Friday, May 16, 2008

Thoughts on the Trinity

by Nancy Jago Finley

My Irish aunties were wonderfully superstitious. They knew that good things (and bad) come in sets of three. They were first generation Americans and kept to the “old ways” from Ireland which I now see as a delightful mix of Roman Catholicism, Celtic mysticism, and folk wisdom. I suppose I can attribute my appreciation for Trinitarian theology to them. It forms the foundation of my belief in God and without it I don’t think my faith would stand up very well. The more I learn about the Trinity, the more my appreciation of it deepens and broadens so that now it is informing my understanding of what it means to be human.

God, the Father as ALEPH
The first word of the Torah – BERE’SHIT – starts with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. As I understand it, this is intentional as the first letter – ALEPH – represents the uncreated Creator, the eternal One whose energy is timeless and beyond measure. ALEPH is the silent letter that symbolizes the silence of Spirit from which all sound flows. In ALEPH lies the potential for all that has been, is, and will be.

God, the Son as BET
The name of the Hebrew letter BET means house. BET ALEPH means home for the Spirit. Creation is where we, as part of creation, are home for the Spirit. My interpretation of Bet Aleph points to the embodiment of the Divine in all that is. Matter matters. As Christians, we look to the model of Jesus to help us understand God’s presence in the human experience. The embodied world becomes the medium through which we search for and hopefully experience God.

God, the Holy Spirit
Without energy, the creator and the created are dull, dead, frozen. The Holy Spirit represented by the Chinese letter for “chi” at left symbolizes the energizing force that surges through all of creation binding it with the creator and with itself. We are alive and in communion with each other and with the creator because of Spirit. As Christians, we regard Love as the force that unites, allowing us to realize that everything is connected with everything else. Being is also dependent on movement and change.

So, the Trinitarian model reveals God as uncontainable but at the same time the container, the contained, and that which enlivens and is the source of the unifying power of Love. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Creation story in Genesis tells us that humans were made in God’s image. So, if God has three aspects, then so do we. We have the capacity to recognize that we contain and are contained by the ultimate mystery of God “the Father.” We also are able to allow our sense organs to become God detectors by our interactions with other elements of creation. And we have the capacity for enormous love of God, each other, and all of Creation. I believe that our goal as humans is to allow these three Holy aspects of ourselves to be experienced in balance.

Many of us tend to ignore the 1st “person” of the Trinity, God “the Father.” To the degree that our attention is absorbed by the material world, our awe of the Holy Mystery is diminished. As our awe diminishes, we can become inflated with pride at our God-like qualities. When our egos become so inflated with the idea that we are God-like, then we may begin to believe that we are Gods! We might believe we’re in control and that we don’t need to humble ourselves to any power greater than ourselves.

Further, when we act on the belief that we humans are like Gods but that the rest of Creation is not, then we set ourselves up for participating in many ecological evils. Abuse of animals and other growing things, water, sky, and land are consequences of anthropocentrism. Add to our excessive pride the cultural ideal of individualism at the expense of collectivism, the scale becomes even more unbalanced. We lose sight of our place in nature.


Ego inflation is one danger of an overblown 2nd “person.” Ego alienation is another. Both are consequences of imbalance. If we become alienated from the Divine within us and from one another, the 3rd “person” of the Trinity is stifled. The Holy wind dies down to stillness. The “third person” of the Trinity can also become obscured when we refuse to die and be reborn. The Holy Spirit is fluidity itself, the antithesis of stagnation. If we stubbornly hang on to a rigid idea of the Holy and of Truth, including truth about ourselves, we knock the wind right out of us! And when the movement of Spirit is inhibited, habits of the heart, mind, and body take root and our suffocation is usually so slow and insidious that we aren’t even aware of how stuck we’ve become. The nature of Spirit is to move in freedom.

This snapshot of my current understanding of God and Humankind suggests that we are vulnerable to ego inflation as well as ego alienation when our Trinitarian nature is out of balance. If we think we’ve got God figured out and become so fascinated by our own powers of knowing, we become inflated and the grace that flows out of humility is diminished. On the other hand, if we become alienated from God and/or our God-Selves, we may become dispirited and feel like we’re all alone in a stagnant pond. It’s our freedom exercised in humility that allows us to receive God’s self communication in Truth and Love. The three aspects of God within each of us are in dynamic and life giving tension. This tension provides the energy to fuel our ongoing journey to know Truth and Love in our relationships with God and with others while gracefully adapting to change. Even though we might be unbalanced, God is not. God is like a gravitational force that attempts to pull us back into balance and closer to God. Seeking, receiving, and maintaining that balance is our ultimate spiritual challenge, both individually and collectively.

Nancy Finley is a long time member of St. Paul’s and is currently a graduate student at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry studying to be a spiritual director. She also is on the faculty at North Seattle Community College and teaches lifespan developmental psychology online. Her course website is: here.

1 comment:

Dan said...

Thank you. I enjoyed your perspective on the Trinity. I have commented (and linked) on my blog at