Trinity Sunday is one of my favorite celebrations, the day we consider the mystery that God is three in one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In recent times, many churches have traded in those monikers for others, such as Creator, Redeemer, and Advocate. It’s an attempt to take gender out of the equation, to identify the three persons of God by their relationships and role in the story of God’s relationship with humans.
This year, the first reading was Proverbs 8:22-31. Wisdom, which Christians identify as an Old Testament precursor to the name Holy Spirit, participated in the creation of the earth.
From eternity I, [Wisdom], was established,
From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. …
When He established the heavens, I was there;
When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, …
Then I was beside Him, as a master workman;
And I was His delight daily. (vv. 23, 27, 30)
As I listened, all I could think of was pronouns. All I could think about was the wisdom of “they.”
I’m approaching 60. For me and many of my peers, the transition to using they/them pronouns for people identifying as non-binary has been a challenge. Particularly as an editor, someone who has continually marked “pronoun agreement errors.” I have no problem at all with the non-binary identification, and I want to comply. It’s a matter of making my tongue shift to this new grammar. And reflecting on the Trinity is one way I can try to reroute my brain.
The Trinity, participating in that mystery known as three-in-one, has always grabbed my attention. I remember early on hearing a pastor say that the nature of the Trinity was beyond our human understanding, but that it might be helpful to think about in mathematical terms. 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. That’s how we think of people, of objects, of even a series of abstract concepts brought together. We add up singulars to make a plural. But what if we thought about it in terms of multiplication? 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. I can’t tell you how much I loved that as an adolescent. It struck me as brilliant. Because multiplication is much more powerful than addition, and to apply it as the principle that bonds the members of the Holy Trinity, allowing them to be individual and yet singular together, worked perfectly.
If we identify our relationships even more closely with those of the Trinity, perhaps all our relationships can be rooted in collaboration and love and respect?
And so, what if we thought of people that same way? We are singular identities, singular beings. But, as Walt Whitman said, we “contain multitudes.” I am many. My gender is one way I present my identity. When I show up, alone or in a group, I hope people don’t say, “Here comes a woman. Here is another woman.” It is a piece of my nature. I have many qualities. But more likely, when people see me coming they most likely identify me in terms of relationship: “Here is my friend Susan; my neighbor Susan; the woman who buys my asparagus; that woman from the parish.” There is a multiplicity in me. While I do not claim they/them pronouns as a cis-gender woman, I delight in how the expansive wisdom of “they” reflects relationship. As an individual, I am present to others relationally, whether it means standing behind them in line at a store or participating in a classroom as fellow students or in an office as colleagues. The Trinity helps me see the richness of wisdom, the relationship, and multiplicity of my own being and that of others. If we identify our relationships even more closely with those of the Trinity, perhaps all our relationships can be rooted in collaboration and love and respect?
When I recite the Nicene Creed each Sunday in Mass, I say to myself “I believe in Jesus Christ… born of the Virgin Mary and became flesh,” reflecting the original Greek word sarx, rather than “and became man.” Others say “human.” The miracle is that God was revealed among us, not that being’s gender. Where does the focus go if we see Jesus as “they”? Christ is the flesh that transcends gender.
When we look at people, as Christians we’re meant to see what Christ sees, a reflection of God, a Beloved of God. For the most part, it’s not that hard to see it, if we’re looking and approaching that person with love. What if we looked at each other as people worth loving, all of us. There might be a fuller blossoming of all the aspects of the Trinity. There might be fewer oppressive systems of patriarchy. There might be a multitude of ways to build community, cooperate, create, and care for each other and the earth.
When we look at people, as Christians we’re meant to see what Christ sees, a reflection of God, a Beloved of God.
The verses from Wisdom, which always brings to mind the illumination of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom in The Saint John’s Bible, reflects the playfulness of the Trinity, where it reads (pronouns changed): “Then I was beside [God], as a master worker; And I was God’s delight daily, Rejoicing always before God, Rejoicing in the world, God’s earth, And having my delight in the [children] of [human]kind” (Prov 8:30-31). We see it in Creation, the variety and beauty of all that God created, and to be made in God’s image means to be invited to be creative, to create, to imagine, and to play. The image includes a warren of buildings rising from cloudlike cliffs to the sky. To delight and be a delight. There are many ways we do that as humans, individually and together, in our being and in the presentation of our being. We play with the elements of Creation itself. We make things, build things, design things. As a collection of “theys,” the ongoing creation of the world and evolving expression of God’s love and purpose in the world continues.
“I contain multitudes,” said Walt Whitman, and so say I. “I sing the body electric,” said Whitman. Look at what they has made. “Tov,” said God the collective and unified Holy One. Good. It is good.
Note: The reflection on play in the Creation, and God’s response, “Tov,” comes from the June 12, 2022, Trinity Sunday sermon by Fr. William Skudlarek, OSB, at Saint Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota.
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Katha Chamberlain says
I absolutely LOVE this writing and these ideas about the Trinity and “they” in today’s non-binary world. As a 74 year old woman, I am trying to navigate a world new to me as I relate to our grandchildren and thei young people in our Presbyterian Church. Thank you, Susan, for giving me concrete ideas to help me process, learn, understand better.
Collegeville Institute says
Thank you, Katha! I can’t claim any special understanding of gender identity issues, so this felt risky, but I think a lot of us are stumbling along trying to just continue to love people as best we can.
Callie Smith says
“What if we looked at each other as people worth loving, all of us” – so many beautiful moments in this essay! I hadn’t thought of “they” with so much richness … until now. Thank you.
Collegeville Institute says
Lynn Domina says
One reason the Trinity has been among my most cherished Christian beliefs is its celebration of diversity within unity.