Three is a magic number. Schoolhouse Rock told me so. And the mystery of the Trinity is embedded as the code in everything that exists. That is according to Father Richard Rohr, OFM, a Franciscan of the New Mexico province, ordained in 1970 – three years after my birth and three years before the first episode of Schoolhouse Rock aired. The debut episode that informed viewers that “three is a magic number.”
Science has affirmed that reality is fundamentally relational. That is, everything is in relationship with everything! Three is a magic number. And, science and religion walk together, they live in relationship with one another. Because everything in science, the mysteries of nature and of the universes, all speak of the Creator of the cosmos.
“The mystery of the Trinity is embedded as the code in everything that exists.”* If there is only one God, and if trinitarian relationship is God’s pattern, then we can expect to find this same pattern everywhere else. And we do! God in three persons, blessed Trinity, is central to Christian doctrine, central to our belief, central to how we explain ourselves. And yet. Many of us have been told that we should not try to understand it because it’s a mystery. The Baltimore Catechism has one paragraph on the matter with an illustration of a shamrock.
It’s a mystery, we are often told, regarding what is surely one of the most fundamental aspects of our belief. You and I have certainly heard any number of sermons saying that the Trinity is like a shamrock – or like water: solid, liquid, steam – and our understanding of God in Three Persons seems to be as ineffable as water: running through our lives like living water, on occasion as vivid and solid as holding an ice cube, sometimes a wisp of steam that dissipates as soon as we know it is there.
It’s a mystery. This is the psalm: O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You whose glory is chanted above the heavens. It is truly a mystery.
What if this particular mystery is not something that you and I cannot understand – something to frustrate us because of our lack of understanding – purely because God delights in mystery as something that we can endlessly understand. As Father Rohr has written: “There is no point at which [we] can say, ‘I’ve got it.’ Always and forever, mystery gets you! In the same way, [we] don’t hold God in our pockets; rather, God holds” each of us and knows our own individual identities.
This might be why those of us whose job includes trying to describe God can do no better than shamrocks and water. I cannot say, you cannot say, none of us can, with absolute certainty, God is, or, The Trinity is … except! Except that we can state categorically that God is love, and not only that, God is relational love. And so we return to three as a magic number.
Three is a magic number. The Trinity is a magic number.
This is wisdom calling and understanding raising her voice, as Proverbs tells us.
When God created humankind in God’s own image, God made two because it is not good for man to be alone. And when one person finds another and their heart-magnets draw together and they have found the one who was meant to be in their lives – there are three in that perfect relationship: the one, the other, and God: here God represents himself as the third person that is formed in the union of two persons. “There is no seeking of power over” in the Trinity, and in the healthiest of relationships, “but only power with – a giving away, a sharing, a letting go that enables you and me to live more completely with God in the way we love one another.” This is what Paul writes in Romans when he says: God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
The Cappadocian Fathers of fourth-century eastern Turkey would, in time, develop some sophisticated thinking on what the Christian church came to call the Trinity. Fourth century. Three hundred years from Jesus’ death. And it is really thanks to – check last week’s bulletin writing – Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzen, and Basil of Caesarea (there’s that three, again) that we have the mystery that you and I can endlessly enjoy, live within, dance with.
Dance? Hold up, hold on, wait a minute.
“Come join the dance of Trinity,” the hymn says. It’s in the ELW, although not set to the old Celtic tune with which it is matched elsewhere. “The Holy Spirit is leading us to our future, not by marching forward, but as in a dance.”**
The word for this magic, mystical dance is perichoresis.
Come join the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun – the interweaving of the three, the Father, Spirit, Son. The universe of space and time did not arise by chance, but as the Three, in love and hope, made room within their dance. This is a dance not for couples but a circle dance, the kind of circle dance in which, in our joy and pleasure, we drop hands to encourage others to join in the dance, and then join hands with them and the others again. The dance of God allows for the interweaving and making room for all – all persons, all needs, all worlds, all that God has created.
Come, see the face of Trinity, newborn in Bethlehem; then bloodied by a crown of thorns outside Jerusalem. The dance of Trinity is meant for human flesh and bone; when fear confines the dance in death, God rolls away the stone.
Walking in the Jesus way is an invitation to a way of living and loving and relating – there’s that three again – in the Kingdom of God here and now as the Kingdom of God exists in the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. It’s the Trinity that shows us that God is relationship.
Jesus said, ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.’
Come, speak aloud of Trinity, as wind and tongues of flame set people free at Pentecost to tell the Savior’s name. Let voices rise and interweave, by love and hope set free, to shape in song this joy, this life: the dance of Trinity.
Three is a magic number. The mystery is endless. God invites you and me to join the dance. Let’s dance!
*Material in quote marks, except where indicated with **, taken from the Weekly Summary of “Trinity: Part 1,” from the Center for Action and Contemplation, published May 11, 2019.
**Sr. Verna Holyhead, OSB, Congregation of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, Australia, within material from the Center for Action and Contemplation publications.
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