Musings on the Triune God by Natalie Weaver

This past term I had the opportunity to teach courses on the Christian doctrines of Christology and Trinity.  My first inclination was to approach these doctrines from the perspective of their historical development. For, I find the historical study of doctrinal development to be a fascinating and liberating approach to theology because it delivers the searcher from the illusions of ubiquity and universality, even in matters of the most central tenets of faith.  When people can see doctrine in its political, polemical, and posited guises, we can be free from absolutization of belief in past expressions as well as in present permutations.

Yet, as much as I enjoy tours through the historical development of faith formulations, I found myself unable to really commit to this approach this year.  I was more concerned with allowing students space to think about Christ and to think about God.  I wanted to introduce the problems and tensions that have dogged Christian logic and practice for millennia, but I wasn’t interested in arriving at conclusions or teaching modern experts’ answers.  I wanted to create occasion for my students to answer for themselves questions of justice and mercy; theodicy; particularity; scandal; and more.

Now, it is my pedagogical practice to do whatever I ask my students to do so that I have something genuinely constructive to add to our class conversations.  As such, my problem was set for me: I had to battle the Nietzschean critique that genuinely bothers me, and I had to determine with Dostoevsky whether the Idiot was really an idiot.  I forced myself to address the excesses of ethical self-door-matting and internalized injustice that can masquerade in Christianity as the moral high ground, knowing fully from the outset that as a purposefully kind woman I had been at historical risk and actual failure of distorting concepts such as meekness, humility, and sacrifice.  I had always wanted to be “good,” but perhaps for the wrong reasons. Good was so often easier than honest, and it fit a pleasant girl such as myself much better than fair or right.  It is tricky business to turn one’s profession into an occasion of authentic, naked dialogue; to lose the prestige of station; and to share what scares oneself about one’s own mind in the mix.  But, it was what I was asking my students to do, so I felt I needed to bring at least as much honesty to the process as I was asking of them.

The payoff was remarkable, where insights subtle and giant were freely offered.  I am still processing many of them, but one that dawned on me has become a new sort of ethic that is helping to guide my actions these days.  It comes from considering the doctrine of the Trinity, that is, the Christian assertion that God is three-in-one.  It took three courses over two semesters to make the argument, and the conversation, which is worth longer discussion, obviously cannot be rendered here due to limits of space and form.  Distilled, my insight was that the Image of God in people can and perhaps ought rightly to be, for Christians, Trinitarian.  I had always surmised that the idea of the imago dei had something  to do with rationality or fundamental human dignity, but it had never occurred to me before that it might also be understood to suggest that in each human being is the existential, diachronic, trifold function of creation, incarnation, and inspiration.

The more I consider(ed) this, I see in it a modality for living.  In this, creation involves speaking into being truth and idea.  Incarnation involves not merely the assumption of humanity as a given of our nature but the intentional “earthing” and “embodying” and humbling self-pouring for the sake of being present to others.  Inspiration involves hope, setting things forward, sustaining futurity.  As I considered and consider this more and more, I see endless possibilities for transformation in my conduct every time I ask myself what/how am I creating here; how I am incarnating here; how am inspiring here?  In light of such questions, the doctrine of God became not a study of the celestial two men and bird of the past but a moral engagement in connecting beliefs with being in an urgent and life-giving way for my own life.

Trinity may be a helpful tool for operationalizing and honoring the divine in the human, which of course only works within the context of those for whom Trinity is a persuasive model of the Divine.  For me, at this point in my journey, it has become an important experiment in informing my decision-making and behavior as well as experiencing “salvation.”

In light of my musings, it came as little surprise to me that I began to see Trinity where I cast my eyes and where my mind wandered in the spaces between waking and slumber.  In one foggy afternoon dream, I saw three beautiful women laughing: a mother, a daughter, and an aunt.  They came around me and hugged me, welcomed me, rejoiced with me.  They were loud and full of life and love.  Their smiles and colors were huge, and their song of laughter was the most palpable quality of their presence.  As I woke, I said to myself, that was the Trinity.  A few days later, I saw three men, each named Bob.  They were almost a comic trio, as they introduced themselves as father, son, and uncle.  In my waking, I knew again, this ordinary Trinity was plain and simple in these unassuming gentlemen.  In a final dream, I saw nothing but the clear spoken-word-truth that all this life, its ups and downs, everything I was struggling with, even the greatest losses in my life, were merely occasions to know the being of Being.  I laughed at this strange thought and said in my mind, “what is your name?”  The answer.  “I am the Triune God.”

