In the Beginning, not in time or space,
But in the quick before both space and time,
In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,
In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,
In music, in the whole creation story,
In His own image, His imagination,
The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,
And makes us each the other’s inspiration.
He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,
To improvise a music of our own,
To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,
Three notes resounding from a single tone,
To sing the End in whom we all begin;
Our God beyond, beside us, and within.
This sonnet is part of my wider sequence of sonnets for the Christian Year Sounding the Seasons (Canterbury Press 2012).
Many of the mysteries celebrated in the course of the sacral year are gifts to the artist or poet because they involve some clear image in which the divine is bodied forth and given a local habitation, a master image, through which the mystery can be explored. One thinks of the great paintings inspired by the nativity, the transfiguration, or the crucifixion. Not so Trinity Sunday! Although there are famous images, such as the Rublev Icon (above) from which much can be gleaned, any spatial representation is immediately limited because lines and colours necessarily exclude one another, compete with one another for space and so cannot represent the interfusion, coinherence and mutually enfolded resonance which is at the heart of trinity in unity. Here music and poetry come into their own as they approach the paradox of representing the unrepresentable.
I hope this sonnet speaks for itself, but I will take this opportunity to tease out some of the theological sources and influences that went into its making.
My starting point was the lectionary reading, the Genesis creation narrative, with its paradoxical use of first person plural ‘let us make man in our image’, fused with the third person singular ‘God said’. I drew on Augustine’s reading of the ‘In Principio’ of Genesis as being not a temporal beginning, but rather St. John’s Principio, Christ the eternal Word, fons et origo, in and through whom the Father makes all things as he breathes out the Spirit on the face of the deep. The other two theologians whose thought informs this sonnet are Charles Williams and Jeremy Begbie. Williams took the term ‘coinherence’ which had previously been used to describe the relation of the persons in the Trinity and showed how it also applied to our relations with one another and with Christ. Jeremy Begbie has famously used the way the three notes of a chord are both one in the chord and distinct in themselves, yet mutually enfolded and all occupying the same ‘aural space’ as we listen, to draw out something of the mystery of God’s Trinity in Unity.
Making and responding to music as a metaphor for creation’s response, in freedom, to the gifts of the creator is also a key part of J.R.R. Tolkien’s vision, and his musical creation story at the beginning of the Silmarillion is also something I have drawn on in the sonnet.
Finally, in my own suggestion that we are made in God’s imagination, and that part of the Imago Dei in us is the shaping spirit of our own imagination, I am developing suggestions in Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria.
These separate, underlying strands of influence are of course not consciously separated in the poem, but fused together in an attempt not so much to define or foreclose on a particular reading of the Trinity, but rather to evoke and open up a series of possibilities, each of which alone might give a partial glimpse of truth, but taken together might draw us closer to that mystery of Trinity-in-Unity from which we all spring.
Malcolm Guite is a poet and singer-songwriter living in Cambridge. He is a priest, chaplain, teacher and author. His books include What Do Christians Believe?, Faith, Hope and Poetry (Ashgate Studies in Theology, Imagination & the Arts), and Sounding the Seasons.
Image credit: Image provided by the author.