I keep lobbying for the sign of my church to read “Ask about our Threesome,” on Trinity Sunday, not to be glib but to stretch the imaginations of those who would dare to think three times about God, the very least consequence of which might be a lesson on the original meaning of erotic love and our continuing degradation of it. And the very greatest consequence might be a discussion of the consideration of the physical in regards to the sacrosanct and the divine.
But, of course, it’s never going to happen. Too bad. The history of theology is the history of believers with great intelligence but perhaps too little imagination. Johnson is right to suggest that we move beyond the one model of Trinity, though, perhaps not for the reasons that she believes. She would have us resign the Father and the Son and to a lesser degree the Spirit because they are inherently patriarchal – a point well taken, but perhaps not necessary and certainly occasionally overstated.
One wonders if words can be inherently anything, and one notices also that the patriarchy in fifteenth-century Europe was perhaps considerably different than the patriarchy in the Ancient Near East. The biblical fathers are given us as almost unimaginably lax. They are not particularly authoritarian; however hard the priestly laws may seem one has a great deal of trouble imagining Jacob having Joseph stoned.
The point of the metaphor of Father and Son was thus only partly about the delineation of authority and also about the conveyance of blessing: “this is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The language of masculinity fails then not because patriarchy fails to describe the Godhead (though it does) but also and I would say primarily because masculine language because of semantic drift fails the experience of canonical patriarchy itself. We suffer from the eternal impoverishment of words.
And we always will. Jesus came to tell us the name of God (it turns out to be Abba) but the problem comes because we still try to speak it and have spoken it for two thousand years. The term has become not heart-stoppingly intimate but heart-breakingly casual. We glibly think that God is Father. The solution, I would then propose, is not to find another substitute name for God – none are adequate, or ever will be, not even She – but simply to never repeat it, to never step into the same Trinity twice.
We would thus never stop speaking about God or hopefully to God but might well pause to listen for the breath of God in each analogy, to not just use the forms of God our fathers handed to us but to hand a profusion of forms of God to our daughters and our sons. There are not nine billion names of God as in the science fiction story but simply all names of God. For Christians, reality is not only plural but is in fact infinite.
The created poverty of words means that we cannot exhaust the uncreated reality of God; with regards to Trinity then we can thus stop worrying. We don’t have a handle anyway. Think of the possibilities! For the ancients: the God of Holy Wind, the God of Loving Water, and the God of Warming Fire. For the moderns: God the Web Server, God the Web Page, and God the Holy Hyperlink. For the cathedral scene: God the external sunlight, God the illumined window, and God the light-wash throughout the room.
Or, perhaps existentially: God the Spirit of Awe, God the Spirit of Clarity, and God the Spirit of Authority. Instead of the Greek Orobouros, the snake that swallows its own tale, the River of Life could be its own Source, Mouth, and Stream – who wouldn’t want their names written in that! These things could really flow.
For tropical situations: God the concealing fog, God the dappling dew, and God the saturating humidity. For the scholars: God the Text, God the Word, and God the Holy Page. For those of a celebratory nature: the Inviting God, the Insisting God, and the Bringing God, so long as it’s all the same party. Or for the philosophers: the Proposition, the Argument, and the Proof, so long as every word is true.
The point is not that any of these would work, but that none of them would, and that we would work out for ourselves how best to call the One(s) we love in each incarnation of our lives. Word by word, one Trinity at a time.