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Volume 17, Issue 4: Thema

Trinity: A Catapoem

Douglas Jones

A catechism is never the solution. It might be jolt along the way, a means to focus our attention. The Spirit working through community shapes us far more. Catechisms can play a part in communities, especially families. Catechisms should feel like light, not a donkey load. We can sit around the table and use catechisms to help show our kids the grandeur of the gospel, but ultimately the kids see the gospel in the way we love them.

Within the Trinitarian revival of the last fifty years, we often hear complaint that many traditional catechisms, though glorious in many ways, fail to reveal the Father, Son, and Spirit at the heart of the gospel. Many catechisms will give obligatory reference to it as an abstract doctrine, but then quickly shift into a default unitarianism.
The catechism below tries, in some way, to fill part of the gap in traditional catechisms. Ideally, the church (or at least larger bodies of the church) should produce catechisms, not individuals. Consider this, then, an urging in that direction. At least this catechism doesn't try anything new. It simply draws on Trinitarian creedal insights from East and West over centuries of ancient, authoritative reflection by the Church. Many thanks to those theologian-friends and elders who read this and helped me make corrections; I'll protect your names.
It would seem that catechisms should be, first of all, works of art and imagination, instead of stiff academic prose. The Trinity delights, and we ought to try to express that in the way we show the Trinity to our children.
This catechism tries this by using concrete, poetic images instead of theoretical abstractions; it aims to tell something of a story, as well. It's written largely in iambic pentameter within an overall pattern of a chiasm, that common biblical literary structure. The catechism begins with the Trinity and works toward the centrality of Christ; it then turns and walks us through the Trinity again, from the perspective of the Church. As in any chiasm, the corresponding letters on each side aim to shed more light on each other. This catechism is aimed at nine and ten year olds, but I've seen its effectiveness with younger and older children, and adults, as well.
I would like nothing better than to see a thousand catechisms on the Trinity, each vying to delight the next generations in better and better ways.
Opening

A. Why do the heathen rage?
The Lord has called them to a feast, quite fat
with milk and honey, rich with meat and bread,
but they would rather die than take a bite.

B. Why do they love the dark and not the party?
The dark helps them pretend they are alone,
where they can play the king of all,
where no one pushes back against their face.

C. And why does God offer a feast?
God is a feast: come taste and see; sweeter
than honey. He is a party, a dance
named Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

D. But what sort of dance is the Lord?
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dance
like heroes after triumph, King David,
and those women whirling at God's wedding.

E. Wait, why does God have a wedding?
His joy bursts out, spilling; He wants to share
the pleasure of this dance. The Spirit woos;
the Father calls; the Son seeks out His bride.

Community

F. Why do Father, Son, and Spirit enjoy each other so much?
They have never been alone. Forever
side-by-side and through-and-through; they
have no secrets, and know each other inside out.

G. But some people who live long together despise one another.
But Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
give up life for one another, a sacrifice,
a gift received by each with greater thanks.

H. Why do they sacrifice for one another?
Each counts the other better, like friends who
brave a burning house to free a failing
friend; he cannot live without their breath.

I. But does that mean that God can die?
God cannot die; His sacrifice gives life,
more and more, a miracle of glory,
a light upholding light for evermore.

J. What do we call this mysterious connection of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
This sacrifice, this freedom, this excess
of joy that shapes all things, this dance of God,
this bond, this heart divine, we call: love.

Unity

K. So the three Gods love each other very much?
No, nein, nyet. Only one God lives and moves
and holds his own. Father, Son, and Spirit
are one, not three. Simple math is too loose.

L. Does this three-is-one not hurt your head?
No, we love the thrill. I am no judge
of God; no human mind would make this up.
We're too bland and flat to match His art.

M. But still, can you make any sense of God's oneness?
"The Lord our God is One" because the Son
indwells the Father, Father indwells Son,
Spirit in the Father, Spirit in the Son.

N. Is God also one from some other angle?
The Father brings forth the Son, begotten,
not made; the Son sends out the Spirit,
almighty, advancing from the Father.

O. Why is the oneness of God important?
We need not fear a thousand gods at war;
no petty squabbles with Zeus and Hera;
our One a handshake, a bond of harmony.

Particularity

P. So this one God must have three parts or wear three masks, a mask for Father, one for Son, one for Spirit?
No, nein, nyet. He wears no masks; God's truly
three, each unique. The Father's not the Son,
nor Spirit, Son, nor Father, Spirit.

Q. How is the Father unique?
The Father's known for origins, beginnings,
and the past. He gets the story started,
then betrayed, and speaks the Son, begotten.

R. How is the Son unique?
The Son is known for body, fully God
in flesh, the present, faithful Word, the king
and priest who comes to win his bride.

S. How is the Spirit unique?
The Spirit's known for power, giving life
to bones, the future. He brings relief and fire,
perfects with beauty, completes the story.

T. So some divine persons are better and some submit?
No, all are equal, wholly God on par,
none better, stronger, but the Son submits,
Spirit proceeds, none grasping for equality.

History

U. How, then, does God begin to draw us to His wedding?
At first, He pressed His face through matter,
His grin seen in whales, lions, ostriches,
that style shown in horses, locusts, marriage.

