I am reading a book called Contemplating the Trinity by Raneiro Cantalamessa in preparation for our Wittenberg gathering in Trent. I am also studying a teaching by George Miley on The Trinity and Christian Unity. Through an interesting chain of events, I have inherited the task of presenting a talk on the "The Unity of the Trinity as the Source of Christian Unity" at our gathering in Trento. On the one hand, it seems obvious that Christian unity should spring directly from the Godhead. On the other hand, the mystery of the Trinity has always seemed too deep, too inaccessible, too theologically sticky for me to approach with any insight that could be practical or personal.
This is exactly the misconception which Cantalamessa adresses in his book. He claims that Christianity's fundamental assertion about God, that He is One God in Three Persons, should shape our daily lives. The very title of the book, Contemplating the Trinity, intimidated me. I didn't know how to contemplate a mystery too deep for me to understand, but I have felt an invitation through Cantalamessa's words, and I have been completely surprised and delighted, even enraptured by meditating on the mutual love and honor among the Persons of the Trinity.
Here are some practical benefits of the discipline which have surprised me, in no particular order.
1) I am not so afraid of eternity
If the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have joyfully shared one another's company for eternity past, without the stimulus of human drama, then I can hope that the future eternity promised to us in Christ will be joyful, interesting, engaging, stimulating. Thinking in purely human terms, it is hard for me to imagine an eternity which does not deteriorate into a nebulous boredom. (That is an honest confession of my not-so-holy fear, but it is one I think many of us share.) However, I know the Trinity is not bored! The Holy Trinity is full of life and creativity and love. Sharing eternity through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit - that is an eternity that makes my heart sing.
Corollary: Contemplating the eternal, creative nature of the Trinity, I can more easily imagine 5 billion years as reasonable gestation time for the earth to spring forth with life. Not that my imagination has any bearing on truth, of course! It's just that in my human limitations numbers as big as 5 billion or as small as 7 days make my mind reel with some sort of uneasiness which fades away when I imagine the Triune God waiting, planning, rejoicing in the company of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
2) I experience joy.
When I think about the love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, my heart is caught up in the joy described in Proverbs 8. (I'm aware that the writer was speaking metaphorically of Wisdom, and certainly did not have a Trinitarian understanding of God, but I think the passage applies. In any case, the kind of joy I feel in this passage is the same type of joy I experience in contemplating the Trinity.)
22 The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.
23 I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
24 When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.....
30 Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;
31 Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.
3) I do not fear.
Freedom from fear is natural benefit of joy. It is hard to fear when your heart is happy.
This is not a naive freedom, a hope that nothing bad will happen. Terrible things have happened throughout history and will continue to happen until Christ's return. The Trinity itself is familiar with suffering. The Father gave His only Son to die; Christ took the sin of the world upon Himself in agony; the Holy Spirit continues to be grieved by our sin. And yet, there is a certainty of hope in the omnipotence of the Trinity. God holds the times in His hands, and "for the joy set before us" we can endure.
4) I am freed from selfish ambition.
Here is a quote from George's teaching.
Each Person of the Trinity relates to the others in harmony, submission, honor—agape love. The Son is submitted to the will of the Father. The Father has entrusted all authority to the Son. The Son departed to make room for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not draw attention to Himself, but to the Son. There is no dishonor, competition, jealousy or unkindness among them. The Persons of the Trinity would simply not tolerate it. Matthew 26:39; 28:18; John 16:7, 13-14
When I contemplate the joy each Person of the Trinity experiences in yielding to another, I feel the same kind of joy when my brothers and sisters receive honor. I feel even more joy when I can honor them. As a very practical application, I have felt great joy inviting my friends to teach at the AHOP retreats, And there are several more I have yet to invite!
In the embrace of the Trinity, I have no fear that I will not receive what I need.
5) I love others more fully.
Another quote from George.
God created man—male and female—like Him. Human beings are designed for relational harmony with other persons—God, and fellow humans. Here God’s pattern is unveiled for marriage, family, society, Church. Relational oneness with God actualizes relational oneness with others. Harmonious relationships are deeply and beautifully fulfilling for every person. Genesis 1:26-27; 2:24
Within the love of the Trinity, I am safe to love others. I become more thankful for the love of family, friends and community which God has ordained. When I begin to experience God's love for others, my heart expands and I can imagine entering into God's love for my enemies. Not that rejection won't continue to sting. At times I may need to oppose the words or actions of others. But even in the place of conflict, I can enter into the love of God and ask for mercy, peace and healing.
In many ways, this practice of contemplating the Trinity feels like an invitation to walk through familiar doors which had always seemed forbidden or locked. I am a happy child exploring new rooms in my own house.