“In Dickenson’s time and place the Trinity was a hot topic that engendered much debate. Is Divinity triune or one? The Unitarian church was born of that debate after all.
She alters the patriarchal debate around the Trinity with all-new—and far more ancient—imagery. In a sort of aikido move, she sidesteps the theological niceties entirely by creating her own Trinity, based on non-anthropocentric creation, and challenges both arguing parties with new language and fresh insight that moves beyond anthropocentric religion.
In the name of the Bee—
And of the Butterfly—
And of the Breeze—Amen
This is not a theologically simplistic prayer—something deep and sophisticated is at work here. She is supplanting an anthropocentric and person-centered Trinity with a creation-centered one.
After all, the Bee keeps creation going by pollinating flowers and grasses, thus represents the Creator; the Butterfly undergoes a life, death and resurrection cycle comparable to the Paschal mystery of Christ as it evolves and even dies in its evolution from caterpillar to cocoon to beautiful (but short-lived ) winged creature; and the Breeze is wind just as Spirit is breath (“spirit,” “wind” or “breeze” are the same words in the Biblical languages as well as many languages in Africa and around the world and the Spirit came at Pentecost in the form of wind).
She criticizes too much attention given the Bible which is, after all, only one source of revelation—to her the Bible “is an antique volume–/written by faded Men.
Nature is the other source of revelation and, to her, the more pressing. She calls on scientists, since for her “all science…is of God and from God.” (Hildegard of Bingen, a sister mystic and feminist 700 years earlier wrote “All science comes from God”). Emily’s “religion, therefore, is a religion of science, nature and the cosmos
In this she is in line with theologian Aquinas who says that revelation comes in two volumes – the Bible and Nature.” (Matthew Fox Daily Meditations. 21st May 2021)
2) While agreeing with Emily Dickenson about the Bible it is also the foundational document of our faith and our Church and as such cannot be ignored. So, a brief reflection from the tradition
I was struck last Sunday by the number of concerns raised about the Israeli / Palestinian conflict so I went home and read the first 12 Chapters of the Book of Joshua. Recorded there is the beginning of the centuries of conflict that begins when Joshua and the people of Israel crossing the Jorden 1250 BCE and then progressed their way into Canaan as it was then and following God’s commands invading/devastating and repopulating the land. Granted it did not take place as quickly as the Joshua version relates but over 170 years and also not all the Canaanites died as subsequent wars in other books of the Bible testify to – there were always, as currently, conflict between Israel and the original inhabitants of Canaan/Palestine when Israel was an independent nation which fortunately for the Canaanites was not often as other greater military powers frequent overrun both Israel and Canaan. But these accounts in Joshua offer a negative trinitarian formula – invade/devastate/repopulate which has been used effectively by colonisers for millennia and in the case of the British and the European Christians conquerors the invasion/devastation/ repopulation was all done in the name of the same God who commanded the Joshua to invade/devastate and repopulate Canaan.
Contrast this with another Joshua or Jesus as we know him who was living not in a conquering nation but in one which had been conquered. How did he respond? I think his response was to 1) form or gather a community around you 2) speak truth to power and 3) be prepared to accept that there may be a price to pay for your actions. I am sure that when Jesus cleansed the temple, he would have been aware that he may have crossed a line with the Jewish and Roman authorities whether or not he anticipated crucifixion is hard to say.
But there is no doubt in my mind that our Biblical tradition casts both light and shadow as we consider its relevance to our current times.
Finally, to our present day. We acknowledge this week as Reconciliation Week but in truth it is not just a week Reconciliation is a process which has been ongoing for hundreds of years -in small ways initially with steps being taken by individuals, families and community groups. But, gradually over our colonial history it is gaining momentum and in recent years as second peoples we have had to confront the truth about the serious and life damaging implications that the invade/devastate/repopulate formula has had on the first peoples of Australia.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart is the most recent statement outlining the demands of indigenous Australians ‘Voice, Treaty Truth’ is their trinitarian formula requesting a voice recognised in our constitution. A treaty recognising their ownership of the land and that the true history of this land be told so that all may hear it.
While many Australians have for some time intellectually agree with these demands, us included, we are finding it difficult as a nation to move from them from an intellectual concept to a concrete reality. The theme for this Reconciliation week reflects this ‘More than a word – Reconciliation takes Action’ – this is echoed by the UCA theme for this week ‘From Safe to Brave’ – It is time for us to stop talking and demand action from our elected officials. In following the model of Jesus, the church is already a community of like-minded people – not that we always all agree but our commitment to justice often unites us over our theological differences. It is our time to speak truth to power – it is time for a voice, a treaty and for truth to be told. We need to use our voices, our votes, our money and our collective power to move this agenda forward. I hope that the UCA in moving from Safe to Brave will give leadership to such movement but it is also up to us as individuals and as a community of faith to take what action we can to bring the Statement from the Heart from paper to reality and demanding our parliament does what is necessary to make that happen.
This Trinity Sunday we have to advocate for Trinitarian concepts that address the issues that confront our world here and now rather than arguing or intellectualise about the traditional Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Globally our focus needs be on saving creation and for that we need to look seriously at what the Creation testament can teach us and with Emily Dickenson seek creation centred trinities such as the bee, the butterfly, and the breeze and others and nationally we need to be seeking justice centred trinities like Voice Treaty Truth and we need to be true to the Jesus model of working together in supportive community, speaking truth to power and not being naive about the consequence.
Ann Drummond, Sophia’s Spring UCA, 30/5/2021