In my collections of sayings and prayers on my office wall is a statement of the Ubuntu Principle from South Africa: “I am because We are.” I remember when I first came across this that I was attracted to what it might mean. I was also hesitant to put it on my wall. I was hesitant because I was leery of promoting a mindset that could be seen as losing oneself in the collective. But when we read the letters of St. Paul or much of the Hebrew Scriptures, the idea of being part of a people rather than a stand-alone individual, is very prevalent.
I bring this all up because today is Trinity Sunday, and it seems to me that a possible way to understand the doctrine of a God who is One and yet Three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to think of God as the perfect being of “I am because We are.” In fact, God is so much a being of relationship that the Three Persons are not distinct individuals. There is no separation between them.
If I haven’t confused things too much by now, it is probably a lot simpler to say that belief in a Triune God reminds us that although we and every other creature in our world are unique, distinct, individuals, we are not created to be in isolation from each other. We are created to be in relationship, in the image of God who is relationship and love.
But I wonder if that is how we view ourselves, especially in Western societies. I wonder if, instead of having a mindset of “I am because We are,” we have a mindset more in line with the ancient days of the TV show Saturday Night Live, when, during the “Weekend Update,” the anchor would sign off with “I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not.” In other words, we put more of a premium on our individuality rather than on our connections.
This premium on our individuality leads us many times to resist the idea that we are somehow connected to each other. No, that is not accurate. We know that we are connected. Many people on this Memorial Day weekend will visit the graves of their loved ones, expressing, among other things, the connections we have with others. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that we often resist living out the implications of what it means to be connected to each other. If we did, would we be as self-satisfied with division? Would we embrace violence so often as the solution to conflict? Would we be as comfortable with the status quo?
In our Gospel reading from Matthew, the Risen Jesus commissions His disciples to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” We can’t teach anyone to observe anything if we can’t observe it ourselves. So when we remember all that Jesus has taught us, we remember the love of God that connects us all, and we will not be content with the status quo, as long as there are people denied their dignity as children of God and are lacking the necessities of life. Jesus has taught us that when we do for those considered “least” among us we are doing it for Him.
Perhaps it might be helpful that when we reflect on the mystery of God’s love for us revealed in the Trinity, we enter into the mystery of our connection with each other, and we hold each other in reverence with the love that comes to us in Jesus Christ.
In the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Fr. Phil, CP