In the week between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, I usually dust down my juggling balls and do a bit of intense practice in the garden. The reason? Well, I use them in the school assemblies to try and convey the idea of the Trinity to the children in our first schools. It is always fun – the children smiling and laughing, maybe wondering if I will drop one, but always wanting more! It would be exciting to do the same assembly with fire clubs and while I have no doubt the children would be up for it, I doubt if it would get through the risk assessments!
While it is entertaining, I also think it works quite well in trying to convey the idea of the Trinity in a comprehensible way. And here is why.
I begin with one juggling ball, throwing it up and down, talking a bit about God as I go. It is not very exciting as you can imagine – either for the children or for me; definitely something missing – obviously in the context of juggling but true too in conveying the idea of God – it feels as though what I am describing is dry, static without much fizz and energy. Perhaps a bit like the picture an old man up above in the sky, there controlling events down below. Dull, predictable and a bit scary. Not somebody you would want to get to know at all.
And so along comes no 2. I can feel the children’s excitement – in anticipation of what is to come. As the ball goes up Here is Jesus, I say, come to show and tell us just how is this God – the face of God, I say as the ball flies up towards the ceiling; and how we are all to live; Jesus came telling stories, making people better, showing us how we can take care of each other- especially those we do not like.
The children can see the two balls, separate but together, overlapping but apart, similar but distinct (I always make sure that the patterns of the balls are different). Things are beginning to feel a little more exciting- I like to think it is because the idea of God is becoming a little more interesting – but I am realistic enough to know that it is probably just the possibility of me dropping the balls. We get a bit of pantomime now – Is that it then? I say, and they all shout out No!
I keep them waiting for just a few more throws of the balls as I tell them that Jesus said he would not leave us without help and then like a shot comes ball no 3 from out behind my back. All the balls are in the air now; flying between, above and below each other; I get them to try and pick out each one; impossible – even though they are not the same they are too similar to call. Sometimes one ball goes high and the others stay low; other times two go high and one stays low and then they are all going around and around, pretty much the same distance apart; each different but each needed; the colours blurring into each other- the same but distinct. Then with one final throw to the rafters, the juggling comes to an end.
I don’t say too much to finish – I think the juggling does the work – conveying the nature of God as dynamic, beautiful, unpredictable, playful, inclusive – the relationship between the three like a dance as we are told (fancy word perichoresis) – a dance of love.
What I need though to complete the story is a 4th juggling ball – you and me that we too are invited to join this circle dance of love, that we are invited in, not just to look from the outside or below but to join the dance.
In today’s Gospel in Matthew we hear Jesus telling his disciples to go and make disciples to baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It all sounds a bit formal, the idea of commissioning, at least the way that Matthew describes it; I prefer how we heard the same thing last week, where in the intimacy of the upper room Jesus breathed on his disciples and said Receive the Holy Spirit – the life force of God; discover in yourselves the love and life of God and as much as you are able, so you will share that with others.
Every time this comes around, I remember just how satisfying is juggling. It combines the need to both concentrate and to let go – if you try too hard then the balls are likely to become as slippery as a wet fish, but if you do not pay attention then most likely the balls will end up on the floor. Combining those apparently paradoxical tendencies seems to me to go to the heart of the spiritual life. Just like juggling, you have to put the work in, even while knowing that God is there, waiting, longing for us to join in the dance.
Revd Jonathan Morris