Trinity Sunday with George Herbert, plus some bunnies
Trinity Sunday with Medieval Rabbits & George Herbert
Today is Trinity Sunday. In the Western church, the Sunday after Pentecost is traditionally Trinity Sunday, a celebration of the revelation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Overshadowed by its more fiery and flashy cousin, Trinity Sunday flows out of Pentecost—with the gift of the Holy Spirit, what was known only through hints and guesses is now given to us personally. We have unwrapped the mighty gift of fellowship and unity in the love-filled life of God.
The artistic representation of the Trinity has always been a puzzle. One famous version is of course Rublev’s Trinity, dining together (I have a beautiful icon of this one). There’s another tradition that is considerably odder: rabbits.
Note how together there are three ears total—technically they each have only one ear, but viewed together, they each possess both of their ears. No one exactly knows the reasoning behind the bunny Trinity image, but it appears across Europe and into Asia. I love its simultaneous playfulness and strangeness, a good image of aspects of the Trinitarian God we find hard to portray.
That’s just a fun side note to the real point of today’s newsletter. I want to share with you George Herbert’s poem “Trinity Sunday,” one of my favorites of his. George Herbert (1593-1633) was an Anglican deacon, then priest, during the tumultuous years building up to the English Civil War and all the battles surrounding religious practice in the 17th century. Immensely talented, ill most of his life, and dying young, he had a vibrant calling to worship with language.
“Trinity Sunday” is short. Blink and you might miss it. Its joy and precision are gifts of its elaborate structure. The poem is beautifully crafted from interlocking threes. Read slowly, pay close attention, and count how many sets of three (lines, ideas, petitions, etc.) you can find.
“Trinity Sunday” by George Herbert
Lord, who hast form’d me out of mud, And hast redeem’d me through thy bloud, And sanctifi’d me to do good; Purge all my sinnes done heretofore: For I confesse my heavie score, And I will strive to sinne no more. Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me, With faith, with hope, with charitie; That I may runne, rise, rest with thee.
The first stanza describes the gifts of each Person of God: creation, redemption, sanctification. The second describes the burdens of our living in time; the sins and trials of the past, present, and future in living.
But that last stanza gets me every time. I debated using it for the prayer at the end of this email instead of this meditation, because it’s so prayerful. But then I wouldn’t get to discuss it further! Herbert somehow distills the yearning for a life well-lived down to the briefest petitionary prayer.
I have given this poem on a little card with baby shower gifts before. It makes me think of a child running, rising, and resting. We run with eagerness, even recklessness, sometimes we fall. May we rise with Christ. We need to stop and rest, like a child after playing hard. I pray it sometimes for my children: that they would run, rise, and rest with God, that their heart, mouths, and hands would be enriched in the glory of Trinitarian life together. I pray it for myself too: may my intent, speech, and action better reflect the beauty, truth, and love of the Triune God; may I be given the gifts of faith, hope, and love.
What I’ve been up to this month:
The newest Old Books With Grace episode features Dr. Chris Armstrong, author of Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians. It was lovely chatting with him about medieval literature, Christian humanism, and the significance of the past for Christians. Listen anywhere you get your podcasts (Apple, Spotify). This week, I welcome Dr. Fritz Bauerschmidt, professor of medieval theology at Loyola Maryland. We chat about tradition, reading tough medieval writers like Aquinas, and finding joy in the medieval church. And that’s the last episode of season two! OBWG will be back in September. I’ll be working on brainstorming new guests and series this summer—any suggestions/requests?
The book project continues to march onward. This month I’ve been working on Nicholas Love’s Mirror of the Blessed Life of Christ, an English translation & adaptation of Meditationes Vitae Christi, the project to imagine and meditate on the life of Christ and Mary (and a huge later influence on St. Ignatius of Loyola). I’m wrestling with how Christ can speak to us in and through current cultural contexts, as well as how we use that culture to contain and control his message.
What I’ve been reading this month:
Nonfiction: My next podcast guest, Fritz Bauerschmidt, wrote a wonderful little book on the love of God that encouraged me deeply this past month: The Love That Is God: An Invitation to Christian Faith. Bauerschmidt takes very seriously the central claim of Christianity, that God is love, and that the love of God is crucified love.
Fiction: I do not know if you are a fan of light, rom-com reads for summer, but I certainly am. I just finished By the Book, by Jasmine Guillory. A lowly publishing intern falls in love with one of the big-name authors of her firm. Silly, sweet, lighthearted, not explicit, right up my alley for poolside summer reading.
Article: Commonweal’s “The Pope of Russell Square,” on the complex poet T.S. Eliot, who produced some beautiful poetry (my favorite poems of all time are the Four Quartets), and simultaneously held some objectionable views, by Terry Eagleton.
Medieval/Medieval-adjacent: Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ by Nicholas Love. Challenging & fascinating.
A Prayer from the Past
Many of you will already know this prayer, but it’s perfect for Trinity Sunday: St. Patrick’s Breastplate.
I arise today Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, Through belief in the Threeness, Through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation. I arise today Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism, Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial, Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension, Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom. I arise today Through the strength of the love of cherubim, In the obedience of angels, In the service of archangels, In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward, In the prayers of patriarchs, In the predictions of prophets, In the preaching of apostles, In the faith of confessors, In the innocence of holy virgins, In the deeds of righteous men. I arise today, through The strength of heaven, The light of the sun, The radiance of the moon, The splendor of fire, The speed of lightning, The swiftness of wind, The depth of the sea, The stability of the earth, The firmness of rock. I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me, God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me, God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me, God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me, God's shield to protect me, God's host to save me From snares of devils, From temptation of vices, From everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and near. I summon today All these powers between me and those evils, Against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and soul, Against incantations of false prophets, Against black laws of pagandom, Against false laws of heretics, Against craft of idolatry, Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards, Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul; Christ to shield me today Against poison, against burning, Against drowning, against wounding, So that there may come to me an abundance of reward. Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. I arise today Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, Through belief in the Threeness, Through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.
-Translated from Old Irish, traditionally called St. Patrick’s Breastplate
Peace for your June,
If you enjoyed Medievalish, I’d be honored if you shared it with a friend!
Thank you for this poem and the intriguing image of the thee hares.
I love these three quirky hares! Thanks for sharing. 💕