What Difference Does It Make?: The Kaleidoscope Effect

For the better part of a year, I’ve been working on understanding a book and a doctrine that, shall we admit, are not “bestsellers.” In fact, one of my readers very softly commented:

“It was a long and complicated series, and I’m afraid that the truly interested layman ‘in all the details’ might be hard to find. I found a lot of it very, very interesting, and I certainly had no conception that the Trinity could possibly generate that much insight from either you or your author/book. I think, however, of ***’s comment; something about simplicity. I do think that academics gets into such ‘deep stuff’ that the average person tends to respond with ‘who cares?’ or ‘what difference does it make?’”

Perhaps this person was voicing your own thoughts. Nearly eight full months on the history of Trinitarian thought? What difference does it make?

Part of me wants to start all over again, and do a better job so that the wonderful “difference” is made clearer, both to you and to me. I think of some of the gentle saints I have known and loved in this world, calm, clear-eyed, and faithful souls whose loving, devout relationship to the Lord was uncomplicated, unfettered, and straightforward. Simple rhythms of “please, Lord,” and “thank you so much, Father,” and “help me be better,” and “praise you, Jesus!” Is the Trinity so thorny an issue that it’s inevitably inaccessible to the non-academic sort?

I think if we really understood the Trinity, it would pristinely beautiful to all of us, the ones with the fussy brains and the ones with the pure hearts. The kaleidoscope of Trinitarian angles is, yes, a jumble of images and thoughts, colors and lights, and it seems in constant motion, hard to “read.” And still, it can be beautiful, and wonderful, and, beyond anything, hopeful.

But then I thought again about the question: What difference does it make? And I wondered then about what difference it made that we waded through all these things, for the most part in labored silence, me pecking away on the keyboard and you trying to make some sense of my ruminations. What have we been doing? to what end? While Anatolios’s Retrieving Nicaea pushed me during the day, it was George Eliot’s Middlemarch that tucked me in at night. And there I read this:

“… the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Here, then, is the rationale for the smallness of deeds, yours and mine. Our days are full of “unhistoric acts,” and our greatest calling may simply be to “live faithfully a hidden life.” A hidden pondering, shifting colors, catching glimpses, losing vision, gaining vision. And thus the difference it all makes is unmeasurable, modest, clandestine even. “For your life is hidden with Christ in God…” (Col. 3.3). Wrestle quietly and perhaps even ineffectually with history and theology, ideas and images, and perhaps never really understand, never see the value. Yet still, insofar as it is an act of faithfulness, an act of holy desire, as Augustine would describe it … it is good. And it is enough.


Photo: PLUM…a Spoo and a Weim

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About K. Mulhern

Kathleen Mulhern teaches courses in world history, European history, and history of Christianity. She has taught at Denver Seminary, Colorado School of Mines, and Regis University. She particularly focuses on the historical roots of the political, economic, religious, and cultural systems that have contributed to contemporary society.