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Thus think of the Trinity

29 May 2015

I KNOW preachers are supposed to roll their eyes in horror at the thought of having to preach on the Trinity, but I have to confess to a long-term, perhaps rather geekish, fascination with it. At school, we noted the feast in the week after the Sunday, and I remember sitting cross-legged in the gym (the great hall being in use for exams), marvelling at chariots made of fiery many-eyed beasts, with wheels within wheels, and "Holy, Holy, Holy" early in the morning rising to thee, and its splendid J. B. Dykes tune.

Remembering the Trinity challenges our tendency to what I can only call "serial monotheism". This is the lazy habit of thinking of God as though in date order: first, the Father; then, the Son; then (if you're lucky), the Holy Spirit. Such wooden thinking locks us into imagery that reduces the mystery of God to a three-part cartoon: the Old Man in the Sky, Jesus the Carpenter of Galilee, and the Brooding Bird that hovers over the most important bits of the story.

More nourishing to the theological imagination is, surely, Rublev's famous icon The Hospitality of Abraham. I once sat for four hours in an almost empty cinema in Notting Hill watching Andrei Tarkovsky's epic film about the life of Rublev. Tarkovsky depicted him as one who lived and worked through times of war and social breakdown.

After what seemed years of battles, fire, flight, and general mayhem, the last minutes of the film showed the entire completed icon, among other works of Rublev, but now miraculously dissolved into colour. I have never seen the original in the flesh, as it were, but, oh! I can remember the revelation of the blue of the Father's garments like the sapphire pavement of Exodus 24.10: "as the very heaven for clearness". It was an epiphany, a shock, a cleansing of the imagination.

The concerns of the moment, even the agonies of the world, were suddenly revealed as held within God's loving but unintrusive grace. And surely that is the point about the Trinity. It is not some clever piece of theologistics - not an "answer" to the problem of the divine nature.

You will not find the Trinity in other faith traditions, but its scriptural resonances are close to those that provided fertile ground for Jewish Cabbalists, whose mission was to connect the experience of Israel with cosmology, prayer, and human destiny. We should never be content to say that the Trinity is "too difficult". It isn't difficult: it is impossible for the human mind, and that is why it matters so much.

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