Hints of Trinity

Christians note one of the earliest hints of the Holy Trinity occurring in Genesis as Abraham is visited by three mysterious strangers by the tree of Mamre. Is it God and two angels or is it three angels who arrive as guests? We do not know. However, this is the root story of hospitality and it is the occasion for the pronouncement of the birth of Isaac, the laughing child.

Rublev in his most famous Icon, the Holy Trinity, chooses this moment of hospitality as pointing to the notion of Father – Son – Holy Spirit. Trinity Sunday is the only feast of the year to commemorate not a person or an event but an idea, one central to the Christian faith: God in three persons yet one substance.


Year A

John W. Sewell

Saint John’s Memphis, Tennessee

May 18, 2008

On this Trinity Sunday, we begin at the beginning: in the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth.   The writer describes how for six days the process of creation continues. Carol Ochs, in her book, The Noah Paradox – Time As Burden, Time As Blessing, points out the elegant progression of creation.

DAY ONE: Chaos as a Necessary Stage. Chaos, or formlessness, is needed because if something already has a form it cannot be created, only re-created.  It is formlessness that invites the many possibilities of creation.  The word chaos has come to have the  negative meaning of anarchy  and  panicky confusion   But that is not true.  Chaos is the field of limitless possibility.  Creative processes of the first day: God Saw, God Evaluated, God Separated, God Named.

1.                 God Saw: seeing entails the capacity to imagine new possibilities, a major step in creativity. The model of perception described here is not one that forces recalcitrant matter into some preexistent mold; instead it is one of openness, waiting for the intrinsic nature of a substance or situation to reveal itself.  Perception all too frequently consists of only in taking in sense data but in ordering that data in terms of past experiences and future expectations.  When our hopes and fears distort our openness often we cannot perceive the true nature of creation.

2.                 God Evaluated:  seeing the light as good. Evaluation is needed to give the creation meaning.  The creator cannot fail to evaluate; not to evaluate is not to care, and one must care enough to have standards.  The evaluation process affirms that value is inherent in creation.  God does not simply, by fiat, declare the light to be good, God judges that it is good.


3.                 God Separated:  separating night from day (recognizing their differences) and separating creation from the Creator.  This last act reminds us that an important aspect of creativity is letting go of the creation.  If we are truly separate from our Creator, we can choose the extent of our distance, the direction in which we will go, the way we will follow.  Separation is an essential component of creation, but one that bears great cost to the creator.

4.     God Named:  Naming draws distinctions and fosters creation.  God’s act of naming has creative force.  Naming correctly joins the head and the heart, because to love someone is to know or bestow their real name.


DAY TWO:  Separation and Creation of Space. The creative process of separation is continued here.  In addition, the concept of space is introduced, specifically, that of particular space or location.  Creation can be understood, in part, as the process of recognizing the rightful place of things. The concept of location allows for such concepts such as fullness and emptiness. These are empirical states but also value standards.  Day 2 contains perspectives that could potentially deaden or renew.

DAY THREE: The Creative Force of Limit.  Limitation is a significant part of creation,  The dry land appears, not as the result of a new creation, but as a result of the restriction or limiting of matter.  Creativity is not simply fecundity.  It occurs within limits, such as those imposed by the span of one’s life, the frame of a painting, or the preexisting conventions of a musical form.  One of the most powerful uses of creativity is the restriction of the process.  …God must limit the Divine creative force so that it doesn’t overwhelm each separate creation.

DAY FOUR:  The Creation of Time  The text describing the fourth day illustrates a way to mark time and invest it with meaning.  The ability to mark time allows us to set periods of time apart as special or sacred etc. In reflecting on our limitations, and our finiteness, and our ability to recognize limitation, we can find God.


DAY FIVE: Blessing and Releasing.  It is on the 5th Day that the word blessed is used for the first time.  In this context we recognize that blessing is bestowing on a creature the possibility of carrying on creation (being fertile, increasing, and filling the waters).  The freedom inherent in the first two days of Creation is taken to its ultimate in bestowing on creature the capacity to carry on the creation.


