Trinities around us – Sun June 16, 2019
Us vs Them; Protestant vs Catholic; Republican vs Democrat; vaccinate vs antivax; Trudeau vs Sheer; Kenney vs Notley; pineapple vs no pineapple on pizza; BAS vs BCP; conservative vs liberal; guitars vs organ… how easy it is to come up with a list of dualities. It took no time at all for me to think of opposing pairs… or things that have become opposing pairs. Off the top of your head, what else could you add?
Dichotomies are all around. Increasingly, it seems. And too often, the dichotomies become polarities with those on either side increasingly siloing… A silo is, of course, an enclosed, storage container. In human communities, it’s used as a metaphor for closed or isolated groups. We silo by bracketing out any information or opinion or person different than us. Silos create and increase division, such that the duality actually becomes a singularity. It’s one way or the other. It’s me or you. Win or lose. Fix the pothole on my street… it doesn’t matter about your street. In our polarized world, from the perspective of the silo, the singular perspective, whoever is on “the other side” becomes a monster. The enemy. And our reactions are driven by our fear of that enemy… We fight or flight. Attack or avoid. Which only makes it all worse. Maybe there’s another way.
Today we celebrate the Trinity. This Trinity Sunday is the first Sunday after the birth of the church with the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Trinity Sunday is the only festival… the only holy day… of the church year that focuses on a church doctrine, rather than sacred story. It is the doctrine that the fullness of God is found not in singularity and not in duality. God is, rather, three. Three in one and one in three. It is much debated and oft obtuse church doctrine such that, any discussion of it beyond those basics tends to float us into the ether, losing us in our heads, and often disconnecting us from our hearts and hands. So instead of that, we’re going to try to stay in this world today, in our bodies, while we engage our hearts along with our heads. Where can we find trinities in our lives and in our world? How does trinity matter?
When I started down this path early this week, I started seeing a whole variety of trinities and have quickly come to believe that trinities may be much more key to our salvation than I have ever considered before. Maybe trinity is the way to break free of our silos and the dualities, the polarities, that divide us and keep us afraid. Indeed, the very starting place is itself a trinity: head, heart and hand. Theory U notices that when one of those elements dominates, problems arise. Too much head and we have paralysis by analysis, an actionless mind; too much heart and we have the “blah, blah, blah…” of over-sharing; too much hand and we have mindless action with no learning. Engaging our hands, heads and hearts in some kind of balance is a critical trinity for fullness of life.
One of the touchstones of our Anglican way is also a trinity: the three-legged stool of scripture, tradition and reason (or experience). Leading up to the Reformation, the church had become utterly subsumed by the singularity of tradition. Reformation theologians, priests and pastors offered an important counterpoint with a focus on scripture, with the battle-cry becoming: “Sola scriptura, scriptura sola”… scripture only and only the scripture. It was and is a singularity that opposes traditional church practice. And the duality of Protestant vs Catholic was born. Our Anglican forebears, however, never went fully into one camp or the other, even though still today we can find individuals and subgroups who fall into these opposing camps. But the fullness of Anglican expression attempts to balance scripture and tradition, with reason and experience. The so-called three-legged stool. A beloved trinity for many Anglicans.
The “third place” is a term in social science and public policy that refers to social surroundings apart from the the first-place of home and the second-place of work. Third places are places like churches, libraries, clubs and parks. Over the past half-decade or more, non-commercial third places have declined in prominence and even existence. And yet they are recognized by community builders and social scientists alike as critical to human well-being. Most of our third places are now commercial, like the coffee shop where I mostly wrote this homily. But that is problematic, particularly for those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale. In discussions of loneliness and isolation, the singularity of our homes and the duality of including workplaces is recognized as problematic. At a meeting of the Calgary Alliance’s Social Isolation research action team last week, I heard about the profound impact of unemployment not only on finances, but on a sense of human connectedness. Not having a third place to connect with others contributed greatly to a sense of isolation. Home matters; work matters; but they aren’t enough. The third place is equally important. It forms the trinity of place that is needed for human life to flourish.
This week I also heard about the trinity of Benedictine spirituality. The Benedictine life, both personal and communal, is based on the trinity of stability, obedience and conversion. Stability is about finding God in our current situation. It’s about committing to being where you are and not always seeking God “in the next location, the next relationship, a better or different condition.” Stability means letting go of the idea that the grass is always greener somewhere else. Obedience is about listening with an attitude of response. It’s about paying attention to God through prayer and silence and scripture; paying attention to others in the community; paying attention to the world around and within us. Obedience means listening deeply to a variety of sources with an openness to taking action. The third part of this spiritual trinity is conversion of life. Conversion of life is an expectation of, and openness to, a new horizon. It’s about embracing the new work of God in our lives, personal and communal. Conversion means cultivating processes to move into new futures, where Christ is already waiting to meet us.
The trick… the lifelong challenge is holding this trinity together, like all the other trinities, through rhythm and balance. Rhythm and balance doesn’t necessarily mean an even division each day, but it does mean not getting stuck in a singularity or a polarity. Stability isn’t a goal in and of itself. Neither is conversion or obedience. We need conversion of life to keep us moving with the on-going work of God in the world and in our lives. We need the obedience of listening deeply in a whole variety of ways, for the humility and discipline of discernment. And we need the stability of knowing that God is in our here and now, in this place with these people. It is a trinity of spiritual practice that keeps us connected to the trinitarian God, who is three in one and one in three.
Finally, I’ve been re-reading the Harry Potter series and just yesterday read a part in the final book that acknowledged the power of the relationship between the 3 friends… Harry, Ron and Hermione. Harry might have been the erstwhile hero, the Chosen One. He certainly felt the weight of his special role and responsibility. But he wasn’t in it alone. As wise Hermione once chastised him: “You need us, Harry Potter.” Harry, Ron and Hermione… Each one brought their special gifts and talents to make a powerful trinity of love and salvation in their wizarding world.
Obedience, stability, conversion of life; home, work, a third place; scripture, tradition, reason; head, heart and hand; Creating, Redeeming, Empowering; Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Trinities are all around us, if we’re willing to see and engage. What trinity do you need to cultivate in your life? What’s your favourite trinity?