Three-Person Partnership

Trinity Sunday

In my college dorm, there were three types of rooms: singles, doubles where you shared with a roommate, and quads, where four people shared two bedrooms with a common room between. 
Because the campus had some historic old buildings, there were also odd-sized rooms in which they housed three students at a time. These ‘triples’ as they were called, were great from an architectural standpoint — refurbished old Victorian mansions had a lot of character and beauty — but from an interpersonal standpoint, they were not very successful.
In fact, the staff knew that of all the living arrangements on campus, the triples were the most unstable. Within months of arriving on campus, even the best of friends were often at each other’s throats.
The question was ‘why’? 
The answer: the triad configuration always pitted two against one.
The alliances might change, but no matter what, there was always an odd man out.
It can be a rare thing to see a grouping of three work really well as a unit. So often egos, power, and jealousy get in the way. It’s hard enough for two people to work those things out and truly be effective partners whether it is in business, art, marriage or friendship.

But I saw a three-person partnership work very well in the camp directors at Holden Village Lutheran Retreat Center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State.

Carol, Paul, and Tom had been friends for years. Tom and Paul had been classmates in seminary (though neither became pastors); Carol and Paul were married. The three owned a restaurant on the Mississippi River in Pepin, Wisconsin, before coming to Holden.
No matter where they were, Carol, Paul, and Tom, considered their work to be that of building community. The three of them had community in themselves—each making a place for the others’ contributions and communicating openly about problems and concerns.
You could sense the give and take between them, and it made you feel comfortable joining in. And people did join in. They welcomed individuals and families and groups to their retreat center all year long. They especially had a reputation for encouraging young people in their journeys. Their interest and warmth supported hundreds of 20-somethings who worked a gap year in the kitchens, laundry, and maintenance yard.
And they were famous for their deliciously simple cuisine and home baked bread. It was as if their work in making and serving food had prepared them for leading Christian community. Tom took his cue from Jesus, saying, “Our Lord began his ministry making too much wine and ended up with brunch on the beach. So, he was really in food service too, in a way.”
I think of Carol, Tom, and Paul as an earthly example of what the Trinity must be like. The Trinity is a partnership of three, where each member shares in the life of the community. Like the best of human community, each person of the Godhead has a contribution to make, each is appreciated and supported.
Jesus uses familial language to paint a picture of these interrelationships — Father and Son. He also speaks of the persons as sharing all they have — power, authority, glory. No part of the Trinity operates on its own, but all are mutually and lovingly interdependent.
The Trinity is a difficult concept to understand! It took the Church over three centuries to agree on the language that they would use to speak of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We will say those hard-won words today in the Nicene Creed.
Seeing examples like Paul, Carol, and Tom as a way to understand the Trinity is an old Christian practice. A centuries-old icon of the Trinity (right) by Andrei Rublev portrays the Trinity as three visitors, based on a story in Genesis where Abraham entertains three mysterious guests. Notice the visitors are all the same size. This is a unique feature in portraying the Trinity—other portrayals depict the Spirit as a dove, much smaller than Jesus—and often times God is simply a hand pointing from the corner of the canvas.
This image is specifically composed to emphasize the equality, mutuality, and interplay between the three persons of the Trinity.
But that is not all. Notice that there is a space at the table. Three visitors, one space left.
The message is clear—there is a place for you at the table: a place for you to join in the life of the Trinity, into the work of God. For as with the trio of camp directors, the partnership does not stop with the three in the Godhead, but radiates outward, drawing all into the life of the divine community.
  • How do you experience relationship with God? 
  • Do you feel most comfortable thinking of God as:
      • Father, or creator? 
      • The Spirit who is close to you? 
      • Jesus who is a companion and teacher? 
  • And what practices bring you into relationship with God?

At Holden Village, all the activities of the camp were considered an invitation to spend time with God.
  • There were multiple art studios for weaving, pottery, and craft. 
  • Hiking trails and sauna and good food
  • And of course, bible study and evening prayer.
  • Even the work of running a camp—the laundry and kitchen, the composting and the fire brigade
It helped me see that all of daily life can be an opportunity to draw close to the community of the Trinity.
As you contemplate what brings you close to God, consider also what brings you close to others. Because often they are related. For when we are aware of God’s loving relationship with us, we are able to operate from that place with others.

On Holy Trinity Sunday, our job is less to pin God down in precise theological language as it is to enter into a mystery that God is a community, and yet one.

  • We join in the Delight of God described in proverbs.
  • We join in Love of God poured into our hearts, as John says.
  • We partake of the truth revealed to us, as John says.
  • What is God’s is shared freely with us – we are invited into the community.
We don’t have to consign ourselves to living the equivalent of triplet dorm rooms. When we join the three-person partnership of the Trinity, we join a dance, a love, and a mutuality that is God’s and becomes ours to share.

We find our place at the table and eat our fill of God’s grace.

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