Recently, I was talking with a friend who is, I think, a most important Indigenous theologian. As we discussed the church’s teaching on the Trinity, we observed that many non-Indigenous commentators assume that Indigenous people would have no interest or time for this foundational Christian doctrine. Our experience, however, is that Trinitarian teaching beautifully complements Indigenous spirituality and life-ways. This harmony appears to have four interacting dimensions: the beauty and power of the scriptural presentation of the divine; traditional Indigenous conceptions of God and creation; the basic teaching of the church; and, most important, the experience and relevance of these ideas in the encounter with creation.
This relational God—a Sacred Circle—is mysterious and hidden, but definitively present in the traces of the divine life glimpsed in the communion of creation and, also, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. These come together so wonderfully in the baptism of Jesus—a revelation of the divine life hidden in creation, the saving power of Jesus restoring life and the unity of the three in love. It is a very Indigenous scene.
Over the years, I have heard far too many preachers say with pride that they never mention the Trinity. It seems that this is related to an assumption that is at the heart of the prediction that Indigenous people would be allergic to the idea of the Trinity: it is falsely assumed that the philosophical explanations for the Trinity—often wordy, complex and seemingly far apart from real life experience—is all there is to this teaching.
It is my hope and prayer that another approach is possible, suggested by my experience of Indigenous teaching. Our ancestors, both Christian and Indigenous, approached God in ways that were more reliant on spiritual experience, interacting with scriptural revelation and the teaching of elders. Philosophical explanation has a place—philosophical speculation, less so, perhaps. But it is the interaction of teaching, prayer, the good walk of life and the love of God, received by grace in all these things, that opens a doorway to this teaching, a realm of a larger and more beautiful life.
Bishop Mark MacDonald is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.