This week's opening comments have nothing to do with the
Feast of the Holy Trinity
but are a response to a newly-released Vatican document entitled,
Male and Female He Created Them.
The following opening sentence from Joshua J. McElwee's article in the
sums up the gist of this document:
"The Vatican office responsible for overseeing Catholic educational institutions around the world has blasted modern gender theory, claiming in a new document that it seeks to "annihilate the concept of 'nature.'"
I have not read the document myself but its publication at a time when violent attacks on the LGBTQ community are increasing gives me cause for concern.
Two decades ago, as a campus minister at DePaul University, I worked extensively with a male student whose greatest desire was to be female. Growing up in a patriarchal society, he had known he was "different" from the moment he was old enough to try walking in his mother's high-heeled shoes while carrying her handbag-- three years' old! Though he tried to hide his tendencies from his family, he endured constant shame and lived in terror of being "found out." The family emigrated to the States and, while living at home, he began experimenting with cross-dressing, thinking it would satisfy his need for feminine expression. By the time he started university, he agonized over "next steps" and made his way to my office.
Nothing in my training as a spiritual director had prepared me for his visit. I received his story with compassion and then promptly looked for resources on campus (there were none) and for resources off campus (they were financially out of reach for a college student). By default, I became his spiritual companion, helping him sort through his fears and supporting him as he explored his options. This was not a role I had chosen, nor was it one for which I felt competent; I knew, however, that I was called to keep an open door and an open mind. Fifteen years later, she made contact with me to share her story of transition. She walked like a woman, talked like a woman, looked like a woman and finally felt she had become the person God intended her to be.
From my experience with my former student as well as with the transgendered students who have since populated my classrooms, "gender fluidity" and "gender ambiguity" are neither matters of whim nor mere ideology but biology. To suggest otherwise is to ignore the findings of medical science and to continue perpetrating ignorance, hatred and discrimination.
Jesus said to his disciples:
"I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.
He will glorify me,
because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you."
Last night I mentioned to a friend that the greatest writing challenge I face with
is always the issue on the Holy Trinity. We ended up talking on the phone until 2:00 a.m.
Our dialogue went something like this:
"What have you written about in the past?"
" Well, I've drawn on the metaphor of a dance; I've used the image of the three angels that visited Abram in Gn 18:1-8 which then became the subject of Andrei Rublev's famous icon of the Trinity; I've talked about what a Unitarian minister once described as "the absurd arithmetic of the Trinity"; and I'm sure I've narrated the story about St. Augustine and the child near the seashore more than once...."
"You've lost me here."
"Supposedly, Augustine was walking near the sea when he observed a child running back and forth to the water with a sea shell which he would fill and then empty into a hole he had dug in the sand. When Augustine asked him what he was doing, the child replied that he was trying to fill the hole with the ocean. Augustine told him that was impossible; the child then replied that it was just as impossible for Augustine to grasp the meaning of the Trinity because his brain was too small! Augustine had been working on his book,
decades when this happened."
"But you're not addressing the fundamental question. You're using metaphors and stories and even art work, but is God One or is God Three?
"Well, of course God is One--"
"Then how do you explain Jesus?"
"That God took on human form and became one of us."
"Then why does Jesus pray to the Father? He tells Philip, '
Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father
(Jn 14:9). Is he praying to himself?"
"As human, he would be in relationship with his divine source. It's quite possible that he was unaware of his divine nature."
"Didn't he already know that God was his Father when he was in the temple as a child? He was 12, wasn't he, teaching the elders, when his parents thought he was lost? It was as though he had just gone through his
"Perhaps the story could be considered apocryphal, even though it made its way into the bible. At any rate, there's no way of telling whether Jesus' consciousness was limited by his humanity or whether his consciousness was both human and divine. It could be that his first understanding of his identity happened at his baptism."
"And where does the Holy Spirit fit in? Why does Jesus have to go to the Father before the Spirit can descend on his followers? What is the relationship between the Spirit and God the Father?"
"According to the Nicene Creed, God is One; Jesus is 'true God,' the Only Begotten Son of God who is 'consubstantial' with the Father--"
"Sorry! It just means he is of the same substance as God the Father. The Creed goes on to say that all things were made through him, As for the Spirit, s/he is the Giver of Life and proceeds from the Father and the Son...."
"This is so complicated! What do you mean by 'begotten' or 'proceeds' or by 'substance'? Do you think the average person has any idea what these terms mean?"
Our conversation then drifted onto apocryphal texts such as
The Gospel of Thomas
The Gospel of Mary.
When we finally "unplugged," I went straight to one of my bookshelves and searched for Frances Young's ,
The Making of the Creeds
(London: SCM Press, 1991). Re-visiting all my underlined passages, I read about the various controversies that resulted in particular words and phrases being included in the Creeds and how the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation emerged. Then I went to bed.
Like St. Augustine, I am now aware of the smallness of
brain. Mystery, by definition, cannot be defined, and while the various Creeds provide a uniform statement of faith, they read more like legalese than a prayer text. Listening to the assembly praying the Nicene Creed, an observer would most likely wonder if anyone present knows what he or she is saying; sadly, the Creed is the text that is rattled off the most quickly and the least consciously by all demographics.
But back to the Trinity. Rather than trying to analyze, define, or compartmentalize Mystery, I prefer to be in relationship with that which is beyond words and images. I know that I experience this relationship with "God," as well as with Jesus and with Spirit. Sometimes, I experience all three realities simultaneously in the one moment; at others, I find myself connecting specifically to God as Creator, or Sanctifier or Savior. I cannot explain how this happens but perhaps it is unimportant. Just as there is mystery involved in human relationships, so there is mystery in the human-Divine relationship; all that God asks of us is a loving response to the Divine Initiative and that doesn't take a calculator!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- What definition of the Trinity most resonates with you?
- How would you explain to a non-Christian that Christianity is a monotheistic religion?
- Where in the Hebrew scriptures do you find references to God that suggest Divine plurality rather than singularity? (vestiges of the Trinity?)
- Where in the Gospels do you find references to the Holy Spirit before the Last Supper?