To tell you the truth, that question never bothered me. In a similar way I instinctively understood the Hindu theology that there are not actually 1000 Gods, but rather they are all manifestations of Brahman, the one God. That God manifests multiply, without being divided, is a concept that never troubled me.
But then, the true challenge of Trinitarian theology has to do with things like substance, nature, the difference between begotten and made. Tricky metaphysical concepts that are fun to read about and were quite important to Church history, but not anything I’m going to go into today.
Lately when I speak of the Trinity to people who have no idea what I mean by Trinity, I find myself using the language that God has different flavors. It was an unconscious choice of words; I could just have easily said that God had different frequencies, different textures, or different smells. I suppose the fact that we taste Christ in the bread and wine was an influence on my word choice. Different experiences was what I was trying to get at.
Along those lines I often turn to an expansive and inclusive take on the Trinity. It’s from Ken Wilber. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t think of himself as a Trinitarian, but he has spoken of a three person pronoun model of connection with the divine. I, You, It. I (the divine within: Holy Spirit, soul, Buddha nature, etc.), You (divine in relationship: personal God, Christ, presence), and It (divine as Ground of Being: The Wholly Other, the Great Mystery, the Universe, Emptiness).
If you will permit me a little proof texting, let’s look at today’s readings. The divine within us: God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. We are not God, but we have received the Holy Spirit, something we have inside us.
Divine in relationship: I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes… he will take what is mine and declare it to you. We are in a relationship of continual revelation with the Word of God, Jesus Christ.
God, the Wholly Other: Sophia tells us She was begotten by The LORD at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. We are being told of God before there was any being.
I mentioned earlier that the Trinitarian question didn’t trouble me. What does trouble me, challenge me and also engage me in today’s texts is gender.
I do not believe that God has a gender. Neither do I believe our spirits have genders. On numerous occasions it’s been suggested to me that I have a woman’s soul. That’s not how I would speak about it. I don’t equate my soul with my subconscious. Having ministered to people whose consciousness was compromised, they’re essence, they’re spirit, clearly did not reside there. I do not claim my essence is female, my internal knowledge of my sex is.
I bring all this up because it’s so very tempting for me to read today’s passage from Proverbs as giving a female gender to the Word. John’s Gospel opens with an adaptation of a hymn to Sophia: the begotten through whom the world was created. If gender was found in the Spirit, wouldn’t that make Jesus, the Word incarnate, trans or at least genderqueer?
Qualities that Jesus tells us are blessed, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers; are these qualities anyone who aspires to machismo would admit to? Jesus taught forgiveness, love of enemies, non-violence, things I’ve been chastised as a sissy for suggesting.
Compare these to the often used passage in Paul, about suffering building character. How often has this been used as an excuse to justify the “toughening up” a boy child through bullying?
The repetitive male pronouning of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel text this evening reminds me of how many feminist will female pronoun the Spirit, equating Sophia with the Holy Spirit, God’s breath over the waters at creation, rather than the Word. And it’s an understandable impulse. Father and Son being male words, Holy Spirit not intrinsically gendered.
The trouble of course with playing games of this nature – of applying first century Palestinian qualities to modern US ideals of gender – is that these qualities are assigned to a different genders from culture to culture, they’re not consistent.
Essentialism is the monkey wrench in the works here. While I can’t go so far as to suggest there’s nothing essential to our sexual bodies – hormones do have their effect on how we are in the world – Essentialism insists there is no variation in those effects, insists that the effects are oppositional (if female is emotional, male cannot be) and unchangeable. This disallows a loose, poetic, inconsistent use of gender in speaking of God; which is the only appropriate way to gender God.
I think, though, that thinking of God the Father as actually gendering the pre-gendered God, misses the significance of Jesus calling the Wholly Other Father, or more precisely Abba – closer to Daddy than the formal Father. And that IS the point! The lack of formality. Jesus has an intimate, personal relationship with the God before being. Jesus experiences love from that source. It is through Jesus, through God in relationship that we too can have an intimate relationship with our source, with the source of the Universe. Long before we return to that source. Here and now.
I was speaking with someone yesterday afternoon who has been a sincere seeker for many years. Try as they might, no experience of spirit has happened for them. We spoke of various different ways, different approaches all which my friend had tried. There wasn’t time, but I suspected in probing deeper we could find that there was something, they just didn’t recognize it as such.
That is my hope. That the intimacy Jesus offers us is available to all. I know God is present everywhere. I also experience the fall to be our constant amnesia of that presence. I don’t believe I, or anyone else who has had the gift of feeling the presence, is special or elite. I know that hard work, dedication and discipline I prayer has opened me up to that feeling, but is not a way to force that feeling.
The Trinity, in many ways, can help us to focus on one of the flavors of that presence, one that we might be more oriented toward. In my own journey I’ve been more in tune with the Spirit or the Creator or Christ at any given period. That flavor of presence one I am better able to focus on, one I more naturally seek.
But what the today’s texts ultimately increases my awareness of, is how the relationship between the three is in play, even when I think I’m only focused on one. All that the Father has is mine the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you. Revelation is through this relationship.
A really good sauce is one in which the flavors are not all mingled together, but are revealed in layers, taste after taste catches our senses. As we cycle through our connection to the three persons of God, as we taste each flavor, we are experiencing them all. Don’t swallow too fast claiming there wasn’t much to taste. Pay attention; roll it around your spiritual tongue. You might notice a flavor you didn’t catch before. The relationship between the flavors will gradually say to us what we cannot bear now.
Readings for this sermon: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31/Romans 5:1-5/John 16:12-15