One day, I was in a parking lot, getting into my car, when I was accosted by an older woman who was on a mission. She approached me aggressively and asked “Do you believe in the Trinity?” I responded that I do very much believe in God this way. She did not like this answer and proceeded to lecture me on the fact that there is one God and that I was sinful in embracing such thinking. She was still disgusted as she walked away. I think back on that incident now and realize that I answered without hesitation. This is a core part of our faith, ingrained in us. The Holy Trinity is the flow of a three-step dance that we have with God.
It is our human condition that we want answers, black and white responses and doctrine to situate our beliefs. Our belief in the Triune God does not give us this. It is the ultimate mystery. How can God as three be one? I would not feel qualified in any way to give a solid doctrinal definition of the Holy Trinity. I rely on my lived experience. There are many who may not respect this; like the parent of a Grade 2 student who was furious with the teacher that the religious learning in that year did not give them a solid teaching of the doctrine of the Trinity. The teacher was intimidated. I assured her that she was a good, faith-filled teacher and followed exactly what our bishops had laid out as curriculum. I asked her if they were making the sign of the cross in her classroom. Isn’t this how we begin to integrate the Trinity into our being?
I cannot remember the first time I made the sign of the cross, or when it was taught to me. This gesture marks our lives and frames our faith. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are almost tattooed onto our being. I know these as three separate manifestations of God, and yet, I do not separate them. The ritual of this gesture is comforting and familiar and one way that we come to know our God in three ways. Our faith invites us into God’s relational community.
The Trinity icon by Andrei Rublev depicts the three angels who visited Abraham, seated at a table. This beautiful image is rich with symbolism, and widely interpreted to be the Holy Trinity. It displays a unity between the three. The space and sacrifice in the middle of the table invites us to the communal gathering and to know God sacramentally.
In a 2001 article entitled “Finding God in Community,” Ron Rohlheiser put it this way: “God is not a dogma….a credal statement…God is a flow of living relationships.” This flow of relationships is for me the essence of God and Trinity. The world created anew and the balance of creation invites me to know and love the Spirit moving through humanity. The wounded and hurting protestor seeking understanding and justice in the streets of Minneapolis, calls me to recognize Christ in my fellow human being and the redemption of all. And, the world where I live is ever changing and revealing the unconditional love and hope found in the Creator. Creator, Redeemer and Advocate-Father, Son and Spirit. This is our God. Three and one.
I look down at my left hand. As a Catholic of Irish ancestry, I wear a symbol of the Trinity every day. My wedding ring (actually a friendship ring given to me by a dear friend) is also a symbol of the Holy Trinity. The claddagh ring depicts love, loyalty and friendship. For the Irish faithful, it also represented Jesus in the hand on the left, the Holy Spirit in the hand on the right and the crown overtop is God the Father. We are held together in this symbol of unity and difference.
What would I say to that woman in the parking lot today? I would ask her if she felt the love of God in a warm breeze or the gift of wisdom she has from her faith. I would ask if she has felt the love of Jesus through the forgiveness of another. Lastly, I would ask if she feels held in the love of a Creator beyond our knowing. Are these not the same one God? I celebrate my faith that invites me into the dance of mystery, the dance of relationship and the flow of unity in the Holy Trinity.
–Jan Bentham is a Retired Religion Coordinator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is a musician, serving in music ministry at St. Ignatius Parish in Ottawa. She currently works at St. Paul’s University with the Catholic Women’s Leadership Program.