If we did—If. We. Did.—we would not have the political mess we have in both nation and world.
In other words, it matters urgently and existentially now that we breathe deeply the very Holy Spirit of God, knowing that God is so different and that yet without God we can do nothing. Jesus said that there are many things that he must yet teach us after his ascension to the Father. So he would send his Spirit to us on his and his Father’s behalf; in other words, he would relate to us even more profoundly than he had already. He would teach us from the inside out. He would teach us the way of compassion and empathy with one another, committed to God’s way of peace. He would teach us better how to move our feet and our hands. Such a life for each of us then equips us to bespeak God one to another, rather than merely to speak about. Bespeaking God to one another, Christ’s Sprit in me speaking with Christ’s Spirit in you, and others, impels us into spirited moral lives that heal the world. You know darn well what public and private lives look like when we breathe only the stale and polluted air of materialism and self-servingness. You know better and joyfully—don’t you! —what life is like when we inhale the divine wind.
I know what I am trying to say can sound like so much wind indeed to us who have been tamed by cynicism. It sounds aerie-fairy, illogical, spooky-ghosty. It’s not illogical, for much logic best serves when it lands us at divinity’s door. If reason without legs wins, though, it may as well give up on poetry, art, music, and, surely, prayer. Put another way, if mathematicians can speak about 23 dimensions, then I have no reluctance at all to say that the poetry of God shimmering throughout all creation bespeaks 23 dimensions and more.
A popular Celtic image to teach the Trinity was of the three divine persons dancing; Creator-Son-Spirit locking arms and turning, whirling to and fro, each stepping unlike but in accord with the steps and handholds of each other. There was/is so much joy and creativity in the dance that they couldn’t keep it to themselves, and so Creator Father-Redeeming Son-Sanctifying Spirit added all Creation into the dance.
I –and we—cannot avoid speaking “about” God. But I, and we, can bespeak God. That’s a start! Brought into the dance of the Trinity, I am mindful that my life is embraced by Holy Movement. It is always from that most real holy electric energy of all life that I would speak and act in love and concern for the justice of all God’s creation. To bespeak of God Trinity is gratefully to receive God’s teaching still. There is still much to be learned, spoken, and danced within the trajectory of Christ’s greatest commands to love God and each other.
To bespeak God Trinity is to respond to the steadfast love that guides our lives and orders the stars. To bespeak God Trinity means that God is still teaching and intimately relating in the manner that only the eternal divine lover will do, meeting us in every moment to shape us further what we shall be as fellow bearers of the image and the Spirit of God. Sometimes we might get spiritual fireworks as we live in God’s gift. More likely, because God’s work has an everyday character, we will rejoice that “the very act of attention troubles the tyranny of the ordinary” (Christian Wiman). With Mary Oliver we will profess, “My work is loving the world. Which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.”
We’re dancing the dance that includes awe-filled moments of stillness beholding the dancing God. God Trinity is active with us and throughout all creation. Our Christian lives bespeak God and bespeak astonishment, followed by loving action that joyfully invites everyone to dance.
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX June 16, 2019