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An Invitation to Mystery




In my Celtic morning prayer ritual every morning I repeat this call and response:


Who is it that you seek?

We seek the Lord our God.

Do you seek him with all your heart?

Amen, Lord have mercy.

Do you seek him with all your soul?

Amen, Lord have mercy.

Do you seek him with all your mind?

Amen, Lord have mercy.

Do you seek him with all your strength?

Amen, Christ have mercy.


Sometimes I say it rote because I pray those words every day. Sometimes I'm enamored with the power of them. I think if we truly are seeking God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength - and how many of us can really say that we do? - we must know at least something about who it is that we're seeking.


I tend to align myself with 20th century reformed theologian Karl Barth in that I tend to think it is only through Jesus, the Word, the Revelation of God's self to us, that we know God. But I also want to reflect on how Christians believe that God is Trinity, and far too often that understanding of who God is is tragically neglected.


The Trinity is a doctrine of the Church mostly misunderstood and neglected. We pray in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, but that is about as far as it goes. Even calling it a doctrine perhaps does it an injustice as in our tradition, in the Episcopal Church in my experience, "doctrine" tends to repel, while "mystery" is far more enticing. The Trinity is one of the foundational mysteries of Christianity. It is a mystery that we are invited to explore, and it is a mystery that brings us tremendously good news, foundational to everything Christian.


The mystery of the Trinity teaches us that God is a relationship of love between three persons. It tells us that at the foundation of all existence is relationship, and true, loving, equal, just, good relationship. In fact, the relationship that is Trinity is what gives all those words their meaning and context. Eastern Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas uses the term communion to describe what I just called relationship. He writes,


“Without the concept of communion it would not be possible to speak of being. Substance has no ontological content, no true being, apart from communion.
In this way, communion becomes an ontological concept. Nothing in existence is conceivable in itself, as an individual. In this manner, it is communion which makes things 'be'.
But this communion is not a relationship understood for its own sake. Just like 'substance,' 'communion' does not exist by itself. This thesis introduces a concept of incalculable importance. For it means that the ultimate ontological category which makes something really *be*, is neither an impersonal and incommunicable 'substance,' nor a structure of communion existing by itself or imposed by necessity, but rather the *person*.
True being comes only from the free person, from the person who loves freely - that is, who freely affirms his being, his identity, by means of an event of communion with other persons.”

If we want to build communities that are authentically free, just, and equal, then it is the Trinity that invites us to do so. If we want to work for justice and peace and the dignity of every human being in societies, it is our understanding of personhood that flows from the mystery of the Trinity.

As Incarnation Holy Sacrament reemerges from online-only, COVID-19 pandemic time into once again rebuilding our ministries and working to find our way again together as a family of faith, the Trinity offers us direction on how to understand being in communion with one another again. Not that this mystery was absent during the pandemic, but rather we, like most Christian churches I think, have neglected making this mystery central in our self-understanding and life together. How can we make the mystery of the Trinity central to our mission at IHS? We do so when we remember that - as Zizioulas wrote - that true being comes only from the free person, who loves freely, freely affirming her or his or their identity by means of an event of communion with other persons. How can we create that environment in our community? I welcome your thoughts and responses to that question in the comments below!

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