A sore neck and a sore head


I almost always enjoy reading Glynn Cardy's blog. In addition to what he writes there, his sermons are also available online at the web site for St. Matthews, where he is the vicar. I recently read the text of his Trinity Sunday sermon for June 7, in which he speaks of his visit to an old English church in Dartmoor, Devon. There he found, by craning his neck upward and staring at the ceiling, a design of three hares in a circle.

The Trinitarian connections of this design being obvious to a Christian, he then comments on that particular doctrine, along with the problems with the supernaturally theistic and patriarchal metaphors that frequently accompany it:

The Trinity has traditionally been thought of as three personae [faces ] of the one God. The first ‘face’ is called ‘God the Father’. I prefer the name Te Matapuna: the wellspring, source of life. Te Matapuna is less personal than Father but escapes the male-in-the-sky imagery that too many people take literally.

The second ‘face’ is traditionally called ‘God the Son’. Again the title lends itself to a literal belief that the man Jesus is part of a holy triumvirate ruling from the heavens. Rather it is more accurate to say that the earthed essence of the Jesus life is integral to God’s ‘life’. The tears, the love, the passion, the justice of Jesus… are woven into the core of godness. This ‘earthed essence’ is not anthropomorphic. It’s not Jesus sitting in the clouds. It’s not male or female, though with artistic license it can be depicted as either.

The third ‘face’ is called God the Spirit, or Holy Ghost. I like the Spirit metaphor of uncontrollable wind, blowing where she wills. Another Spirit metaphor is weaver and wool – the Spirit weaving her vibrant threads of love and anarchy throughout the creation.

Each ‘face’ of God is, like the hares, of the same divine substance. The Source, the essence of Jesus, and the uncontainable Spirit are one in being three. They are inexplicably connected, and flowing into each other.
As far as the design in that church goes--are the hares in that design really tied to Trinitarian Christian doctrine, as one might think? It turns out that it is not so simple; it seems that this design is a surprisingly common motif, found in different parts of the world. Type "three hares" into Google and you will get a lot of hits, including, for example, this web site. Glynn Cardy goes on to comment more about the symbolism of the hares and the specific association of these animals with various kinds of spiritualities. He suggests that, in fact, the connection between the symbol of the three hares and Christian Trinitarianism is more tenuous than one might have assumed.

And then from this, he makes the following point about Trinitarian dogma:
Frankly I tire of Trinitarian theology and metaphors.

Three-in-one, one-in-three,
Whatever else, it is non-sense to me;
Latin, Greek, Councils and creeds,
How is it relevant to our needs?

I have heard countless sermons on water, steam and ice. In recent years it’s been talk of God-in-community, a happy little heavenly band. I heard the other day of a preacher likening the Trinity to a three-person cycling pursuit team. Athanasius would squirm.

Personally I prefer the ambiguity of a medieval Devonshire roof boss. No one really knows what the Three Hares symbol means – just as no one really knows God. We can make some good guesses, but that’s all they are. High up and almost hidden the symbol is mysterious. Like God. It invites speculation but defies specification. Like God. It is hard to explain. It is known, yet remains unknown. Like God. The Three Hares are not the property of any one religion, church, or culture. They just are. Like God. When you lean back looking at them too long, believe me, you get a sore neck and sore head. Just like with the Trinity.