I love mystery. Not so much reading mysteries, though my younger self was devoted to Nancy Drew, but just a certain comfort level with the unknown. Clearly I would make a terrible scientist.
Trinity Sunday, this coming Sunday, generally flummoxes most clergy that I know. I’ve heard many complaints over the years about having to preach on Trinity Sunday. After all, how to explain the inexplicable, this mysterious triumvirate that we embrace as Christians?
In setting out to write about “mystery” I began by looking up the word’s etymology. What a surprise! I had heard of medieval “mystery” plays, but beyond that did not realize the word had other theological connections. Coming from the Greek mysterion for “secret rite or doctrine” and related to mystes, “one who has been initiated” and myein meaning “to close”, the word is related to sacred rites that only the initiates could see.
But in 14th century Europe the word took on the meaning of “handicraft, trade or art”. Middle Latin misterium, meaning “service or occupation” is our source for the words ministry and minister. And “mystery” plays came by their name because members of craft guilds often staged them, and not because of their perplexing storylines.
But I digress. Returning to the mysterious Trinity, I enjoy the description by 12th century author/composer/philosopher Hildegard of Bingen:
Who is the Trinity? You are music! You are life!
Source of everything, creator of everything.
Angelic hosts sing your praise.
Wonderfully radiant! Deeply mysterious.
You are alive in everything and yet unknown to us.
A rather free translation of the original Latin no doubt, and a performance of Hildegarde’s chant on this text that is most likely not entirely historically accurate:
This ability for an ancient text and tune to live in 21st century parlance reminds me that the Trinity swirls around us constantly, throughout time and space. Don’t over-think this. Let it remain mysterious.