I tried to capture my dreams in a painting over the weekend.  I worked outside in the sunlight with oil pastels and spray paint.  An Amazon Prime delivery man approached me from behind while I was working and saw my painting in progress.  To my great surprise, he said, “Ah, that’s deep.  That’s the Trinity.”  I was quite surprised by his interpretation.   A little while later, my boys came outside to check on me.  The youngest said, “what are you making, mom?”  Val, now fourteen, said, “It is the Fates.  Or, no, it is the Trinity.  The woman on the left is the Father.  She, in the middle, that’s the Son.  And the drag queen is the Holy Spirit.  Right, mom?”  I laughed and answered, “yes,” although I didn’t know there was a drag queen in the mix. Nate, 10, then said, “Oh, I see.  The one in the middle is transgender, right?”  He was quite serious, even though I had no answer to that query.  We just talked, and conversation that followed was an occasion of grace about what we see; where and how God manifests; and what creation, presence, and hope can mean.

Natalie Kertes Weaver, Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books includeMarriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013)Natalie’s most recent book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014).  Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin.  Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology.  Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan.  For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.

Categories: Art, Christianity, Church Doctrine, Theology, Women's Voices

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7 replies

  1. My favorite trinity is of the Goddess: Maiden/Mother/Crone – three stages of womanhood.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Natalie–What I really love about this essay is the creativity you embody and explore, using Trinitarian doctrine as a “model of the Divine.” Would that all of us used such openness and curiosity to understand the mysteries central to all religions. Doing so, I believe, would keep us from being absolutists as you note. “When people can see doctrine in its political, polemical, and posited guises, we can be free from absolutization of belief in past expressions as well as in present permutations.” Thank you for a thoughtful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love your trinity, especially as your sons see it! Love that you ask of yourself what you ask of your students. Are you familiar with mystery novelist Dorothy Sayer’s trinity? The first person is the idea whole and complete, the second person the labor–the blood, sweat, and tears–to bring the book (or whatever you are creating) into form on this earth, the 3rd person happens when the work is received by others and becomes part of their life, is enriched by their imagination and experience.

    Thanks for another lively thought-provoking post.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks so much Natalie! Love your essay here at FAR today — truly wonderful — and so delightful your memory of the Amazon Prime delivery man — I get a lot of deliveries from Amazon too.


  5. Natalie, there is almost no mention here (except for the moment of naming the Fates) of the appropriation of the ancient Triplicity, storied ubiquitously and cross culturally as Goddess, sometimes 3 stages of womanhood, but often as 3 qualities of cosmic creativity extant in all being. She was a Triune Goddess long before the Christian attempt to house Her in his name. It was/is indeed a good metaphor for the unfolding Cosmos, that Christianity has spent a lot of time and text trying to incorporate into its doctrines, but it has not been easy obviously: it requires a relational Deity. My M.A. supervisor Donald L. Gelpi S.J. did publish a book The Divine Mother: a Trinitarian Theology of the Holy Spirit in 1984, which I had heard from him in 1978 at the GTU – that did get me excited way back then, before I left the whole party (in 1979) … perhaps you know the book already. Congratulations on your creative solutions, but I am aghast constantly at feminist attempts to squeeze Her into Christian boxes: though I am sure it will eventually crack the boxes. I think there may be two main options for feminist women with essentially patriarchal religions: either chip away from within or vote with your feet; that is, leave and don’t give it air. I chose the latter, finding that there was so much of Her to uncover and explore, millennia of love of Her, that I desired to immerse myself in. I couldn’t stay as you and many others choose to do: perhaps your work is essential for the breaking down of the hegemony, but there is a risk that your good work will simply keep many in the fold, used for the good of the empire. That was my opinion having seen how Mary has been used over the centuries to bolster the catholic empire: her skirts have been useful. So it may be for feminists spending their time entertaining patriarchal twists on much older human knowledge.

    This turned into a much longer thing than I intended; sorry – and perhaps you have heard it all before. Best wishes, as we all try to muddle through the fragments to compose a picture for self, other and all (a holy trinity to be sure).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So beautifully said. I think anyone paying attention will see the source, form, and breath of divinity, and perhaps phrase it in many ways, but it is a natural response to the amazing Creation. When we break free from dogmatic approaches – whether female, male, or anything else – and we can just experience the amazingness of the universe, it is a liberating and healing experience!


  7. Well done, nice perspective and nicely written. I myself have a strong belief in The Triune, hopeful for a world with an open heart and open mind. To consider The Holy Trinity though, one must look past religious dogma and with a loving heart to see The Truth. We we learn to live in unity with God everything else falls into place.


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