I hear voices. Well, it’s actually me who’s talking. I tend to anthropomorphize inanimate objects. Apologizing to the table when I bump into it. Imagining my books coughing from the dust I’ve let settle on them. I think it’s the Disney effect. Too many dancing tea pots and talking mice from my youth.
And I’m not alone in this. Seems we have always liked fashioning God in our image or an image we prefer. In fact, the very reason Moses calls the people “stiff-necked” in today’s first reading is because in the previous chapter, while Moses was lost in deep conversation with God on Mt. Sinai, the people got a bit worried. “Let’s craft God in our own image,” some suggested. “Good idea” others affirmed. And even Moses’ brother, Aaron, got caught up in it. They fashioned a golden calf to serve as their God-stand in.
But despite their sin, in today’s reading, Moses again ascends Sinai. For a second time he petitions God on their behalf, “yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.”
How does God respond?
God speaks self-referentially: “The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity."
In Exodus Chapter 3, when Moses had asked for God’s name, the response was literally a form of the verb “to be”—“I am who I am.” And in this passage, God adds adjectives to God’s verbal identity, “I am merciful, gracious, slow to anger, rich in kindness and fidelity.” God is always beyond our capacity to name, imagine, or limit the essence of God.
Yet, as Barbara Bowe wrote, “our finite minds still strain to know this mystery. We want both to know and to name God, but in this pursuit our language falters, words fail us, and our naming falls short of the mark.”
In one of our earliest trinitarian doxologies, the Apostle Paul seems to intuit this. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
Paul distinguishes divine attributes—grace, love, and fellowship, each proceeding from a different person of the Godhead.
Grace—charis—also means loving-kindness, good-will, favor.
Love—agapē—is the type of love that is sacrificial, desiring the best for the beloved.
And fellowship—koinonia—is quite literally participation, communion.
This grace, love, fellowship triad which we call the Trinity has given theologians no little challenge over the centuries. How do we envision one God but three persons? And why do we do so? Like our naming of God, we are left with only metaphor and analogy.
The Cappadocian Fathers described the Trinity as perichoresis, a dance of relationship and mutual indwelling.
St. John of Damascus used the analogy of God as the sun, Jesus as the rays, and the Holy Spirit as the heat.
Whether adjectives, descriptors, dances, or sunshine, all are encompassed within the oneness of God.
In the first reading, Moses interceded for the people’s sin. In the second, Paul chastised the people for their behavior. In the Gospel, the evangelist states clearly that God’s love has not abated, despite human mistakes. “For God so loved the world…”
The passage is part of a conversation between Jesus and a would-be disciple, Nicodemus, who comes to Jesus at night. Nicodemus doesn’t understand Jesus’ invitation to be born again.
So, Jesus explains more fully “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Later in John, Jesus will promise the aid of the advocate or Holy Spirit. But that Spirit is experienced only after the Passion.
The Trinity isn’t just a theological expression. It is a way of understanding God’s presence in and for the world.
As Elizabeth Johnson noted, “If God is creating and nurturing the world within the divine being—transcendently, incarnately, and immanently—then God must be conceived as experiencing the world’s suffering within Godself, rather than outside Godself. Pregnant with an evolving yet suffering cosmos, God can heal and transform suffering through the love and creativity that characterize the Trinity.”
Instead of trying to make God in our image, perhaps we could take a cue from the Trinity, and allow love, grace, and fellowship to remake us in God’s image.
Let’s start by hearing voices—the voices of people in need, the hurting, the forgotten, and the quaking and crying Earth. Then at the invitation and inspiration of the Trinity, let’s join the dance!
Laurie Brink, O.P.
Laurie Brink, O.P.
A Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Laurie Brink, O.P., is Professor of New Testament Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and New Testament Book review editor for The Bible Today. She teaches courses in the Gospels, Acts, NT Letters, and Early Christian literature. Her current research and pedagogical interests include contextualization and hermeneutics particularly the intersection of science, theology, and religious life.
As a Dominican, she is keenly interested in promoting biblical literacy and to that end has given presentations throughout the U.S. and in Australia, Bolivia, Israel, Jamaica, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, and Trinidad & Tobago.
She has authored or edited five monographs:
· The Heavens are Telling the Glory of God: An Emerging Chapter for Religious Life. Science, Theology, and Mission (Liturgical Press, 2022).
· What does the Bible Say about Friendship (New City Press, 2019).
· Soldiers in Luke-Acts: Engaging, Contradicting, and Transcending the Stereotypes. WUNT II.362 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014).
· Commemorating the Dead: Texts and Artifacts in Context (DeGruyter, 2008), co-edited with Deborah Green
· In This Place: Reflections on the Land of the Gospels for the Liturgical Cycle (Wipf & Stock, 2008), co-authored with Marianne Race, CSJ.
Recent articles include:
· “Reading Beyond the Horizon: The Legacy of Lagrange through a Dominican Lens,” in The Future of Catholic Biblical Interpretation (eds. John A. Kincaid and James Prothro; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, forthcoming).
· “Reconstructing the Cultural Horizon for Lucan Soldiers: Texts and Artifacts in Conversation,” in Forget Not God’s Benefits (Ps 103:2): A Festschrift in Honor of Leslie J. Hoppe, OFM (ed. Barbara E. Reid; Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association, 2022), 199-218.
· "Archaeology and the New Testament," The Jerome Biblical Commentary (ed. Donald Senior, John J. Collins, Barbara Reid and Gina Hens-Piazza. London: T&T Clark, 2022).
· “‘For All the Earth’ (1 Cor 10:26): Mission and the Reign of God,” UISG Bulletin 117 (April 2022): 5-20. Translated into French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish.
· “The Differences Among Us: The Results of a Survey of Women Religious and the New Cosmology,” Review for Religious 1.2 (2021): 257-272.
· “From Multicultural Students to Intercultural Pedagogy: Creating Convivencia in the Classroom,” The Wabash Center Journal on Teaching 2.2 (May 2021).
· “Rooted in the Word: Reading the Bible Interculturally,” in Becoming Intercultural: Perspectives on Mission (eds. Lazar T. Stanislaus and Christian Tauchner; New Delhi: ISPCK, 2021), 19-35.
· “Here is our mother: Mary stands with all parents who mourn lost children,” US Catholic 85 (May 2020): 20-22.
She also has produced audio/DVD series for Learn25: Christ’s Seven Last Words: Your Guide to Spiritual Growth (2018); Acts of the Apostles ( 2014); and Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (2009).
Sr. Brink has a Masters degree from Maryknoll School of Theology and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
The second of three volumes from the Catholic Women Preach project of FutureChurch offers homilies for each Sunday and holy days of the liturgical year by Catholic women from around the world. The first volume for Cycle A received awards for best book on Liturgy from both the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Catholic Media Association.
“Catholic Women Preach is one of the more inspiring collection of homilies available today. Based on the deep spirituality and insights of the various women authors, the homilies are solidly based on the scriptures and offer refreshing and engaging insights for homilists and listeners. The feminine perspective has long been absent in the preached word, and its inclusion in this work offers a long overdue and pastorally necessary resource for the liturgical life of the Church.” - Catholic Media Association
Advertise with Catholic Women Preach: email Russ at firstname.lastname@example.org