'Participating in God' by Paul Fiddes, a book overview
An overview of Paul S. Fiddes: Participating in God – a Pastoral Doctrine of the Trinity
Musings for joint Ponsonby and Cityside Baptist Church service Trinity Sunday 2012.
The theological idea – God as verb not (just?) noun
Fiddes is proposing a way of engaging with the Trinity not as three persons/entities in some mysterious unity, but as an event of loving that is made up of movements of relationships, where the idea of 'persons' is not in the 'points' of the triangle but in a dynamic understanding of the links between them (the 'sides' of the triangle.) 'God happens' rather than 'God is'. Verbs not nouns.
“Three movements of relationship...in one event', not 'three individual subjects who 'have' relationship”
These movements of relation are always a reaching of love, a self-offering, moving beyond and towards. And they are 'personal' in the sense that they have qualities or characteristics that we recognise as the love of parent to child (the Father), child to parent (the Son) and the deepening and opening of that love to new intimacy and new futures (the Spirit.) When we participate in movements in our own life that have these qualities we are leaning into, or relying on, these eternal and all-embracing movements within God. When we pray, we don't so much pray 'to' the persons of God, but 'in' the relations of God.
Knowing by way of participation, not spectator/observation
This kind of engagement can only be realised through participation, not as an object of our conceptualisation or observation. We participate in the movements of love, the steps of the dance, as we are drawn into them and follow along with them, and know ourselves held and 'pulled along' by the love that already exists in the relations of the Trinity.
'Enlightenment' forms of 'knowing'= “subjecting objects to the control of our consciousness, as things that can either literally be seen with the eyes or 'seen' in the mind. A doctrine of the Trinity in which persons are relations makes it clear it is impossible to know or speak about God in this way.” Instead when we participate in God as movements of relationship we fulfil the prayer of Christ in the Gospel of John 'as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.'
Movements that make room – openness within the dance
God is continually 'making room' within these loving movements of relationship, for the whole universe of creation to not only participate, but also to alter outcomes and affect God. Including our human 'otherness' within the movements of the Trinity is God's humble, self-limiting willingness to include our freedom in the life of God, which means being God being genuinely changed by what we bring to the dance – both our loving co-operation and also our hostility and violent rejection. “The Trinity is a movement of relations which is as wide as the universe, as God, in an act of self-limitation, opens the divine communion of life to enable all created beings to dwell within it.”
God “freely desires to be dependent on us for the completeness of fellowship, for the joy of the dance,” even when that means that some of the steps of the dance distort or pull against the flow of love.
Thus our life in God, our being led by the Spirit, is not just about being 'full' or 'empty', as though God were a mysterious substance that is poured into us, or leaks out of us. It's also about 'joining in' – co-operating, attending to, and doing the movements of the dance as they present themselves to us.
How do we participate?
Broadly speaking, we participate in the 'Father' movement of the Trinity when we create, when we commission and send, when we provide for, guide, love, nurture and protect. We participate in the 'Son' movement of the Trinity when we respond, act in loving obedience, trust, openness, and when we absorb into our own selves the suffering that comes from being 'sent' – going into places physically or mentally where we accept a will that is not our own, for a good that is greater than our individual life. We participate in the 'Spirit' movement of the Trinity when we open, disturb, question, and bridge, communicate, reconcile and re-unite that which has been disturbed, when we love in ways that lead to new depths of intimacy beyond strangeness and disturbance, and when we create space for the interactions that happen between persons at a level too deep for words.
More specifically, we participate in the Trinity when we:
When we say 'Our Father' in the 'name' of Jesus, we are stepping into the movement of the trusting openness of the child, 'being enticed into a movement of speech that is already there before us.' We 'place ourselves into the flow or, rather, in co-operation we allow ourselves to be drawn in [to the flow of relationships that constitute God.]'
'In praying for others we are expressing our love and concern for them, and God takes that desire into the divine desire for their well-being...'
Engage in acts of Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Practising forgiveness involves the movement of empathy, the willingness to see life and choices through the eyes and experience of the one who has wounded us. And it also involves being willing to endure and absorb the hostility of the 'forgiven', as they react to having their offence named and pardoned. Ideally it involves the dance of re-engaging with the forgiven one to draw them back into relationship again. This is the movement or journey that God made into our mortal human experience: empathising with humanity to the point of incarnating into our reality, and then absorbing the hatred of those who found their lives called into question by the loving, reconciling acts of Jesus, and the ongoing working to transform and woo humanity back into union with God. When we move beyond self for the sake of the other and in desire for the other we act in participation with the Trinity who is a continual event of such moving and reaching and loving and desiring and forgiving.
Continue the acts of Jesus, sent by the Father, in the Spirit of Jesus.
Jesus sends the disciples to go and do as he did by breathing on them and saying 'as the Father has sent me, so I send you.' There are eternal “currents of mission in the eternal sending and breathing of Son and Spirit from the Father” and as the disciples join in on those actions Jesus did they do not merely imitate what they remember of Jesus' actions but they go on expressing the presence and activity of God in their acts in the world. As Jesus present day disciples we continue the reconciling and redemptive activity of Jesus. Which includes healing, welcoming, truth-telling, raising up, setting free, and enacting a path of transformed and transforming love. And ultimately, also suffering – either within ourselves, in the movement of loss and grief that is the rupture of the Father and Son at Golgotha, or when we walk alongside another's suffering, with costly presence, or in protest and advocacy.
Express our specific gifts within the body of community, and make room for each other's gifts rather than drawing attention to ourselves.
The personal God is known to us and by us as we participate with others in community. The relations that make up God as 'Trinity' have a distinct personal quality – steps of the dance that are particular to the Father, the Son and the Spirit. Likewise in the body that is the flesh community of Christ in the world we have particular responsibilities, particular gifts, and it's the way these are honoured and given space that will determine the extent to which a given community will reflect the triune nature of God.
So, on Trinity Sunday, let's invite each other not just to ponder these mysteries of God, but also to join in the dance, to get 'in step' with these movements of relationship that sustain the whole of creation.