NT Wright, in his book, 'For All God's Worth: True Worship And The Calling Of The Church', speaks of the purpose of Trinity Sunday,
'In the church’s year, Trinity Sunday is the day when we stand back from the extraordinary sequence of events that we’ve been celebrating for the previous five months—Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost—and when we rub the sleep from our eyes and discover what the word “god” might actually mean. These events function as a sequence of well-aimed hammer-blows which knock at the clay jars of the gods we want, the gods who reinforce our own pride or prejudice, until they fall away and reveal instead a very different god, a dangerous god, a subversive god, a god who comes to us like a blind beggar with wounds in his hands, a god who comes to us in wind and fire, in bread and wine, in flesh and blood: a god who says to us, “You did not choose me; I chose you.”
You see, the doctrine of the Trinity, properly understood, is as much a way of saying “we don’t know” as of saying “we do know.” To say that the true God is Three and One is to recognize that if there is a God then of course we shouldn’t expect him to fit neatly into our little categories. If he did, he wouldn’t be God at all, merely a god, a god we might perhaps have wanted. The Trinity is not something that the clever theologian comes up with as a result of hours spent in the theological laboratory, after which he or she can return to announce that they’ve got God worked out now, the analysis is complete, and here is God neatly laid out on a slab. The only time they laid God out on a slab he rose again three days afterwards.
On the contrary: the doctrine of the Trinity is, if you like, a signpost pointing ahead into the dark, saying: “Trust me; follow me; my love will keep you safe.” Or, perhaps better, the doctrine of the Trinity is a signpost pointing into a light which gets brighter and brighter until we are dazzled and blinded, but which says: “Come, and I will make you children of light.” The doctrine of the Trinity affirms the rightness, the propriety, of speaking intelligently that the true God must always transcend our grasp of him, even our most intelligent grasp of him. '
Many attempts have been made to illustrate the complex doctrine of the triune nature of God; all fall short, as they inevitably must, but I wanted to feature this painting by the Jesuit artist-priest Father A. J. Thamburaj today, because it draws upon the symbolism of a culture we seldom consider in our Western parochialities - those of the mudras (Indian hand gestures) and the coding of colour in Indian custom.
The Abaya Mudra (palm upwards, hand pointing upward) in Thumbaraj's piece is a symbol of protection often featured in Indian art- particularly temple sculpture of deities - and dance. Here, it represents 'Father', painted in a lush, verdant green, the hue of creativity and fertility, and includes a fish; the creature whose eyelids never close. The message conveyed is of an all-seeing, always alert Creator God with whom we should never feel afraid.
As we face the painting, to the Father's right side, is the Virada Mudra (palm upward, hand pointing downward), often used in sculpture and dance to complement and complete the Abaya Mudra, which speaks of the divine directing his/her devotees to hide under the arch of his/her foot for refuge. Feet are very much revered in Indian culture (for instance, students touch the feet of their teachers as a sign of their greater knowledge and experience, and younger people touch the feet of older generations to recognise their wisdom). Here, portrayed in blue, symbolic of sky and sea, but also of mystery and eternity, the Virada Mudra represents Christ, who came from God as his/her feet on this earth. The red wound reminds us that the risen Lord bears the redemptive marks of the crucifixion.
At the centre of the picture is a depiction of Agni Mudra (palm facing down, hand pointing upwards), which symbolises fire in Indian art and is always used as a connector between other components. Thamburaj has painted this a bright red to indicate the purifying fire of Holy Spirit, setting at its heart a spiral representing the power of the wind, the outer lines connecting all three elements in unity.
The Trinity is a mystery, and, for me, it is not one that takes up a great deal of my thinking, but I do find Thamburaj's approach interesting. He uses references that at the time of his creating this piece were very much frowned upon by Western Christians. I can remember being very strongly warned of the wickedness of 'Eastern' influences - the vaguest of geography was a further deterrent to exploration; now mudras' are used in yoga classes in virtually every church hall in the country, and we are blessedly far more aware of the richness of Christian faith present in other cultures, which naturally draws upon their own traditions to describe and bookmark that discipleship. Whether brought about by the work of Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, Creator God, or a wonderful merging of Three in One makes no matter; there has been a seismic shift in Christian thinking over the years that is to be applauded and treasured for the breaking down of barriers and the openness to fresh ways of thinking and fellowship... and there is so much more to be done. There's a power in the wind that is shifting our baselines, breaking our God out of the box we've tried to enclose him in and scattering the prejudices and practices we hold so tightly to.
Our life is in the ever-present protecting, redeeming, purifying and empowering hands of the Triune God who is less concerned with solving doctrinal dilemmas and more concerned with bringing love and concern to the whole of a hurting, broken world.