Friday, May 20, 2005

The Poetry of the Trinity

The post today is an altered version of a talk I gave at Otter Creek's contemplative service on Wednesday night. Judy Thomas told me I had to post it, and well, I always listen to my blogmom.

The Scriptures I refer to are Exodus 3:1-6, Romans 8:12-17, and John 3:1-16 That'll help with some of the context.

The Scriptures above are all ones intended to cast our minds toward the Trinity, as this coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday according to the High Church Calendar.

Because of this, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Trinity and how it seems to work both in our theology and our practice. Ever since the doctrine of the Trinity was officially recognized in 381 by the Council of Constantinople, I think that Christianity has looked at it as the final call on the matter, which I believe it is. Although historically some churches, including some churches of Christ, have not deemed it so. For instance, the song Holy, Holy, Holy has had lyrics changed in some of our hymnals from to "God over all, and blest eternally" from "God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity," which is especially peculiar considering that Holy, Holy, Holy was written specifically for Trinity Sunday, but…

What I would like to bring up is how we think about the Trinity. As I stated before, I think that we’ve thought about the Trinity as the final answer on the nature of God. He exists simultaneously as the overall Creator God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit of God, the Comforter who remains with us in this time before eternity. I had the book 3 in 1 as a kid, that used an apple with the peel, the meat, and the core to illustrate the Trinity. Good as far as it goes, but even comparisons like that can break down.

However, this can sometimes be a very cold way to think about God. We split him up into pieces and parts and relegate each part with a function and everything fits into its nice and neat section. But honestly, I don’t think the Trinity works that way. I think the Trinity works like poetry.

Have any of you ever wondered why there is so much poetry in Scripture? I don’t know this for sure, but I would imagine that anywhere from 30 to 40% of the Bible is poetry, mainly in sections that we skip over like the prophets and the longer Psalms, but if we think about it, poetry must have some meaning for it to be so prominent in our Scripture.

In a section of his book, Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller talks about the use of poetry in Scripture. One of his assertions is that poetry allows God through the writers to express ideas and feelings and emotions that cannot be expressed any other way. He says:
I began to wonder if the ancient Hebrews would have understood this intrinsically, if they would have sat around watching plays and reading poems knowing this is where real truth lies, and if our age, affected by the Renaissance and later by the Industrial Revolution, by Darwin and the worship of science, hasn't lost a certain understanding of truth that was more whole. If you have a girlfriend and you list some specifics about her on a piece of paper—her eye color, her hair color, how tall she is—and then give her this list over a candlelight dinner, I doubt it will make her swoon. But if you quote these ideas to her in a poem:

She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes …

… she is more likely to understand the meaning, the value inferred by your taking notice of her features. The same ideas, expressed in poetry, contain a completely different meaning. She would understand you were captivated by a certain mystery in her aspect, in her eyes and her stride and the features perfectly met upon her face. And while our earlier conceived list of features might have been accurate, it certainly wouldn't have been meaningful.

It makes you wonder if guys like John the Evangelist and Paul and Moses wouldn't look at our systematic theology charts, our lists and mathematical formulas, and scratch their heads to say, Well, it's technically true; it just isn't meaningful.

I think so many parts of our life work like this, and if we open ourselves to the poetry of life, we open ourselves to meaning and the joy and sadness and anger and energy that comes from all of that. Poetry is hard to understand. It takes thinking and considering and pondering. Many things that are not currently commodities we take the time for. That’s one of the reasons I love the music of Rich Mullins. He was someone in our time that I think could capture a bit of God with the lyrics and music that he made. Listen to the lyrics of the songs sometime and try to work in that. (From Sometimes By Step: Sometimes I think of Abraham/ And how one star he saw had been lit for me.... Or from The Color Green: And the moon is a sliver of silver/ Like a shaving that fell from the floor of a carpenter's shop....)

The Trinity is the same way. It’s not intended to be a systematic solution to the issue. It’s poetry. It’s the Father and the Son and the Spirit working together as one God. How? I don’t know, I don’t understand. But it’s not up to me to figure out how it works. It simply is. It’s poetry. It’s Love and that Love drives me to follow the Master and not simply espouse belief in him but do his teachings. It’s also a call to unity. For all of our disparate parts to come together in unity for the passionate pursuit of the Kingdom: Male, female; black, white, and every color in between; free thinking, anal; forceful, kind. For all of those to come together in a mission: the mission of sharing the love of God which is the good news of the Kingdom of God. The Trinity is our model for unity. May we strive to live out that poetry in our own lives.

So I ask you, gentle readers, what is the poetry in your lives? What do you do to try to find poetry in your lives?


eclark said...

Thanks SO much for:

1. Your wonderfully literate talk Wednesday night.

2. For making a copy available. I was going to ask ... but now I don't have to. I've simply hit the print button.

The poetry of my life?

"Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so."

judy thomas said...

Thanks, Phil. It is just as good in print as it was Wed. night.

Wouldn't an interesting study be about the songs our fellowship has changed because we wanted to skirt a topic or because we disagreed with the words?

Tiffany said...

I think one of the most tragic aspects of our legalism is the loss of mystery. We seem to want to learn enough so that we can explain God. How dare we try to claim that we can ever fully understand Him? When we lose our sense of His mystery, He becomes nothing more than a scientifically explainable phenomenon, something we can comprehend and therefore control. Or at least we fool ourselves into thinking so.

Phil said...

If you guys are really interested, I'd been so busy for the five days previous to that talk, that I hadn't thought about it seriously until that afternoon.

It was only when I started thinking about the difficulty of understanding the Trinity that I could relate it to poetry and the rest is history.

My answer for the poetry in my life? The laugh of my daughter, a kiss from my wife, and how both of those reflect the love God has for me and how I should show that love to others.

Clarissa said...

Just so long as you save the kissing for Sheryl!

Tony Arnold said...

Poetry in my life is my daughter Maria, I really see God's heart in her. A hug and a smile from her has such a huge affect. Watching her play by herself is serene.

Being in nature, especially forests and woods with some water. I feel very close to God and talk and listen with Him during those times.

I don't think I could survive life without music and literature. They are essential poetry in my life.

Tony's Blog

marty dodson said...


I wish I could have heard your talk. I have been exiled to the Refuge on Wednesday night. I always enjoy hearing your thoughts because they provoke ME to think.


Phil said...

Marty, I wouldn't call that exile at all. With everything that's been happening recently, ministering to our youth.

Phil said...

What I meant to say is that ministering to our youth is one of the most important things anyone can be doing.

Karen said...

I still don't get why the words were changed. I miss singing it the way it was when I was little.

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