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Coming home to the Trinity

Kate NewmanI have moved back to the town where I grew up. In a month, I totally changed my life. Or God granted me some prayers. I got out of what we Islanders call the Big Smoke (no, it is not only reserved for Toronto). I got off the mainland and came to slow down on Vancouver Island.
 
I will be working Children’s Ministry again. I laugh when I think that 2 Masters degrees and a fascination with the Trinity and ontology lead me right back to counting glue bottles.
 
When I came back to the Cathedral on the hill at the beginning of the summer, the place had the same perfume it did when I was 5 years old and sitting in that wooden pew to the right of the altar beside my grandmother. Her sturdy hands holding the red hymn book had driven us to the cathedral in a Mini of British Racing Green and also polished the Sacramental Silver to a gleam that surely rivalled the Transfiguration.
 
Christ Church Cathedral Victoria—I was baptized here, and I was confirmed here. I attended my grandmother’s funeral here. And now I teach here.
 
The children’s rooms are well stocked. I have rarely seen such a collection of small scissors; some of the clipped collection even carefully labelled “left handed.” Stacks of curriculum in boxes, enough yarn for 30 sweaters, rulers, paint, crayons, a shoe box of God’s eyes, 3 canisters of glitter, Bibles, and some of the most stunning stained glass I have known in all my Canadian Anglican travels.
 
It is August, and I am setting up my classroom for little hands and feet to explore in September. As I do this lonely work, I engage in teacher thinking: I reflect on my work. If I can uncover the systematic thinking that lies beneath my teaching actions, I will surely be able to wheedle more epiphanies from the children I teach. 
 
As I meander in the supply closet; packing and unpacking, boxing and recycling I am reminded of the perichoretic movement of the Trinity. I consider the triads in the educational experience. There is a triad in the past, present, and future; somebody taught the Cathedral’s children in the past, I will teach the children at the Cathedral in the near future and throughout it, all the children have been here. I know, because I was one of them.
 
I was a student. Now I am a teaching, and all through that time knowledge has flowed between the students and the teachers here: teachers, students, knowledge—another triad. The teacher teaches the children and is also taught by them; so knowledge is fluid, just as the Holy Spirit is both God and the Son.
 
There is a triad to teaching biblical text; the text, the reading of it and the sharing of it. What happens to the text when we read it? What happens to the text when we share it? Is it still text? Text, reading, and sharing: this triad is essential to anyone whose teaching medium is the written word. When we speak a written text, it has a new life. It takes on a different form, and becomes active and animated. When a word exists on the tongue, the page no longer cages the word; it becomes alive, a living word that can be heard, that can travel through our thought processes. If a word can be alive, how can that transform our understanding of written text? Part of what we do in churches is to make the written Word come alive by speaking it.
 
As Bible teachers, we are purveyors of the written word, but we are presenting a word that was born orally. Jesus could read the scroll in the temple, but we only ever hear of him writing in dust. Could he write? And if the Source of the Gospel could not write, what does that express about the written word? Which brings me to a fourth triad: the written text, the spoken text, and the communication of text.
How do we communicate our experience of the Gospel text? Do we converse with one another and communicate through the spoken word? Do we draw our response to the Gospel and communicate our experience through visual art? Do we create a short play or puppet show? Do we craft a stained-glass window? There is yet another triad: text, response, product.
 
Trinities work within our own lives. We can find them endlessly. In this way, we gain understanding of the dance between God, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity provides a roadmap for social relationships and educative structuring or whatever it is we are called to do for the Glory of God.
 
The dance of the Trinity, perichoresis, is a resolution to domination. Each part of the Trinity is equal to the other. There is no submission. There is only equality in the relationship of God, the Son and the Holy Spirit. So, we have a model for human interaction that discounts oppression. The Trinity presents a system of being that makes dominance unnecessary. But in order to perceive the workings of Trinity, we must apply a certain attention to functioning.
 
Augustine founded the ways in which the Trinity functions. The Son is eternally begotten; Christ was with God at the start of creation and only later became incarnate in the person of Christ. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the God and the Son—in what can be understood as an outward motion, a giving from the Trinity to creation. This giving, the outward movement of the Trinity toward us is well known as the economic Trinity. Yet if it is economic, there is a serious one-sidedness to the economic transaction because God gives to us whether we pay God back or not.
 
Meanwhile, God, the Son and the Holy Spirit function together are imminently and ontologically indivisible  – they are of the same substance. The Nicene Creed of 325 outlines that the Three are Light of Light—the metaphor used when the first Council of Nicea declared that the God, the Son and the Holy Spirit were of the same substance, they were defining holiness. Substance, linked primarily to relationship, was a declaration of holiness encapsulated in the Nicean metaphor of light. Just as the light shines through the Sunday School supply cupboard window. 
 
I pile together construction paper, wondering if I should order more or if I have what is necessary. And I wonder, too, what I can tell the children about this. Then, I thank God for the Gospel. It brings me back to the necessity of love—the unending and eternal love of God revealed through the Holy Spirit and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
 
So it can’t hurt to throw in the number 3 to my teaching either. Most children seem to know it. It is everywhere.
 
Come, share, build – I came to the church to share my heart, and to build a place for love. Christ, love, perception – when I tell the children about Jesus, the children I teach will hear me in ways I am not aware of. They will perceive the reality of my love. Teaching, understanding, grace – my love for teaching might represent their first understand of Christ’s love. So only by God’s grace will I teach well. Another teaching triad: teaching, self and revelation—if I stand in the way of my own revelation surely the children (or God or both) will have the power to reveal that.
 
Truth, love, children – we cannot hide the truth of our love with children in our midst. They demand all of our heart. Do they uncover our hearts through their knowing or their unknowing? Or do they reveal our hearts through their need? Because they need us, we are revealed – knowing, need, revelation. 
 
The Trinity inspires teaching. We may endeavour to teach God’s grace to children but we need God’s grace to teach children. Here in lies another trinity—teacher, child and God’s grace or, teacher-child and the love of God.
Kate Newman

About Kate Newman

Kate Newman has been teaching arts and faith to children in the secular school system and in churches for 20 years. Kate has completed a Masters of Theological Studies and has a Masters in Education. She is the principal developer for the Compendium of the Church Mice. She currently works at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria the same church where she was baptized in Children's Minstry. She is also a mother. She enjoys walks in the woods with her and a good nap. Whew.
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6 Responses to Coming home to the Trinity

  1. Beautiful writing Kate! Hope to see you around Victoria.

  2. Dear Kate This is a very touching article! I wish you well at Christ Church Cathedral. Your fond memories of your grandmother reminded me that it was my grandmother that passed “the faith” on to me as well. God bless the grandmothers! One of the great joys in life is to be able to teach “the faith” to others while also learning how to “live the faith” from them. My only comment about your writing of the Trinity is to ask that you look at where the filioque clause came from and how it came into being through western philosophical thought and how it became codified by the Roman Patriarch and thus inherited by the Reformation churches. The original Greek text did not include it in the Nicene Creed in 325AD. We could do well to learn from our Orthodox sisters and brothers when it comes to the Trinity. Blessings on your ministry!

    • Thank you F. Don! I am just finishing a Masters in Theology. So, yes, the discussion about the development of the Nicene Creed, its history and political influence was an enlightening journey. Peace and good thoughts to you.

      • Please do not hesitate to post more about the “filioque clause”. It would be wonderful to hear more from you about this. Peace be with you!

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