Every day since 'lockdown' began, I set myself the task of writing six original prayers each day, one for morning, afternoon and evening on my Twitter and Facebook accounts. I did this as a spiritual discipline because it focused my prayer and also gave me a solid structure resembling a little, the monastic day of prayer, work and relaxation. I haven't zoomed any services, that I left to the other Melkite Parish Priest who conducts our services in Arabic from his house, rather I have been content to exercise a ministry of prayer and writing, as I am doing for you all now.
Today being the eve of Trinity Sunday, I wrote this prayer for the morning on Facebook:
' Invisible & All Knowing One, we are weak & often lazy, expecting You to do all our work & answer every petition we make, forgetting that it is in relationship we discover You.
Help us be less self-centred, more giving, that in reaching out to others we may discover You with them. Amen'
If I got the idea from anywhere it was most likely the experience of Moses in our first reading from Exodus 34, for in my head was that picture of him climbing up Mount Sinai with the two freshly cut plain stone tablets, with no words on them, ready to meet the unknown God, hidden from view! It's a powerful image so we can read it together:
"The LORD came down in a cloud and stood with him there and proclaimed the name, "LORD."
So the LORD passed before him and proclaimed: The LORD, the LORD, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity, continuing his love for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but bringing punishment for their parents' wickedness on children and children's children to the third and fourth generation!" (Ex 34:5-7)
As in my prayer three points emerge here, one comes just after this quote when Moses, in response to God, bows to the ground in worship and asks the newly named 'Lord' to come amongst his people who are in real need of mercy and forgiveness. That for me is in my prayer's petition for help, because we too like the People of Israel are weak, lazy, self centred and go off 'Christian' message continually. The other two points are in order, the invisibility of God, who we cannot see, and the all knowingness of God who covenants with us in a relationship, it is in these activities that I discern the action of the Trinity.
That brings me to Paul's insightful comments in 2 Corinthians 13, that it is by our inner dispositions, our change of hearts, reaching into ourselves and outwards to others, that we find the normal key to discovering God. There are of course those moments when we have our own Mount Sinai experience, but the problem is that not many people have an idea how to discern that this is a genuine visitation from the Most High, they have not yet got the spiritual tools to articulate just what this is about! Theresa of Avila tries to describe one such encounter when she was pierced with the love that is God. As she wrote in her autobiography, it was almost impossible to explain, but it seemed like an arrow piercing her heart with the pain of love, an encounter of intense emotion and deep presence. Here are some of her own words explaining how this encounter took place, it was: "to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one."
There we have it, an encounter with the living God is transformative, it changes oneself but it also leads to a deepening sense that God is active in those three persons who are all in the encounter.
Moses seems to feel this enormous love, coupled with pain, for he knows he cannot look at the Most Holy One, he too is changed, for his face shines with light, so much so that he has to veil himself before the people, he has been touched by God and transfigured with an inner and outer light. Paul indicates clearly that if we follow the commandment to love, then through the gift of the Spirit we will discover Christ, who will lead us to the `Father, much as we hear in John's Gospel today.
But none of this answers our own dilemma, what is the Christian theology of Trinity that tells us God is Three and yet One? I've hinted at how we can approach God, not necessarily by thinking, or playing doctrinal games, they are fine, but they are, in the end, only language describing what cannot be fully understood. For me Paul and Moses hold the key, it is in encounter, in relationships that we find God, we begin by understanding our need to love and care, to have friendships, by uncluttering the heart so that we see with the clear eyes of the children of God, and then as in my prayer, we try to live out the mandate of 'Love' given us by Christ, to simply 'love one another'.
It is when we are doing this with unselfish hearts that the still small voice of the One God is heard, and that the eyes of our inner soul begin to see and gradually understand how the Triune God, that relationship of Three in One, is about belonging together. They draw us into their `Oneness which is love, a state of permanent happiness and joy; that is the real vision of God.
So with open hearts we pray the grace together, now knowing that the three persons will reveal themselves to us: The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen !
Ancient Irish poem on the Trinity
Three folds of the cloth, yet only one napkin is there,
Three joints of the finger, but still only one finger fair,
Three leaves of the shamrock, yet no more than one shamrock to wear,
Frost, snow-flakes and ice, all water their origin share,
Three Persons in God; to one God alone we make our prayer.
From St Patrick's Breastplate( Lorica)
I bind unto myself the Name, The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
St Gregory Nazianzen, Orations 40.41, The Holy Trinity,
"This I give you to share, and to defend all your life, the one Godhead and power, found in the three in unit, and comprising the three separately; not unequal, in substances or natures, neither increased nor diminished by superiorities nor inferiorities; in every respect equal, in every respect the same; just as the beauty and the greatness of the heavens is one; the infinite conjunction of three infinite ones, each God when considered in himself; as the Father, so the Son; as the Son, so the Holy Spirit; the three one God when contemplated together; each God because consubstantial; one God because of the monarchia. No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendour of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. When I think of anyone of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light."
Fr Robin is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. You can follow him on Twitter: @RobinGibbons2
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