Sunday's Feast of the Holy Trinity revolves around something we humans can know about God: There are three persons in God. Yet we must employ Scripture readings in our liturgy which come from a period in which followers of God didn't know this specific divine dimension.

The classic formula - three persons in one God - doesn't officially appear until Christian-ity's first ecumenical council, held in Nicea in 325. Though Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned in our Christian sacred writings, no author puts them together in such an "ontological" unity. The definition of the Trinity we memorized in our first catechism classes took the Christian community almost 300 years to formulate.

That late date doesn't imply that God's followers through the centuries discovered nothing of God's personality. As we hear in the first reading (Ex 34: 4-6, 8-9), the quest to understand and uncover the mysteries of God goes back to our earliest biblical writings.

Moses and Yahweh

To better appreciate the reading, when you find the title "Lord," replace it with the proper name "Yahweh." Then notice how different the second verse sounds: "having come down in a cloud, Yahweh stood with Moses there and proclaimed His name, 'Yahweh,'...Yahweh, Yahweh, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity."

Yahweh is the name God revealed to Moses in the famous burning bush episode in Exodus 3. It doesn't mean "Lord" or "God;" it just means Yahweh: God's proper name, something akin to Victor or Edna.

The name was changed to "Lord" shortly before the time of Jesus by some holy, pious Jews who thought it blasphemous to actually use God's name. Because they believed that knowing anything about another person gives us a certain amount of control over that individual, they reasoned that using God's name gave people power over God.

Those scrupulous Jews were correct, but it was a power Yahweh freely granted Yahweh's disciples; the price Yahweh paid in order to set up a relationship with the ancient Israelites.

Scholars differ on the exact meaning of the name - some say it implies "I am who am;'" others, "I am who cause to be" - but all agree "Yahweh" conveys a concept of life. By giving us the name "Yahweh," God shows that He is concerned with all and every dimension of our life-embracing existence.

We hear the same divine life-giving characteristic in one of the last writings of the Christian Scriptures: John's Gospel (Jn 3: 16-18). "God so loved the world," Jesus proclaims, "that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life."

Life offer

John contends that surfacing the risen Jesus among us is one way to appreciate Yahweh's passionate desire to offer us life. "To believe in the name of the only Son of God" is to become one with that Son, to join in the dying and rising which both brought life to Him and brings life to us.

That's why the ending of Paul's second letter to the Corinthians is so important (2 Cor 13: 11-13). No doubt it was chosen as one of Sunday's readings because of his one sentence mention of Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. But don't forget what the Apostle says immediately before that verse: "Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you."

Paul's message is clear: The more we die by giving ourselves to others, the more we experience who God is in our midst. Perhaps that's one of the reasons an increasing number of theologians refer to God with both male and female pronouns.

One can't give oneself to women without also noticing the feminine dimensions of God. Such modern pronoun changes are simply a reminder that we're still evolving in our understanding of who God is.