The Strong Name of the Trinity

“St. Patrick’s Breastplate”

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three. 

I bind this day to me for ever,
By power of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River;
His death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the Cherubim;
The sweet 'Well done' in judgment hour;
The service of the Seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three. 

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers. 

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death-wound and the burning
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature has creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

* * * * *

For years, I tried to explain the Trinity. What it means that God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – or as the great hymn puts it, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

For years, I tried to explain it. It’s like Math, I’d say, only a different kind of Math where 3 = 1, and 1 = 3, which doesn’t make any sense to anyone, any more than base 3 or base 12 made sense to me when I was in Elementary School. Understanding the Trinity is harder than the Fibonacci sequence, which at least has a certain logic to it. I actually majored in math for a very short while in college, but the first semester I was supposed to take number theory and that did me in.

Clearly math could not explain the Trinity.

Maybe Physics is a better analogy, I reasoned; after all, if E=MC2 why couldn’t Spirit become flesh and flesh be Spirit and both related to Light? If matter can become energy and energy can become matter, and everything is wave and particle at the same time, then God could certainly be Jesus and Jesus could be the Spirit. But the truth is, I will never understand Quantum Physics, so I’m not sure how far that can take me in explaining the Trinity.

Of course, I’ve also tried the historical approach, explaining the genesis of the theology of the Trinitarian godhead in the formation of the Nicene Creed, as fourth century Christians tried to describe how God was all three persons of the Trinity from before the beginning of time, but was revealed at different times, and how the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church split over whether the Spirit proceeded from the Father or from the Father and the Son. Though then people’s eyes would start to glaze over, so I knew that didn’t help much.

Besides, I suspect there were politics involved in that Orthodox/Catholic split as much as it was about theology – as in, which was really the center of the Western world at that time – Rome or Constantinople?

So I’d get back to basics, and talk about the Trinity Biblically. I’d explain that there really isn’t a full-blown theology of the Trinity in the Bible, but there are passages that point to it – like the one we just heard from Romans.  

We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… and the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 

Or like Matthew 28, where Jesus tells the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. That’s about as Trinitarian as you can get, right?

Or I’d try to describe the narrative of scripture, the over-arching story, how God revealed God’s Self to people in the Old Testament, like to Moses in the burning bush, or to Elijah in the still small voice, or to the prophets… and then God revealed God’s Self in Jesus Christ, who called God “Father”… and then, after Jesus left the earth, how God sent the Holy Spirit into the disciples.  

So, I would say, it’s like the narrative of a person’s life, and the roles we play, that a boy starts out as a son and may become a father himself, and he’s still the same person, but he’s in different relationships.

But the Trinity is more than that. It’s just the dickens to wrap our heads around. It’s just so hard to explain.

So I kind of gave up. And most years, we don’t do a lot of talking about the Trinity. We may not even focus on Trinity Sunday at all. 

It’s just so hard.

But, you know, I read something recently by the great writer Flannery O’Connor. She said,

Where you have absolute solutions, you have no need of faith. Faith is what you have in the absence of knowledge. The reason this clash doesn’t bother me any longer is because I have got, over the years, a sense of the immense sweep of creation, of the evolutionary process in everything, of how incomprehensible God must necessarily be to be the God of heaven and earth. You can’t fit the Almighty into your intellectual categories. [i]

You can’t fit the Almighty into your intellectual categories.  

Not math, not science, not history, not psychology, not even Biblical studies or literary criticism.

God just refuses to fit.

Which may be the whole point, after all.

It’s not even like trying to put a square peg in a round hole, or a round peg in a square hole. It’s that the peg and the hole keep changing shape, and we are not going to be able to pin them down.  

So maybe understanding the Trinity isn’t even the right goal.

Maybe it’s not about explanations at all.

Maybe the only way to approach God is with awe. Or curiosity. Or gratitude.

Or silence.

We can’t think our way into this.

But maybe, just maybe, we can feel it. Sense it.

Live inside it.

I was down the hall in the room next to the library the other day. I’m not in there often; it’s mostly used as the 7th-and-8th grade Sunday school room, and for the Stephen Ministers when they take their breaks between continuing ed and supervision when they meet. I was there Wednesday night leading continuing ed, so happened to be in that room. On the wall was a piece of newsprint with a carefully hand-printed poem.

I AM

It said at the top, in the center, in big letters.

And underneath, each line in a different bright color, it read:

  • The beginning in the end.

  • The faith in your believing

  • The color of your truth

  • The dreamer of your dreams

  • The falling in your love

  • The words of a prayer

  • The silence in the music

  • The music in the silence

And at the bottom, the center, at the end, in big red letters, was the word,

LOVE

And in little, tiny letters underneath it, the words,

Pure and Simple

That’s not something you try to wrap your head around, right?

No, you wrap your heart around it. That’s the only way it can make any sense.

But it does, doesn’t it?

Or here’s another way to think about it. Or not think about it.

I want you to stand up for this part…

You know what praying hands look like, right? Not folded up, but palm to palm, thumb to thumb, fingers to fingers…

Take your hands and do that now….

Now press them together as closely as you can…

What do you notice about where your hands touch each other, and where there’s space?

Can you feel the space between your palms?

There’s a space there, a little pocket of air. The harder you press your palms together, the more you can feel it…

That space…

Imagine inside that place is a space that God inhabits. That when you pray, there’s room for holiness because you can’t fill that space, there’s a gap. And in that gap, there is an infinite presence of God.

And there is a space, inside God, for you to live inside of, too.

[i] “Daily Dig” devotional, Plough, June 14, 2019. Excerpt from The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, ed. Sally Fitzgerald.