In Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell’s text, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation we get insight into a different perspective on the Trinity. For many, many years Christians in the west have struggled with how to make sense of the Trinity, like it is a puzzle about God’s identity that we must solve to uncover the mysteries of faith. But Christians in the east have other ideas, and more importantly other ways to see things. Christians in the east see mystery less as a problem to be solved as more as a window to understand something that can’t be described in detail, like a “How to” manual. There is a reason that technology and innovation has taken hold in the west and that capitalism has flourished in our part of the world. There have been many benefits of this perspective, we solve diseases, make like easier, reduce and challenge ignorance.
But there are many mysteries we leave behind because we cannot understand, they simply defy logic so we ignore them. As a result some of the experience of knowing God in art, symbolism, ritual and silence washes right over us. We are the poorer for this. The Trinity may be one of those mysteries, that sitting and looking at an icon like Andrei Rublev’s fifteenth century icon The Hospitality of Abraham may uncover something about humanity and our journey with God that we desperately need to hear.
Here is a short section of writing by Rohr and Morrell on this icon and its insight into the Trinity.
In Genesis we see the divine dance in an early enigmatic story (18:1-8). “The Lord” appears to Abraham as “three men.” Abraham and Sarah seem to see the Holy One in the presence of these three, and they bow before them and call them “my lord” (18:2-3 Jerusalem Bible). Their first instinct is one of invitation and hospitality—to create a space of food and drink for their guests. Here we have humanity feeding God; it will take a long time to turn that around in the human imagination. “Surely, we ourselves are not invited to this divine table,” the hosts presume.
This story inspired a piece of devotional religious art by iconographer Andrei Rublev in the fifteenth century: The Hospitality of Abraham, or simply The Trinity. As icons do, this painting attempts to point beyond itself, inviting a sense of both the beyond and the communion that exists in our midst.
There are three primary colors in Rublev’s icon, each illustrating a facet of the Holy One: Gold: “the Father”—perfection, fullness, wholeness, the ultimate Source. Blue: “the Incarnate Christ”—both sea and sky mirroring one another (In the icon, Christ wears blue and holds up two fingers, telling us he has put spirit and matter, divinity and humanity, together within himself. The blue of creation is brilliantly undergirded with the necessary red of suffering.)
Green: “the Spirit”—the divine photosynthesis that grows everything from within by transforming light into itself (Hildegard of Bingen called this viriditas, or the greening of all things.)
The icon shows the Holy One in the form of Three, eating and drinking, in infinite hospitality and utter enjoyment between themselves. If we take the depiction of God in The Trinity seriously, we have to say, “In the beginning was the Relationship.” The gaze between the Three shows the deep respect between them as they all share from a common bowl. Notice the Spirit’s hand points toward the open and fourth place at the table. Is the Holy Spirit inviting, offering, and clearing space? I think so! And if so, for what, and for whom?
At the front of the table there appears to be a little rectangular hole. Most people pass right over it, but some art historians believe the remaining glue on the original icon indicates that there was perhaps once a mirror glued to the front of the table. It’s stunning when you think about it—there was room at this table for a fourth. The observer. You! Yes, you—and all of creation—are invited to sit at the divine table. You are called “to consciously participate in the divine dance of loving and being loved,” as Wm Paul Young, the best selling author of The Shack, writes. The mirror seems to have been lost over the centuries, both in the icon and in our on-the-ground understanding of who God is—and, therefore, who we are too! Gateway to Silence: Come, sit at the table.