Learn more about the Trinity

or not, as the case may be.

Last night three Anglican priests alerted me to a podcast on the St. Asaph Diocesan website. One priest called it ‘appalling’, one said he could understand my despair and the other merely sent me the web address with an exclamation mark.

While writing this blog I’ve been wondering whether to post the web address here but I’ve decided to just tell you about the podcast. It advertises itself in the sidebar as Trinity podcast. If you’re really interested you can find it for yourself.

“Learn more about the Trinity and how it can help unpack the mystery of God.”

Unpack the mystery of God? It makes it sound as if it’s a thing – a jigsaw puzzle or a Lego kit – that we take out of the box occasionally and try to fit together. I’m amazingly fortunate – I only have to look out of my kitchen window to be almost overwhelmed by God’s mysteries, but we don’t need majestic panoramas for mysteries. William Blake knew this. In Auguries of Innocence, (1803). he wrote:

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand And Heaven in a Wild Flower,                                                  Hold Infinity in the Palm of your Hand, And Eternity in an Hour.”

He was echoing Julian of Norwich who died 600 years ago this year. Mother Julian was a Mystic and always insisted she was unlearned, yet her words still carry a powerful punch today. I think Blake was probably thinking of this particular passage.

“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand as it seemed… In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second is that God loves it. And the third is that God keeps it.”

How come 600 years ago and 200 years ago they knew so much that we seem not to know any more?

The five minute podcast is a conversation between the Revd Dr Manon Ceridwen James, Director of Ministry and Tracey White, Diocesan Funding and Training Officer. It is ill-conceived, poorly executed, essentially trivial, and I must admit I did despair when I listened to it.

Manon begins by explaining the Church’s teaching on the Trinity. “God is three persons – Holy Spirit, Father and Son. God is three and one. I don’t know how that can be but God is a mystery. I know that’s a bit of a cop out.” It’s certainly not much of an explanation of the Trinity, however Tracey is on hand to help out.

“I think we over complicate it a bit. I used to think that God came first, then Jesus and then the Holy Spirit because that’s the way it’s kind of taught in church.” Fortunately a Vicar pointed out to Tracey that at the creation the Holy Spirit was already there.

Genesis, Chapter1. Verse 2. ‘And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.’

It’s a pity that same vicar didn’t sit her down and do a bit more teaching, because she says, “This was a bit of a freaky thing for me, that the spirit had been around because I thought it had only arrived at Pentecost.”

Is this an example of where the young have been let down? I can remember doing Genesis in Scripture in school. It took a year or more because the stories were enthralling and we had it drummed into us that these stories were helping us to understand Eternal Truths. (Which is presumably why I now have such trouble with menstruating men.)

Tracey says she understood the Trinity when she read “The Shack” but her comments on it don’t do the book justice. “God is a big black woman. Jesus is a kind of hippie carpenter and the Holy Spirit is a kind of shape shifting being who sort of flies around, not flying but just moves and you think you see her and then she is not there, she’s somewhere else.”

I have read “The Shack” and it’s a story that deserves better than that. The author, Wm Paul Young, wrote it in 2007 to help his children understand the Trinity. He had to self publish it in Oregon in the States where it caused controversy and divisions, particularly with the more fundamentalist churches which considered it heretical. Within a year it had sold 1 million copies. It is genuinely helpful in explaining the Trinity and it also got many people, Christians and non-Christians, talking, questioning and arguing about it. It’s well worth reading.

Tracey goes on to say “I’m also glad we’ve moved away from the Holy Ghost. I remember as a kid I found that quite scary, the idea that there was this ghost about. It’s good that that seems to have gone out of fashion.” I doubt these childhood memories will help anyone to understand the doctrine of the Trinity, or Manon’s reminiscences explain the gift of the Spirit.

I found this statement from Tracey rather worrying. “We seem more open to the Holy Spirit now.” Now? Does she think this is something we’ve just discovered? What does she think the saints of old were doing when they wrestled all night in prayer? What was the Anchorite, Julian of Norwich doing locked in her cell for most of her life? Being open to the Holy Spirit, that’s what.

There are some more comments that seem to indicate odd theologoical ideas. For instance, Manon says, “When we think about God we think of God as an old man in the sky.” Who is this ‘We’? Who does she meet who think this? Certainly not the golden oldies of my generation who make up the bulk of the pew fillers these days. We knew better than that by the Third Form.

Inevitably we get to gender. “God is usually referred to as the father but it’s nice to hear other ways of addressing God,” Tracey tells us.. There’s some chat about the reassurance for Tracey, being female, that there is an idea of femininity with God; that’s really helpful as well. There’s some discussion about Jesus being female because he is wisdom, a word which is feminine in both Hebrew and Greek. Finally, Manon brings the podcast to a close. “We don’t have to think in gender terms about God. We can be a bit more creative….. That’s really helpful, for example, for people who had bad experiences with their fathers; it’s helpful to see God in different ways.”

As far as gender is concerned Mother Julian got there first. “Our Saviour is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

I am left wondering what on earth the churches have been teaching over the last 25 to 30 years.

NB I haven’t been able to blog for a couple of weeks – weak signal. Still can’t manage pictures. BT promise to transform my life on May 27th. Maybe.

 

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