“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen, Amen.” —the Gloria Patri
Even something as deep and mysterious can have humor. Religion is no exception. This brief post is a humorous observation wrapped in a physical gesture wrapped in a doctrine wrapped in a universal principle wrapped in a mystery.
Among my religious objects are several icons, especially popular in the Orthdodox tradition. My favorite is one entitled “Trinity”, the one you see in the image here. When I first looked at it, I observed that Jesus and the Father are flashing each other what looks for all the world like a gang sign. Take a look at it for yourself. What is this all about?
First, language is far more than spoken and written discourse. Signs are symbols and are universal in nearly all human (and some animal) signification. Hand signs are prevalent. There is a name for them. They are called mudras: symbolic hand gestures or poses used in Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and other practices. They are also found in statuary, art, and dance. While some mudras involve the entire body, most are performed with the hands and fingers. Mudras have their own physiology as well. Neurologically, different areas of the hands are connected with areas in the body and the brain.
Possibly the first recorded mudra dates back to the The Abhayamudra, “gesture of fearlessness” in Theravada Buddhism. It is a sign of protection, peace, benevolence and the dispelling of fear. It is usually made while standing with the right arm bent and raised to shoulder height, the palm facing forward, the fingers closed, pointing upright and the left hand resting by the side. In Thailand and Laos, this mudra is associated with the walking Buddha, often shown having both hands making a double abhaya mudra that is uniform. This mudra was probably used before the onset of Buddhism as a symbol of good intentions proposing friendship when approaching strangers. In art it is seen when showing the action of preaching. It was also used in China during the Wei and Sui eras of the 4th and 7th centuries.
Over the years I have incorporated the use of a mudra, coincidentally the same as that shown in my icon, consisting of the joining of the thumb and ring finger of both hands as a meditative device. It has become habitual throughout the day, along with silent chanting of Amen or AUM, as a response to perceptions of beauty, insight, thanksgiving, blessing of/prayer for others, penitence and sorrow, and other moods, a physical prayer response. Its name is the Surya Ravi Mudra, and ismade byuniting the tip of the ring finger and the thumb. Traditionally, I am told, this brings together the elements of fire and earth, representing energy and health, and it provides us with a feeling of balance. It can also help with bringing positive changes into our lives. Consciously employed during the day, it may be seen as a means of carrying the AUM/Amen with oneself in the course of daily actions. I have also found that in meditation the mudra may yield to a relaxed position by taking the mind away from transcendence to the deeper levels of consciousness.
In my icon the shared mudra is an expression of relationship, specifically that of the Holy Trinity. While some may doubt the validity of the Trinity, I have found that it is simply too pervasive and universal to be ignored. Books upon books have been written on it, so I will only briefly touch upon it. Also, far beyond an intellectual/doctrinal concept, the Trinity may be intuited—there is an inward logic and naturalness to the notion and it transcends any individual religious tradition. It is the 3-D structure of reality. The universal principle of three-ness manifests itself in a dizzying array of applications testifying to its power as a structural principle. Years ago I started a file of Trinitarian scripture references and can tell you that the list is not only voluminous but keeps growing. For more about structure and purpose, see my post Fibonacci Rules! It requires no convincing—it is self-evident.
This mystery of relationship is exemplified in a selection from the writings of Christian monk Bede Griffiths:
“And finally, in the Godhead itself, does the person remain? The idea of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is precisely that in the ultimate Godhead, beyond words and thought, beyond all conception, there is a communion, an intercommunion in knowledge and love. We cannot imagine or properly conceive it but we can suggest how it can be. The language of Jesus in the New Testament is ‘that they may be one, as Thou in Me and I in Thee, that they may be one in us’ (John 17:22). This is the circumcession, as it is called, of the Persons in the Trinity. The Father is in the Son, the Son is in the Father and the Father and Son are absolutely one in the Spirit, without duality. There is no difference in them at all. And yet there is a relationship, relationship in perfect unity. Thus in the Godhead itself there is love. In the ultimate there is a communion of love, and participation in the mystical Body of Christ is participation in that communion of love. We can see how this doctrine of the Trinity points toward the idea of total fulfillment in the intercommunion of persons in the Godhead, of persons within the body of Christ, the supreme Person, and finally of the whole creation in a new mode of existence in this whole. In this sense Christ as the supreme Person, fills the whole creation.”
And, in a well-known passage from the Upanishads: “Om. That is full, this is full. Fullness originates from fullness. Remove fullness from fullness and fullness remains.” The Truth is that we do not live by ourselves or for ourselves. We exist in relationship, not only to each other but to the Absolute. The relationships expounded in the Trinity give depth, perspective, and meaning to our search. They are real, very real indeed, and to exist without them is to deny ourselves the richness and meaning of the spiritual vision of life. And so the humorous observation has culminated in a serious conclusion. Little more than that can be said—it is for us to apprehend and explore.
There is a quality of relatedness which gives life and spirituality its alive-ness and makes it real. Relationship accounts for so much. It is powerful. It is effective. It gives depth and perspective to our view of the universe. And as such it should be welcomed. And, not only welcomed but entered into. I will give you a brief example. Yesterday, on my late father’s birthday, I purchased some flowers to place on the mantle in my living room. To some this may seem a waste, but the scriptural record, as well as personal experience, tells us that these relationships are real and that there is a linking of those who live here and who live beyond. Those in this world who do not bow to that reality deprive themselves of that richness of union, not to mention dishonoring one’s ancestors. Far from wasting time and effort, we gain so much from doing this. A life of relationship brings us closer to others, to the world in which we live, and, ultimately, to God. Amen.