Sunday, June 3, 2012

Reflection: The Trinity Mystery

So I just got home from cantoring Mass.  We celebrated the Most Holy Trinity today.  It seems funny to write that we celebrated the Trinity today when in fact we should be celebrating the Trinity ever day, but practicing the presence of God is not the point of this post, so onward to my theme.

Mystery.  The word brings up images of Dick Tracy and Columbo, the movie Clue, and any butler who ever looked just a tad nefarious.  It also makes me think of incense and icons, Meister Eckhart and the Cloud of Unknowing, and the Trinity.  “Three in One and One in Three, therein lies the mystery.”  It is tough to wrap your head around it.

And yet, in my arrogance as a ‘professional Christian’ who teaches religion class every day, I often forget my own utter inability to really understand Who God Is.  When my students ask me to explain the Trinity, I usually spout off something about shamrocks, the rays of the sun, or, if I’m feeling particularly proficient, the nature of perfect love and how God is Lover, Beloved, and the Love that passes between them.  One time I even talked about an eternally cooking pizza, where the Father was the crust, the Son the sauce, and the Spirit the cheese.  Extending the metaphor to heaven and hell, I suggested that we could think of ourselves as toppings; heaven was being nestled safely in the Divine Mozzarella, while hell was burning up on the surface of the oven.

I hope I shall be forgiven if my pizza metaphor was heretical, but at the time it worked in my mind.  And that is the problem.  How can my tiny little mortal mind possibly contain complete knowledge of the Almighty?  How can I presume to teach my students about the Trinity when I really don’t understand it myself?

I realize now that I need to start with Mystery.  Today at Mass, Father’s homily reminded me of the importance of humbly accepting my own ignorance, and treating God not as a theological problem to be solved, but as my Creator and Lord.

Father began the homily by relating the story of St. Augustine of Canterbury ("AW-gus-teen," not, "uh-GUS-tin").  St. Augustine was sent to England to convert the people to Christianity, and he found himself having to explain the nature of the Trinity.  He began laying things out in what seemed to be an orderly and sensible fashion.  But one night he had a dream.

Perhaps you are familiar with the dream already.  Augustine was walking along the shore and he saw a child who had dug a hole in the ground.  The child ran to the ocean, picked up a shovel-full of water, and dumped it into his hole.  When the saint asked the child what he was doing, the boy answered, “I’m trying to empty the ocean into this hole.”

“That’s impossible, and a very foolish thing to do,” Augustine said.

“No more foolish than your attempt to explain the Trinity,” the boy replied.

Father then explained that the point of Christ’s mandate to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations was not simply to explain the reasonableness of doctrines to people.  It was to bring His Love to them, for Love is the essence of the Mystery of the Trinity.

That is what I so often forget in class.  I’m not just called to give information to my students; I am called to love them.  My prayer for this day is that I will not so often forget that love is the point of everything.

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