I’ve got a lot of Irish in me. Lots of Malone’s & Patrick’s and Lilly’s dot my family tree. Plus a good deal of English and even some Native American – two of my great grandmothers on my dad’s side were Choctaw. I suppose that makes me a little mutt-ish (in the best sense of that word).
It also draws me to Celtic spirituality. A while back I used a book, A Song for Every Morning by John Davies for my devotional time. The subtitle is Dedication and Defiance with the St. Patrick’s Breastplate. I’m thinking it was the Celtic influence that caught my eye when I bought the book, but it may have been that I’m just attracted to anything that has the words dedication and defiance in the subtitle.
St. Patrick’s Breastplate is a wonderful morning prayer. It was probably written about 300 years after St. Patrick’s time but no matter. It’s powerful no matter who wrote it or when. Soon we’ll be celebrating Trinity Sunday, so this prayer feels timely; but that very timeliness is unfortunate in a way; because this is a prayer that should start our days far more often than on a single Sunday.
Translated from the Irish the first stanza reads:
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity
Through belief in the Threeness
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.
In the early part of the 20th century it was put into hymn form:
I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
Understanding the Trinity isn’t very easy. A little over two months ago Phil Tallon lamented that we don’t focus on the Trinity more than we do. He asserted – and I think he’s right – that if we thought about it more, it might not be such a confusing concept.
Yet, despite my (and Phil’s) desire to explore the Trinity more often, it remains difficult for most people and it’s definitely not something we start off with when we think about our faith. We usually add it on at the end, like a bow on a present after it’s wrapped – after we’ve talked about God as our creator and Jesus as our redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as our sustainer, we try to sum everything up by referring to the Trinity. In my mind, that just seems to make it all the more confusing.
A Celtic understanding of the spirituality the Trinity on the other hand, isn’t as much a problem as it is a blessing. I like that. Not that it’s going to solve the whole mystery – why would we ever think our minds are big enough to get around the whole God thing anyway? Anyone who thinks they can give a complete description of God is either unbelievably arrogant or delusional. But the symbol of the Trinity hints at something wonderful. I like where the threeness in oneness takes me.
The problem for me is that our culture seems to be all about polarities. Everything comes in twos and each one is usually the polar opposite of the other. Or at least that’s what the culture says – male/female – young/old – rich/poor – liberal/conservative – extravert/introvert. If we don’t fit on one side or the other we at least have to find someway to fit on the spectrum in between.
But maybe life isn’t all about polarities. Maybe things come in threes? There’s space in threes. Instead of a line with two points, maybe we should think about triangles with three points. Maybe it’s not about locating yourself on a line between two opposites but about moving around a triangle.
In the Bible, the meaning of the names Joshua and Jesus is “Savior.” Davies points out that the underlying idea of savior is “one who gives space.” I don’t know how you feel about that, but it resonates with my spirit. I can bind myself to a God who’s spacious, who is a space-maker.
Early in my ministry I was told that I was “gender confused.” You can imagine how that rocked my world. What prompted the comment was that I was a woman going into a “man’s” field – ministry. The person who said this thought it was odd that I showed so many “male” traits; yet, was so “feminine” at the same time. Apparently the fact that I love to wear nail polish, am a sucker for the latest fashion, and can’t pass a shoe store without being sorely tempted didn’t jive with my assertiveness, confidence and tendency to move into roles of leadership – or so I was told.
I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity, the Three in One and One in Three – the space-maker who is the source of my freedom, the one who empowers me to defy the forces that seek to restrict me to unbending characterizations or rigid roles.
Yet even as I bind myself to this God, I have to stay watchful and alert. It is easy to become complicit with and conformed to our culture. As Christ followers we are called to stand in opposition to such conformity. If it is wrong, we’ve got to stand in defiance.
But our spirituality can’t always be about opposition. Opposition isn’t nourishing in the long run. That’s the blessing of our spacious Three in One and One in Three. It may be mystery. It may only hint at a way of understanding God. But it’s a beautiful hint, a blessing of a mystery. A space-making understanding that leaves room for the divine yes.