My daughter is turning Hindu.
On the one hand, this is not exactly a glowing endorsement of my Christian influence. On the other hand, however, her spiritual journey has led to some of the best conversations I think we’ve ever had. It’s caused me to examine what I believe about ultimate truth and the nature of reality, and I’ve come to the conclusion that my daughter might just be discovering a new vocabulary for some things which I’ve long believed myself from our Christian tradition. To that extent, I think I actually prefer an observant Hindu (or Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or whatever) to a lukewarm, Christmas-and-Easter Christian who never gives any real thought to the tenets of the faith. It’s important—don’t you think?—to actually know what it is you say you believe.
This Sunday is the Feast of the Holy Trinity. In theory, it’s one of the six principal festivals of Christianity. In practice, I don’t think anyone gives a rip about it. The problem for me, of course, is that it commemorates a doctrine of the church and not an event or a person. I’m pretty much a story-teller, so I don’t really know what to do when there isn’t a narrative to talk about. Holy Trinity Sunday is usually a good time for a pastor to take a vacation so as not to have to preach a bone-dry, dogmatic sermon which will sound like a theology lecture and leave the folks in the pew staring glassy-eyed with occasional glances at their wrist watches.
Of course, there’s always the boring history lesson I can fall back on. I can tell folks about how the Emperor Constantine called for a church council in Nicaea in 325 A.D. to settle the question of Jesus’ relationship with God once and for all. I can explain the cute trivia that Nicholas of Bari (aka. Saint Nicholas, a.k.a. Santa Claus) happened to take part in that initial convention. I can also point out that the motive for coming up with a settled doctrine was every bit as political as theological—which does not necessarily mean that those bishops in Nicaea got it wrong. But I can’t see that this would have much an effect on my listeners.
No. If this festival day is to mean anything at all, it has to challenge us each to come up with our own definition of what we mean by the word GOD. It’s only then that the doctrine of Trinity can mean anything to us, and only then that we can have a meaningful conversation with people of other faiths or no faith at all.
Yet here is where I have to make a disclaimer. Nobody, not a pastor, a church council, a pope, yogi, rabbi, imam, or saint can really comprehend God. In the Gospel lesson appointed for this feast in the Revised Common Lectionary (John 16:12-15), Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…” (v. 12-13a) This kind of reminds me of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men bellowing, “You can’t handle the truth!” And the truth is, we can’t. We have no real conception of the wonder and vastness of God apart from what the Spirit puts in our hearts. All we do for convenience is construct clumsy analogies. The trick is to try to use these clumsy analogies to lead us to a place of meaning and not turn them into doctrinal idolatry.
For a long time we in the church just said, “Hey. You want to be a Christian? Accept the doctrine of the Trinity. If you don’t, then you’re not really a Christian and you’re probably going to burn in Hell.” I’d hope that we’re progressing a bit from this. What does this doctrine actually mean at its core? For me, I’d have to say that it’s the experience of God as the great I AM. God just IS—God creating and being, God in love and compassion manifested in the person of Christ, and God as the connective tissue of all things. Our Gospel has Jesus say that the Father is in him, he is in the Spirit, and the Spirit is in us (vv.14-15).
That should be the challenge. If the Spirit of God—God’s breath which breathes life into all and the spirit of Christ’s compassion—is truly in me, then it has to be in everyone else, too. That means I have some real thinking to do about how I relate to creation and to my neighbor. If I sin against my neighbor, I’ve sinned against God and I’ve sinned against myself. And this thought drives me to my knees to pray for reverence for all people and all creation.
I’m not sure I get how my Hindu daughter sees God, but I feel pretty confident that contemplation of my own tradition leads me to a place of peace with hers.
Thanks for reading. God be with you.