The Trinity and Family

by Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello

This week we celebrate Trinity Sunday–by my standards one of the most complicated and confusing weeks to write on because the Trinity has always confounded me. Yet the Holy Spirit which is at the center of this annual celebration has also always intrigued me and this year perhaps Ihave made a dent in my understanding…by way of my family.

Reading and reflecting on the Trinity Sunday scriptures coincided with a week dominated by hard family decisions and family deliberations about topics both positive and challenging. In the past seven days I’ve begun negotiating an upcoming move for work (always stressful), I have been talking a lot with friends about the balance between work and family, and my husband and I have butted heads with each other and our son more than once. So in this context perhaps it is no surprise that I am struck by the way this week’s readings frame conversations about the Holy Trinity (and particularly the Holy Spirit) in familial terms.

Through my family lens I came away with the sense that the Holy Spirit, that most elusive of the Trinity, supports us in our faith and holds the Trinity together much the way that something unseen but greater than either genetics or vows keeps my small family united in good times and striving for unity in the tough ones.

In Romans the language of Spirit is the language of adoption and support. Early Christians are reminded that to be led by the Spirit of God is to become part of God’s family, to become children of God, to become heirs of God. More precisely in Romans it is the Spirit which connects humans to God. This generous Spirit “bear[s] witness” to our relationships with God. The Holy Spirit allows our union with Abba. In so many ways I hear in this the echos of a wedding ceremony or an adoption or a baptism in which loving supporters are asked to bear witness to the joining of family members-uniting with one another and with God. In the Gospel readings Jesus’ voice repeats the message of family with his directive to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, a phrase in which the Holy Spirit is rendered as a family member completing the circle. But the Spirit is not figured as a “relative” per se for in the Gospel the Trinity is not defined by way of DNA links between parents and children -it cannot be understood only as “Father “and “Son”. Rather, to make a circle rather than a line between two points, the Trinity requires the Holy Spirit; the fullest understanding of God requires the presence of something, someone, that transcends natural law and binds the others andtheir followers by a profound love.

As is the case for many of my generation I have experienced divorce and estrangement in my family of birth and seen it in many others. Yet I have also experienced the love of friends, neighbors and mentors who have been “family” to me. In this light I am moved by the Gospel suggestion that blood relations and lineage do not make or sustain a family by themselves. To form a circle of family requires something at
once seen and unseen, ever-present and yet hard to pin down. It requires love. Love that can unite and heal wounded family relationships, love that can support families through tough times, and love that can
challenge when needed. In this way the Holy Spirit appeals, like the notion of family itself, to my profound longing for spiritual concepts wide and deep enough to frame and explain the joy and wonders of life.

Perhaps others don’t find the “Trinity-as-Family” link as useful as I do. But perhaps a discussion of family is a way into a deeper discussion about metaphor and faith. And maybe this is why I am drawn to the Holy Spirit this week-because by being so profoundly un-imaginable it allows room for continued re-visioning and conversation in the church. And so, while I still can’t quite get my head around the Holy Trinity I have no doubt that each time I make the sign of the cross and whisper “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” I will continue to be reminded of the mystery that keeps me both wrapped in my Catholicism.

Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello is an Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Salem State College.

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