DAY SIX: In the Creator’s Image. In order to understand more fully what it means for us to made in the image of God, we must review the events of the first five days of Creation, because our image of God is that of the God of Creation.  Liberation and redemption are concepts that came long after the world was created, even though they may be recognizable in the early stages of creation. However, our explicit image of God lies within the first five days of Creation: 1. emptiness, openness, waiting; 2. calling forth, seeing, evaluation; 3. separating, naming; 4. limiting, placing; marking of time; and 5. blessing and releasing the creatures’ own creativity.

DAY SEVEN:  The Creation of Rest. The last day of Creation is not the 6th day, but the 7th. Rest plays a vital role in creation.  It links the themes of restricting the act of creation, of creating space for reflection, and of marking time as sacred.  …the creation of rest allows the creatures made in God’s image to experience God’s presence.  If we cannot experience God’s presence in a sacred place …we can experience God’s presence in time, in the weekly experience of reenacting the 7th day of creation.

Humanity has been given the capacity to co-create with God by accepting the gift of communion with God.  But as you know from a primordial time described in the 3rd Chapter of Genesis, sin entered the world of blessing.  Our capacity for creating has been flawed.  We know how to do evil but have difficulty sustaining the good.

We believe that the second person of the Trinity, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us.  The Word was Jesus the Christ.  He lived and ministered in a particular time and place.  He died and rose from the dead to restore communion between God the creator and humanity.  Before his ascension, Our Lord told his disciples to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, who, he said, would dwell with the believer and in the believer. 

The early Church came to understand that the word “god” as they had understood it was inadequate to describe what they were experiencing. After Pentecost the church experienced the spirit as a person.  But there is only one God.  Right but early this notion of trinity began to arise in the community of faith.  Relationship is the essence of God – In the God head there is loving and begetting all the time. This is mysterious, difficult to understand, but nevertheless real to experience. So Paul in the reading for today from the second letter gives a Trinitarian benediction to the church in Corinth when he writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

In the reading from Genesis Christians believe we can discern the shape of the life of the Triune God. In the first reading we find three related transformative ways of being: creativity, spirituality, and love. I believe that creativity speaks of God the Father – spirituality speaks of God the Son and that love speaks of God the Spirit.


1.                 Creativity is based on the process of self-emptying, giving of oneself for the sake of one’s creation. How hard it is for us to be empty.  How hard it is for us to experience chaos and give up control and yet that is the source of deep creativity –


When we are creative, open to the possibilities and not trying to force things to turn out in a certain way, I believe that then we are in communion with God the Father, creator of heaven and earth.

2.                 Spirituality has been defined as the process of coming into relationship with reality.  The goal of this relationship is to teach us to be better lovers. A spiritual person must finally be a loving and creative person. Forming a relationship with reality begins by distinguishing between appearance and realty.  Much of the discipline of the spiritual way involves the cutting away of the accretions and appearances that obscure our perception of realty.  We approach reality by moving in two complementary directions: inward – to get at our essential self-outward – to connect with what is around us.

I believe that when we embrace reality with courage and hope we are in communion with God the Son.

3.                 Love is not reducible to a group of feelings.  The feelings that frequently accompany love are like the burning bush that accompanied God’s revelations to Moses.  The feelings are a sign of the presence of love but are not in themselves love.  Just as spirituality entails a slow transformation of our concept of self, so does love. We gradually move, over our lifetime, from seeking to possess love, to seeking reciprocity in love, to loving regardless of reciprocity, to loving in a way that is deeply caring but nonpossessive.  Just as creativity arises out of self-emptying and self-limitation so that the creation can be independent, so love requires our deepest caring,  self-giving, and acceptance of the fact that the loved one belongs not to us but to himself or herself.


As we fully mature in the way of love, we learn disinterested love, the most difficult, paradoxical, and yet transformative of relationships. When we are able to love in this way we are in communion with God the Holy Spirit. 

Chaos is frightening to us.  We are terrified when something we have not faced before comes our way. We live in denial.  We live trying to be in control.  And yet it seems that God calls us to live on the edge of chaos.  But as Nils Bohr puts it, “growth is always at the edge of chaos.”  Chaos is the condition we must pass through, repeatedly, until the end of our days, if we’re faithful to our call and the co-creation that they invite.  To learn to care without seeking to control or possess is a difficult lesson.  But it is the very lesson that teaches us who God is: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.