V. What marriage in creation is this?
Adam and Eve were married in the Garden,
a king and queen, enjoying peaches, hawks,
each other, sent to build bridges, phones, toys.

W. Why did they never accomplish these things?
They grew impatient, ungrateful, fussy;
they pictured God as simple, stingy, a rule.
God closed His dance and sent them off to grow.

X. Where did they go? What did they do?
Their numbers grew, and some loved Oneness,
as tyrants, others loved the Many, as
fragments; they could not dance the One-in-Three.

Y. How would they ever return to God's wedding?
God gave them wedding gifts: sweet law, good land,
and death; he gave big piles of promises,
free desert trips—but no groom, no Son or Spirit.

Z. Who could overcome such thirst? such darkness? such death?
The Trinity unveiled in flesh, in Jesus Christ,
the long awaited groom, the Son of God,
who came to free His dirtied bride, weeping
and torn, now longing for the dance. He
slayed her dragon, poured her water, fed her
bread and wine. He brought her new white clothes
and a new white name, Church. He pulled her close
and whispered: Rage no more, just kiss the Son.

History

Y'. How could the dirtied bride enter the Son's wedding?
Christ killed her sin upon His bloody cross;
Like Father and the Spirit, triune life
is death and gift, a dance of sacrifice.

X'. Where did the Son take her? What does she do?
United to His wife, He raised her from
the dead, ascended into heaven, and joined
the dance, the fellowship of Trinity.

W'. How can the bride not fall again, like in the Garden or the desert?
Unlike Mosaic saints, who strained without
a will, God poured the Spirit in His Church,
empowering us for loyalty and love.

V'. What is the purpose of this marriage of Son and Church?
This new Adam and Eve pick up the work
abandoned by the first—to raise a godly
seed, expand the feast, and build a garden city.

U'. How does God send us from the wedding?
He loads our arms with water, wine, and bread
and sends us cheering down the highway,
to fill the wedding hall with guests

Particularity

T'. How do connections in the Church somewhat reflect the Trinity?
The Church is one, a body joined by bone,
skin, and blood; some of us knees, some eyes, all
dependent, no toes surging to be lips.

S'. How does the Spirit shape the Church?
The Holy Spirit changes us, step-by-step,
matures us for divine surprises now
and evermore, expectations unimagined.

R'. How does the Son shape the Church?
The Son gives His body, His righteousness,
so we can share His throne beside the Father,
and join the song against His enemies.

Q'. How does the Father shape the Church?
The Father calls the Church to love the past,
learn its story, overcome, hear the Son,
and boldly walk through earth and heaven.

P'. How do the real differences between Father, Son, and Spirit reflect life?
God sends us death, disease, and war to help
us love the burning chasms bright within
His glory, depths beyond compare.

Unity

O'. Why is God's oneness important for the Church?
The Son prayed for union within His bride,
as Father dwelt in Him, and He in Father,
and so one day our splinters will connect.

N'. How do we indwell one another?
We indwell by giving up our life and strength
for others, making them more free and full,
and they, in love, return the gift to us.

M'. What does giving up life and strength look like?
The laws of God express the love of God,
they show us sacrifice and loyalty,
tenderness and jealousy, faith, hope, and gift.

L'. How do we learn these mysteries of love?
We do not learn them in a lab or draw
them in a proof. The Lord reveals these things
in Scripture and leads the Church to truth.

K'. How does Scripture go about showing Father, Son, and Spirit are one?
Scripture calls each one God and marks their work:
creating, saving, judging, all divine,
while saying none beside or like Him lives.

Community

J'. Why can't hermit-like gods of other religions love like the Trinity?
They "lived" alone from all eternity,
not sharing, giving, speaking to an equal;
they had no social skills, just solitude.

I'. Should we think of three first then one, or one first then three?
God's mystery declares for both, as one
ancient said, I cannot think one without
the three, nor three without the one.

H'. Is the will of God arbitrary, able to change any which way?
Loner gods live like that, with no one else
to press against, but Father, Son, and Spirit
submit their wills in love, creating one.

G'. Why is it often so hard for humans to get along together?
The modern world believes we're little gods,
each alone, each supreme, each full, each a bead,
disconnected, rolling for no goal.

F'. How can we imitate how the Father, Son, and Spirit enjoy each other?
For us, love must cover many little sins,
consider others as better than ourselves,
and keep our eyes on what's important.
Closing

E'. Why do Father, Son, and Spirit wish to share their life?
They find each other most intriguing—artists,
after all, of eagles in air, serpents on rock,
ships across sea, and men and women kissing.

D'. Why does God laugh at those who reject His gifts?
Loyalty: the Son turns tables for the Father,
the Spirit defends the Christ, the Father
mocks those who seek the Son's inheritance.

C'. Why does God give us a banquet in front of our enemies?
To show the smallness of their hearts; they so
hate their bodies and its hunger, they cannot
dance or bear the triumph of His grace.

B'. How do we come to love the wedding and not the dark?
By nothing in ourselves; God's foolishness
undoes ours; He gives new eyes; some He drags,
some He pushes, many come born inside.

A'. What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?
And why has He crowned us with such glory?
Praise God's excellent name—Father all-gracious,
victor, Son our mansion, Spirit our breath.

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