One of the late Anthony de Mello's most insightful sayings seems tailor-made for the Feast of the Trinity. "As soon as we learn the name of the bird," the Indian Jesuit remarked, "we no longer see the bird." In other words, once we identify something according to its genus and species, we stop observing it.
In 325, the Constantine-called Council of Nicea gave Christians a technical definition of the Trinity: three persons in one God. And for all practical purposes, from that point Christians stopped observing the Trinity. The Nicene definition quickly found its way into our creeds and catechisms, becoming so much a part of our faith that we even read it back into the Scriptures which comprise Sunday's three liturgical readings, Scriptures composed long before "the bird" received its name.
Accustomed to memorizing and reciting definitions of God, we forget that our Sacred writers are much more into experiencing than naming. The author of Proverbs, for example (Prov 8: 22-31), first praises, then encourages his readers to develop that innate quality which all humans share: the drive to experience God in God's creation.
Calling this attribute "the Wisdom of God," the author presumes its presence at the very beginning of creation. "From of old," Wisdom announces, "I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth....When God established the heavens I was there, when God marked out the vault over the face of the deep...then was I beside God as God's craftsman."
The author takes for granted that only those who are able to define everything in the universe are able to define God.
Jesus' followers carry this conviction one step further. They believe God is uniquely present and working in Jesus. But they also believe Jesus is more than just a part of God's creation; Jesus is God.
The early Christians reached this insight into Jesus not only by meshing the Galilean carpenter's personality with what they knew about God working in the past; they also linked Him with God working in the future in ways and areas they still were to experience.
As we hear in the Gospel (Jn 16: 12-15), Jesus proclaims, "All that the Father has belongs to me!" But He also promises to send a "Spirit of truth," someone who will tell us what we now cannot bear to hear, someone who eventually will guide us to all truth.
For John, God isn't a static concept which we can squeeze into our brains, think about and control. God is someone very much alive. And it is the Spirit of God which makes Jesus alive in our midst, continually new, continually revealing God's will for us.
How does one name what one has yet to experience?
Hope in future
The first Christian writer, Paul, doesn't seem very worried about what God will do or become in the future (Rom 5:1-15). He simply states that because of faith in God now, nothing that will happen in the future will "leave us disappointed."
The Apostle believes that we have life (grace) now only because Jesus has helped us build a relationship with God which brings that life. He goes so far in that belief that he can write to the Christian community in Rome that everything in our lives, even affliction, comes from God.
Years ago, in a course on angelogy and demonology, I discovered that we traditionally get God off the hook when bad things happen in our lives by laying the blame at the feet of the devil or the nearest demon. According to our limited definition of God, God can't cause something which hurts us.
Obviously, Paul doesn't share our definition. He sees something deeper in affliction than just the pain we go through when we experience it. "We know," he writes, "that affliction makes for endurance, and endurance for tested virtue, and tested virtue for hope."
Paul sees something deeper in affliction because he sees something deeper in God, the deepest and broadest thing one can see in another: love. He sees "the love of God which has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit."
Only when we can name every act of love will we be able to name God.