For my shield this day
A mighty power:
The Holy Trinity!
In the making of all
The breastplate of St. Patrick features this refrain at both the beginning and the end of its poem. St. Patrick’s invocation of the Trinitarian Godhead—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—is emblematic of Celtic Christianity. St. Patrick may be famously remembered for using the shamrock to explain the Trinity (even though his analogy and other ones are derided by the Irish twins Donall and Conall on YouTube), but his attraction to Trinitarian language and symbolism is shared by many other Celts. What can be more holistic and integrated than to invoke the name of the Trinity, the fullness of God? Addressing each member of the Godhead—the one who creates, the one who redeems and the ones who sustains—is a natural part of Celtic prayer, weaving each member into prayers, both the ones spoken in corporate worship or the ones prayed privately by individuals.
For many contemporary Christians, to pray in the Celtic tradition can seem very “Catholic,” especially modern-day converts who are taught a prayer has no real merit unless it includes the phrase “in the name of Jesus.” Truly, I have had more than one conversation with students about the efficacy of prayers I offer because I did not invoke that exact phrase! To which I have pointed out (as a previous professor pointed out to me once before) that to depend solely on this usage is to reduce the “power, power, wonderworking power in the blood” of Jesus and negate the fullness of the Trinity. There is power in the name of Jesus, but to cut it off from membership it shares with the the co-equal, co-eternal, co-existent persons of the creating Father and sustaining Holy Spirit is to ask Jesus to work with two hands tied behind his back. Sure, he can do it, but not in the fullness or totality that is the divine nature of God. After all, each member of the Godhead, the Father, Son, and Spirit, share equally in divinity, power, and love. All distinctive, yet participating so closely with one another and infused so deeply with one another, that they are one. We might call it a divine dance of love in which each participant gives of their self to the others so wholly and completely that they live and act as one being. They are one entity. As a divine entity, they are complete and whole unto their self in no need of anything else. It needs nothing else. Not even humanity, not even the world.
God’s love is so complete in the Godhead that nothing else is needed. But, it is not all that God desires. God’s love desires to include more, not because God needs to, but because God wants to. God did not give into a whim in the act of creation.
Creation is the result of God deliberately acting out of love to share love with others beyond God’s self in the Trinity. Redemption is what God did in Jesus by deliberately acting out of love to rescue what rejected him but still desires to accept divine love and be saved. Sustenance is what God continually does to care for, guide and nurture persons in their ongoing relationship with God and one another—but never are these actions done apart from one another. Basic to Wesleyan understanding and theology is that the love of God flows through Jesus Christ to us by grace and in combination with Holy Spirit, and we are able to find new life and faith through Holy Spirit who sustains, comforts, and empowers us to offer ourselves to God through the work of Christ.
The Celtic understanding of the threeness that is oneness and the oneness that is threeness is more than a celebration of the power of three. Sure, scoring hat-tricks in futball (think American soccer) and hockey are great, and getting a trifecta is special, but the Trinity is far more than the accidental occurrence of three particular events. The Trinity is the essence and nature of God, not only to be invoked in prayers, but symbolized in artwork.
The Triquetra, or Celtic knot, three leaves without beginning or end, is a Trinitarian symbol long associated with the Celts, but now popular in many other forums. With a circle entwined around it, the infinite mystery of God, without beginning and without end offers the artist and the viewer exquisite beauty that can be represented in infinite variations.
As predominant as the Trinity is within Celtic Christianity, Trinitarian thinking is not the exclusive purview of the Celts. John Wesley illustrated the entwined nature of the Trinity within Christianity when he preached, “knowledge of the Three-One God is interwoven in all true Christian faith with all vital religion” (On the Trinity 2:385). His prayers, his brother’s hymnody, the liturgy of the early Methodists—and even those who claim to be his modern-day descendants—seek the fullness and the richness of the Trinity in corporate worship.
Yet artwork, hymnody, liturgy and prayer are not the only ways the Trinity can be represented. To take another phrase from the Wesleys, Christian disciples are living, breathing “transcripts of the Trinity.” Created, redeemed and sustained by God, we are empowered by the Trinitarian God of the universe to be in relationship with the rest of creation—to share the infinite love of the Trinity with others. This requires relationship. And within that relationship there is cooperation with the divine, discipline by the divine, practice. It takes dedication, desire and commitment to participate with the divine actions of God in this world.
That is what it means to be a disciple of Christ: to be willing to dedicate ourselves to God, submit ourselves to Christ’s teaching, and be directed by the Holy Spirit in all that we do. And just as the Godhead is not comprised of a simple single deity, but lives in Trinitarian communion, we as God’s creation are meant for connection and community—to live with and among one another for the fullness, goodness and the advancement of God’s kingdom here on earth.
So what’s a contemporary Christian to do to recover the Celtic tradition of Trinitarian prayer?
As a way to begin, I suggest it is possible to think about the actions and events that occur in the ordinary everydayness of life and appeal to the Godhead in prayer.
In what ways do we create, whether it be making meals, making decisions about schedules, which bills must be paid, making judgments about whether your child needs correction or nurture? When do you find yourself being an intermediary, a conduit of communication for others, appealing on the behalf of a friend, a spouse, a sibling, a parent, or a co-worker to another? How are you seeking to sustain yourself as well as family members or friends, looking to guide others in their decision-making processes, to nurture yourself and the relationships that sustain you? Chances are, if you are like me, life and love are as complicated as they are simple. Any one action involves a host of motivations, needs and desires as we seek to act in faithful obedience to God and one another.
As you go about your week, consider the myriad actions and roles you play in your life. Consider how they intersect with one another and bring a fullness to your life. Ask God, in the fullness of the Trinity, to guide you, prompt you and create within you a life of fullness and wholeness that is integrated and reflects the goodness and glory of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For my shield this day
A mighty power:
The Holy Trinity!
In the making of all