Today is Trinity Sunday; the day in the Western Christian calendar where we celebrate the three “persons” of God. Traditionally these are referred to as Father, Son, and Spirit (but I’d love to play around sometime with non-traditional representations of the Trinity). I have mentioned before the not-so-tongue-in-cheek descriptions of Trinity as “two White dudes and a bird,” and if you look at the Wikipedia page for Trinity Sunday, that’s the sort of art you will find.
However, one of the lectionary texts for today is Psalm 29, and it is full of imagery of Divine Nature! In particular, the “voice of the LORD” is creating a raging storm:
Psalm 29: The Voice of God in a Great Storm A Psalm of David. 1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor. 3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters. 4 The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. 5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. 6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. 7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. 8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!” 10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. 11 May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!
When I was looking for art to coincide with this text, I came across The Working Preacher’s commentary on this passage. In it Hays explains that this storm imagery is commonly used to describe visual evidence of God.
In Psalm 29, the psalmist draws upon common ancient Near Eastern imagery for theophanies, or appearances of God in the world, to urge those who read or hear the psalm to worship Yahweh as the one true God. Some scholars even argue that Psalm 29 was originally a Canaanite hymn to the storm god Baal—the imagery of mighty waters, thunder and lightning from the heavens, torrential winds, and reverberations in the earth certainly sounds like something that might be used in worship of a storm god.7 But the psalmist leaves no room for confusion about which God commands the heavens. Psalm 29 stands as a powerful polemic against those who might be tempted to “ascribe” strength and glory to other forces at work in the world (whether supernatural, natural, or human).Rebecca Poe Hays
I love storms, so the idea of God as a storm is simply fabulous to me. Powerful. Indiscriminate. Beautiful. Life-giving and deadly at the same time. Which brings me to today’s art: Clearing Up by Andreas Achenbach. Isn’t it powerful? The color, the movement, the texture. Achenbach painted in the Dutch style common to the Düsseldorf academy in which he was trained. This style evokes the sublime in a manner very similar to our psalm; particularly the way our own tiny humanity is overwhelmed and dwarfed by the might and fury of nature. Or is it the voice of God?
Hays says this imagery draws upon Near Eastern theophanies. Traditionally, Christian scholars only apply the term theophany to a manifestation of the Abrahamic God that is unambiguous – the incarnation of Christ being, of course, the ultimate theophany. So, when the example is more ambiguous – say, a raging storm – then the word used to describe it is hierophany. A hierophany is a manifestation of the sacred. The difference is subtle: theophany starts with the Greek “theos,” meaning “god.” Hierophany starts with the Greek “hierós,” meaning “sacred.”
I think I like hierophany better. A manifestation of The Sacred. After all, as we have seen, imagery of “God,” at least in Christianity, is often just one step away from “two White dudes and a bird.”
And the Trinity is so much more than that.