The Easter Season comes to a close with three essential recognitions:
- The first is the Ascension of Jesus at which God embraced the fullness of Jesus’ humanity. Can you imagine what that means? Being fully human is not simply a projection of the divine nature, but that the full humanity of the Our-Space dimension is now incorporated into the energies of the God-Space. If there was only one reason to be Christian, for me, this insight is it because of its implications for the way we live in Our-Space i.e., to be fully human is to be most like the divine.
- The second concerns the meaning of the day of Pentecost. which I liken to the contra-flow to the Ascension through which the energies of the God-Space flow across the dimensional membrane to infiltrate and infuse Our-Space.
- The third recognition is the celebration of the Holy Trinity.
Some of us are God people in that our temperament is attracted to the mysteriousness and essential un-knowable-ness of God the creator. I myself have a strong sympathy in this direction.
Others of us are Jesus people in that it’s the intimacy of God in the face, the life and actions of the human Jesus that speak to us because he was like us in every way. Because I’ve admitted my sympathies for the God the creator, I am also attracted to knowable-ness of God in the humanity in Jesus Yet, at times it’s all too close for comfort. Being ever mindful of God radiating through the human face of Jesus requires me to live with greater care and concern for my human neighbors than I feel comfortable with most of the time.
However, there is a third temperamental option – and some of us are Spirit people who just pulsate with the power and energy of the Spirit’s infusion. My temperament makes being a Spirit person the least likely option, Although I am not without passion, to live too closely to it is way too hot, too emotional for me. Spirit people run a gamut. Aat one end, there are those whose passion and energy achieve pioneering things, realigning the experience in Our-Space more closely with the expectations of the God-Space. At the other, lie those who luxuriate in a warm sentimental spiritual bath which celebrates the hubris of individualism. These are those who say they don’t need to be religious to be spiritual, those who don’t need to be a contributor to the work of God’s people in this world to be close to God.
These first followers of Jesus and those for several generations who followed after were not Christians as we understand the term.
We assume a clear-cut separation between Christianity and Judaism. Those we call early Christians simply thought of their new understanding of God as one option within a range of competing visions for 1st and 2nd-century Judaism – particularly in the period following the destruction of the Temple. However, it’s their new understanding of God that makes them stand out and leads eventually to what we now recognize as a separation into two distinct yet interconnected religious traditions.
The followers of Jesus knew God as the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They knew about the mysterious un-knowable-ness of God the Creator. Yet, they’d also had an experience of God encountered within the intimate boundaries of a human relationship with Jesus of Nazareth, who inextricably had died and yet been resurrected to a new life, a life after life after death. After Pentecost, they had come to know God as the all infusing and empowering Spiritual presence in the world. Jesus was no longer with his disciples because he had become Jesus now in his disciples; reshaping them into a new experience of being human that shaped and reshaped the magnetic nature of the way they lived together in communities – communities that eventually changed the ancient world.
Eventually, by around the 4th-5th centuries the immediacy of this early experience of God mediated in three distinct, yet unified experiences had dimmed with the result that a whole host of competing explanations about who and what Jesus was and the nature of his relationship to God arose to endanger the distinctiveness of God’s self-revelation in Jesus.
Was Jesus just a man (Arianism) or was he really a God in disguise (Docetism)? Was the Holy Spirit the spirit of Jesus in the world or was it an independent force that allowed an end-run around Jesus making him redundant because the believer now had an unmediated and individualized relationship with God (Gnosticism).
What we know as the doctrine of the Trinity as distinct from the intuitive experience of the triune God arose as a need not to explain the mystery of God, but to protect the mystery of God and the Christians experience of God from being reduced to only that which human beings in this or that time and place were able to comprehend rationally – a bit like the modern practice of rewriting the creed so that it makes rational sense to us in our day and age. For modern people the doctrine of the Trinity is couched in a philosophical language that is no longer ours and which we don’t really understand. Yet, maybe even in the 4th-5th-centuries it was no better understood because to make it comprehensible was never the aim.
This brings me to my central point.
In the 14th-century the Russian painter Anton Rublev conceived the revelation of the Trinity as three figures seated around a table. What’s most striking about Rublev’s icon is that each of the figures has exactly the same face. They gaze upon one another with exactly the same look of loving intimacy. Except for their dress and location around the table the figures are each mirror reflections of each other. The essence of the relationship between them lies in the quality of their mutual gaze; a gaze of loving recognition of their shared identity.
We are made to be relationship seeking beings. We find ourselves reflected in one another within the context of relationships and communities. In short, human beings are both relational and communal by nature. Why is this so?
The answer is that we are made in the image of a God who is a trinity – a divine community formed out of the interplay of loving relationship. The distinct elements of the divine community that we traditionally refer to as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not a statement about God’s gender but God’s mutual relationality. You can come up with alternative terms so long as these are capable of denoting the mutual relationships within the divine community. In this regard I prefer Lover, Beloved, and Love-Sharer to bring home to us a sense of ourselves as reflecting the centrality of relationship and community – the essential attributes of God. For instance, this is in sharp distinction to the attempt to escape gendered language by referring to God as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. These are descriptors of function not articulations of relationship.
We thus become free to celebrate the multiple expressions of relationality encompassed within the divine nature. In 2019 the coincidence between the date of the Trinity and Father’s Day enables us to celebrate our human fathers as the all too often imperfect but necessary and much loved expressions of the creativity, protection, and containing nurture of fatherhood of God.
- Fatherhood is the masculine principle of creation, and a counterpart to the feminine principle of receptivity motherhood – both equally core attributes of God.
- When our male fathers embody the divine principle of fatherhood, they become co-creators not just in the sense of biological procreation but as creators and protectors of an environmental and emotional space– within which the mother and infant experience an uninterrupted enjoyment of one another.
- Fatherhood as a masculine principle is not coterminous with male gender.
- Fathers need not be perfect but like mothers, need only to be good enough. They will sometimes fail in their early role as creators and protectors of the mother-infant relationship due to their own emotional unpreparedness for their role.