The Power of Three: Reflections on Trinity Sunday

Fortunately, three seems to be the easiest number to remember. The rule of three is a principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. Audiences and readers are more likely to consume information presented in threes. From slogans ("Go, fight, win!") to three part dramas (beginning, middle, end) many things are structured in threes. A series of three often creates a progression in which the tension is created, built up, and finally released. Similarly, adjectives are often grouped in threes to emphasize an idea. The Latin phrase, "omne trium perfectum" (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete) conveys the same idea as the rule of three.

One of the best examples of the power of the rule of three is in comedy, where it is also called a comic triple. Comedians exploit the way people's minds perceive expected patterns to throw the audience off track (and make them laugh) with the third element.

So, while according to Three Dog Night's hit 1969 song, One Is the Loneliest Number, three seems to be the most memorable number.

We read The Three Little Pigs, Three Billy Goats Gruff, Goldilocks and the Three Bears before we eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a knife, fork, and spoon. We hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil despite the fact that we are threatened by lions, tigers, and bears. We play rock, paper, scissors, and we enter into life lock, stock, and barrel. Our goals are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and we count on the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government to assist us in this pursuit, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, because we cherish our government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We live a hop, skip, and a jump from snap, crackle, and pop. Our journey of life has a beginning, a middle, and an end. On the journey we encounter lights that may be red, yellow, or green. Our motto, for the past, the present, and the future is Ready, Set, Go! Just do it!

The poet Robert Frost said it this way: "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: 'It goes on.'"

And since "it goes on," we have lived to face another day. Let's call on the Power of Three as we live this day: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer; the power that created us in the first place, that redeemed us in the second place, and that, in the third place, guides us each moment by the in-pouring of the love of God into our thirsty hearts. Let's call on the Power of the Three-in-One and One-in-Three.

Sources Consulted

Richard J. Clifford, The Wisdom Literature (Abingdon Press, 1998).

Alyce M. McKenzie, Preaching Proverbs: Wisdom for the Pulpit (Westminster John Knox, 1996).

Brian Backman, Thinking in Threes: The Power of Three in Writing (Prufrock Press, 2005).

5/20/2013 4:00:00 AM