A Reflection from Fr Paul on The Holy Trinity
A Reflection for Trinity Sunday 2020
The great Alan Bennett, one of my favourite writers and authors tells the story in his play “Forty years on” how a very “posh” English Boarding School headmaster was giving a Confirmation class to a young boy. The Headmaster asked him had he got all his theology sorted out, and the young boy replies – I am still a bit hazy about the Trinity! The Headmaster replied …” It is perfectly simple. Three in one, and one in three. If you have any further doubts, go and see the mathematics master.”
Well, mathematics was never my strong point at school, but it has not put me off the Trinity! So, let me tell you of an amazing man who lived over 1,200 years ago, his name was John of Damascus, Damascus being a city in modern day Syria. John was a very clever man, and he still helps me to get my head around God as Trinity all these years later.
It is so easy to get bogged down in the detail of God as three, when we listen to all the fancy sounding theology and all the technical words about the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
So, how did John of Damascus speak about the Trinity?
Before I begin, I need to ask you: Do you like dancing? Have you ever watched “Strictly, Come Dancing”? You must know of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers? We all know that a person who directs dancing, and teaches the correct steps, especially in a film or a show or a musical is called a choreographer.
Now John of Damascus, this brilliant eighth-century theologian, described the Trinity with the Greek word “perichoresis.” This word comes from the same root as the word “choreography.”
Also “perichoresis” has been used as a technical term to describe the relation of the Persons in the Trinity. The noun comes from a Greek verb (perichorein) that means “to contain” or “to penetrate,” and describes the three Persons of the Trinity as mutually “indwelling,” “permeating,” or “interpenetrating” one another, put simply living in and for each other. Each person both wholly envelops and is wholly enveloped by the other. A similar Greek word, perichoreuein, which means “to dance around,” has also been used as a metaphor for the relation of the Persons of the Trinity. It suggests that there is a movement, a harmonious dance within the life of God. This harmony of movement allows us to be part of God when we dance with him in time and step. Just think of the song, Lord of the Dance?
I danced in the morning when the world was begun
I danced in the Moon & the Stars & the Sun
I came down from Heaven & I danced on Earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth:
Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!
We are all created to be in a relationship, just as God is in relationship. People outside relationships can be very lonely and isolated. The Trinity gives us a vision of a community of women and men in the church and society who treat each other as equals, and work together in shared responsibility of unity and love – just as we see Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a relationship of Love. You see, when we understand God in terms of the doctrine of the Trinity, we can see within the very person of God, a radical example of a community built on justice, relationship and care.
Recently I saw the word GUIDANCE written down on a page in a book, and I kept seeing the word “dance” at the end of the word. I remember reading that doing God’s will is a lot like dancing. When two people try to lead, nothing feels right. The movement does not flow with the music, and everything is quite uncomfortable and jerky. When one person realizes that, and lets the other lead, both bodies begin to flow with the music. One gives gentle cues, perhaps with a nudge to the back or by pressing lightly in one direction or another. It is as if two become one body, moving beautifully. The dance takes surrender, willingness, and
attentiveness from one person and gentle guidance and skill from the other.
My eyes drew back again to the word GUIDANCE. When I saw “G,” I thought of God, followed by “u” and “i.” “God, “u” and “i” dance. As I thought about this even more, I began to realize that I must be willing to trust God enough to dance and let God lead.
On this Trinity Sunday I HOPE YOU ENJOY THE DANCE!