And yet games...

And yet games...

Homily for Trinity Sunday preached at Bethany Convent

June 12, 2022

And yet games...

Homily for Sunday, June 12, 2022
Trinity Sunday
Preached at Bethany Convent, Arlington

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1900

Towards the end of his life, when because of health issues he was in and out of sanitoriums in Switzerland, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke jotted in his notebook this fragment while wandering through a churchyard in the Swiss town of Bad Ragaz: “Alles ist spiel, aber spiele…”  “Everything is a game, and yet games…”

“Everything is a game, and yet games…”  According to the 20th century Dutch cultural theorist Johann Huizinga (often recognized as the father of “game studies”), play is defined by several characteristics:

  • Play is free—freedom itself, even—and yet play is at the same time highly ordered.
  • Play is distinct from “ordinary” or “real” life, yet play is everywhere and pervades all aspects of life.
  • There is no profit in play, yet play is necessary to be fully human.
  • Play is something to which we commit our whole being, yet in the end play is bigger than us individually.
  • Play is at once serious—extremely serious—yet at the same time a celebration.

Though when we think of the doctrine of the Trinity we might think of dense theological writing such as that written by Augustine or Karl Barth or Vladimir Lossky, the Trinity is not merely a doctrine to be written about.  Though our knowledge of God, like Rilke’s note, is only in fragment, yet we know that the Trinity, whom we celebrate today, is in a sense rather like play.  For the Trinity is, like play:

  • highly ordered, yet entirely free
  • distinct from “ordinary” life, yet pervades and shapes all life
  • The Trinity is absent of profit, yet shows us our full humanity
  • committed in their entire being, but in the end is not about the persons individually
  • and like play the Trinity is extremely serious, but in the end the Trinity, like play, is marked by a spirit of celebration.

In our deepest understanding, the Trinity can be said to be like play.  And the persons invite us to join in their “game.”

The doctrine of the Trinity about which theologians write merely sets the boundaries of our “game,” showing us how to “play” with, to engage with our full humanity, the persons of the Trinity.  Because of the discovery of the Trinity we can—in a free yet ordered, in a separate yet pervasive, in a profitless but necessary way, with our full selves while at the same time in a way bigger than ourselves, and at once seriously and with a spirit of celebration—we can play and engage with the persons of the Trinity.  We play and engage with the persons of the Trinity when we worship and pray and celebrate the sacraments.  (It’s like a game, what we do here!  We have costumes; we say our lines; we do choreography.)  But also we play and engage with the Trinity whenever our hearts become aware of God among us.  We know that “it is the Lord” when we sense this spirit of… play: ordered yet free, separate yet pervasive, profitless but necessary, fully committed but bigger than us, serious yet celebratory.  And—dare I say?—when we consciously “play” or engage with the Trinity we are (like the Trinity) our most creative and our most inspired, we are our most generous and most good, we are most consoled and most consoling.

“Alles ist spiel, aber spiele…”  “Everything is a game, and yet games…”  Though our knowledge of the Trinity, like Rilke’s line in his journal, is but fragmentary, yet the doctrine of the Trinity frees us, sets the stage for us, to “play” and engage with God in a deeply personal and intimate relationship which is free, pervasive, necessary, serious, celebratory; and than which nothing more satisfies our human hearts.

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