On Monday I went to the Hay Festival for the first time. It’s quite an event, catering for all ages and with a wide range of speakers and activities. The location, if you’ve not been, is a field on the edge of Hay-on-Wye and it takes place in a series of marquees. One of the talks I attended was by an academic psychologist from Swansea University, Mark Blagrove, working in partnership with an artist, Julia Lockheart. The title was ‘The Science and Art of Dreaming’. They spoke about their project where they interview people about their dreams and the stories. As these interviewees speak, the artist portrays their story in a picture she paints for them. It was a fascinating talk, illustrated with her artwork.
The question arose as to what dreams are and there are various theories. The one that makes most sense to me is that it is our brains making sense of things, ordering them and processing memories. Meaning and experience interweave with some deep psychological phenomena. The dreams might come out in a strange way, with fears and desires, frustrations and successes all swilling around in a wonderfully creative soup. Dreaming deploys the imagination and is part of how we are creative and may be that’s one of the big differences between humans and AI bots. We dream, we imagine, we process in weird and wonderful ways that bring new ideas and possibilities to birth. They are playful, and play is how we make sense and explore reality.
The psychologist spoke about the telling of dreams being important in stimulating empathy, in a similar way to how storytelling, films and novels do this. For him, the telling of dreams is significant and requires the other person to listen as they receive it. That listening and processing, hearing another’s experience and thoughts, helps us see the world from the eyes of another and that develops empathic thinking. He said this is a skill humans developed around 80,000 years ago, not sure how that is known, and its social benefits made it a useful characteristic to have.
Today is Trinity Sunday, when we think of our doctrine of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Dream sharing, story telling, boosting empathy, can shine a light on how we see the Trinity – how we see the nature of God, who God is and how God is. And our icon of the Trinity, painted by Christi Paslaru in 2018 is helpful too because it shows God in an eternal relationship. You should have had a picture of this given to you with your service books. To see this eternal relating you have to make a circle with your hand and look at the image through the circle. If you do that, you will see that the figures are arranged in a circular configuration; they form a circle. There is a dynamic unity about them as each and all relate and respond to one another, which is what that configuration is trying to portray. The icon is a copy of Andrei Rublev’s famous 15th century icon of the three angels visiting Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-19), often taken as a prefiguring of the Trinity.
I thought about this as I was reading Rowan Williams’ book ‘Looking East in Winter’ the other day. In this he talks about God’s life being generative (p79). God generates God in the Trinitarian life. And ultimately God refers back to God, the eternal relating. He calls this ‘God’s correspondence with God’ (p80), which is an image of completeness and eternally relational. This relating is expressed in the act of creation as God’s life is poured into creation. The relational nature of God means the life that is breathed out is hardwired to be relational in turn. As creation exists within the generative nature of God there is an eternal feedback, from which the created order cannot escape. The created is therefore utterly dependent on God for its being, its meaning and its purpose. Life is held in this dynamic relationship that is in the heart and nature of God.
Pressing this further, when we talk of salvation we are talking about something essential to the divine life, not periphery to it. The life made is made in relationship that is ultimately held and not lost. So, however much we struggle and wrestle with our experience of how life can be good and evil, hopeful and despairing, fulfilled and challenged, which may come out in our dreams, all our conceptualising on this has to be framed, has to be seen through this eternal nature of God, who is generative and relational. That makes redemption a purification of what has been tarnished, a repairing of damage, because ultimately we are made, we are held and we are returned within the life of God.
This sets the scene for how we think about the nature of life, the hope in which it is held and the ultimate goal. Rather than being one of futility and punishment, we are made for God and only find our meaning and purpose in God. And ultimately, life given becomes life received back because God is God, and this is how God is in the Trinity. Creation cannot do other than reflect that.
Our second reading (John 16:5-15) included tightly packed thought on the relationship between God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Everything comes from God and is held in this relationship. The whole mission of Jesus was to reveal the heart and nature of God, with salvation being integral to this, because it is of the nature of God.
Today is one of those days, when we put the basic foundation in place for all our theology, our reflection on faith and how we see our life as held within the dynamic life of God, which is generative and relational in its essence. As we dream we make sense of meaning, we play with this relating. As we tell our dreams we share stories and experience, our making sense of it. The one who hears our stories joins in a relational activity that boosts empathy and strengthens the bonds of humanity. It is a model which gives us a call back into the heart and nature of God, who as Trinity is the source of all our relating, and it is in this that our lives find meaning, indeed exist at all.
Sermon for Trinity Sunday, Newport Cathedral, Sunday 4th June 2023