One, two, three, one, two three…
This is a special rhythm. The technical musical term is three quarter time; the most famous dance to this rhythm has become known as the waltz. But even before the waltz became fashionable at the court in Vienna in the late 18th century, it was a favorite among country folks who didn’t give a damn about proper etiquette – the waltz, with men and women holding each other closely, first was considered scandalous by the refined upper class – but who just wanted to have fun and express their joy of life.
One, two, three, one, two, three…
Arguably the waltz is the easiest dance to learn. The basic step is a box step – taking a step back or forward, depending on whether you’re leading or following, planting the other foot a little distance to the left or the right, and then bring those feet together, then do the same in the other direction, and repeat. This dance doesn’t require much thinking, it is a very natural rhythm, after a little while, muscle memory sets in, and you can get adventurous and add some twirls. One, two, three…
Now if you take the step sequence for the waltz apart, it turns out that the waltz is the most stable of all dances, if you don’t get too crazy with it. Yes, there is movement, but this movement feels pretty safe – much more so than a jive, a samba or a tango, for example. There is consistency in the fluidity.
One to a different subject: which kind of chair or stool, do you think, is the most stable? Surprisingly, it’s the three-legged stool. And there even is a mathematical explanation for it: it takes only three points to define a plane, and the more points you add to that plane, the less stable this plane actually becomes. A triangle is the most stable plane of all.
One, two, three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There have been many attempts to describe or explain God, the Holy Trinity, and, in my opinion, each has to fail because we are dealing with a divine mystery here. But there is something reassuring in the image of the Trinity – there is utmost stability and balance.
It is not by chance that the number 3 has been considered holy in the Judeo-Christian tradition…
To my knowledge, the first one to compare the Holy Trinity to a three-legged stool was the 12th century German nun and mystic Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard was a Renaissance woman before there was such a thing. She was an influential abbess, conversed with emperors and popes, composed revolutionary music, and was a respected healer. Beyond that, she authored several books. She had no formal theological education, but had heavenly visions, which she dictated to a monastic secretary, who wrote them down for posterity. And these visions for the most part are quite wild, like the vision we heard about in the lesson from the prophet Isaiah today, with spinning wheels and fire and smoke and bizarre heavenly creatures – but there are also many passages that are surprisingly approachable and down-to-earth – like her description of the Trinity.
For Hildegard, God, the Trinity, made a lot of sense – there is a beautiful order and balance in the three persons of God, like in a three-legged stool. But for Hildegard, the divine Trinity also is reflected in every aspect of life. We see the Holy Trinity reflected in creation, with the delicate balance between God, humanity and nature. According to Hildegard, the Trinity is even reflected in human beings – we are composed of body, mind, and soul. The Trinitarian divine stability and balance is found to be everywhere, it exists for the benefit of all, and we are to take care that this balance isn’t disturbed lest the whole system collapses. Here again, she uses the image of a three-legged stool: if one of the legs is a little shorter than the others, it doesn’t really matter – the chair still works. But once a leg or even two are badly damaged, the stool breaks down.
I think there is enormous wisdom in Hildegard’s musings – we experience ourselves how our whole being is thrown off when we are injured physically, psychologically or spiritually – our entire being hurts. And we’ve seen the disastrous consequences of the imbalance in our dealings with nature and the disrespect for God, the creator, which we show when we as humans greedily exploit this planet.
One, two, three – for Hildegard, the Trinity is about order. But then, it is also about relationship. There is communion, there is communication between what she calls the Godhead, the Son and the Holy Spirit. There is interaction, there is movement. There is a dance of the Holy Trinity, stable yet moving. One, two, three, one, two, three. And we are embraced and encircled by this ever shifting yet reliable dance of God. We are lovingly surrounded and protected from all sides, even though the direction may change, even though it may seem that life picks up speed, even though we face challenges.
In today’s lesson from Paul’s letter to the Romans, we also get the sense that God, Father – Abba -, Son – Christ -, and Holy Spirit have this intricate interplay that reels us in and keeps us in relationship with God. We are led by God’s Holy Spirit to the Father so that we may be children of God. Safe with the Father and as heirs of God, we are entrusted with love, forgiveness, grace and life. Safe in the Father’s household and the Father’s keeping, we are called to be brothers and sisters of Christ and participate in Christ’s saving work. Should we get discouraged or falter, there’s the Holy Spirit again to catch us and lead us back to the Father. One, two, three, God Father, Son and Holy Spirit makes sure we are never abandoned; God is with us and around us in our joys, in our struggles, in our fears.
I don’t know if you’ve ever played on of those trust games – they were very popular when I was involved in youth groups as a teenager. In one of these games, one person stands in the middle and is surrounded by a tight circle of peers, maybe a foot or so away. The person in the center then is blindfolded and asked to let themselves fall – forward, backwards, sideways – and the people around them have to make sure this person is caught and won’t fall. For me, Paul’s description of the Holy Trinity evokes this image: God all around me, one, two, three, interwoven, linking arms,- with me, with us, with the church – in the center, gently – or maybe not so gently – pushing me, pushing us back when we get off center.
One, two, three – in God, the Trinity, we experience stability and safety. In that sense, God is like the three-legged stool Hildegard von Bingen is talking about. But I also like to think about the Trinity as a dance, a waltz, for God is not a static God, but a God who is interacting within God-self, a God who is movement as creator, redeemer and sustainer. God’s dance moves us, but gives us assurance at the same time that we can lean on God all around us and safely follow God’s lead.
One, two, three, one, two, three. This is our rhythm of life – in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Photo by Ihor Malytskyi on unsplash.com
This post is also available in: German