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13-year-olds grapple with mystery of the Holy Trinity

13-year-olds grapple with mystery of the Holy Trinity

Sunday Guest by Sr Elvera Sesta

AS I have remarked before, school life is like the seasons of the year.

Every so often there is an exam mode. At the end of the year this is followed by graduation for the Year 12s with all that is implied by that step.

Schools lose their leaders – not only in the academic field, but in the sporting arena and in the cultural as well.

Each of the other year levels graduates to a new level. Each graduation brings its own excitement.

As the students prepare for exams there are also various modes.

Years ago, exams were something that you had to learn for and then show what you had mastered under supervised conditions.

In some instances that still holds. However, today there are other ways to show if you have mastered the subject.

For this last term of 2013, the Year 8s have been looking at the concept of the Trinity.

Well might you ask how 13-year-olds could get off first base with this concept?

Yes, it was with great difficulty on my part and their part.

I laboured the point that we are able to think only “anthropomorphically”, with a human mind only and the Trinity needs a divine mind to fathom its mystery.

For their assignment, they had to “create their image of the Trinity” and then write an artistic statement on their design, explaining how it represented the Trinity.

Many in their artistic statement used that very long word, “anthropomorphic”, correctly – both in spelling and in meaning.

They knew that I would be impressed.

There were a few heresies that I had to straighten out. But, on the whole, I was amazed that such young minds could speak so accurately and so deeply.

Let me share a few analogies that they came up with.

One student cut three interlocking circles out of cardboard, went out into the sunlight and then took a photo with the sun shining through the circles.

To me it certainly showed the idea of three persons in one God and yet the overall photo spoke of mystery, inviting us into its depth that can never be plumbed.

I have often heard it said that the Holy Spirit is the “forgotten person” of the Trinity, but not with this group of Year 8s.

One desperate student, as the deadline was drawing close, still had not thought up an image.

She kept looking around her to see where she could use a group of three.

As she was feeding her pet fighting fish, the penny dropped.

God the Son was represented by the tail of the fish in its expanded state as this resembled the crown of thorns.

God the Creator was the body of the fish as this gave the fish life. The fish was appropriate as it was a very common Christian symbol for Christianity.

The Holy Spirit was the water as it was everywhere, as she said, just like the Holy Spirit.

Without the water, the fish will die; without the Holy Spirit we too will die spiritually – just like the air we breathe.

Another quoted her grandpa who told her many stories about the Trinity, especially the one about St Augustine and the little boy by the beach.

The boy had dug a hole in the sand and kept running to the ocean and back again filling his hole with a bucket of water from the ocean.

When St Augustine asked him what he was doing he replied that he was trying to empty the ocean into his hole.

When Augustine told him it was an impossible task, the boy responded that it was just as impossible for him, Augustine, to try to fathom what the Trinity meant.

I wondered how often it is when a grandfather is able to sit with his granddaughter and chat about the Trinity. This grandpa did not have to be an expert on the latest pop idol or fashion, but on his knowledge of God.

The image I have of this cameo of granddaughter and grandfather made the whole exercise all worthwhile. He gave her so many stories about the Trinity.

I had emphasised in my teaching that God was “no thing” and many took up this thought as well.

They found in their research, “God is incomprehensible”.

Many felt the presence of God in nature; that God was all around them if only they had eyes to see. They were very definite about where God was for them.

I felt very humbled by what these little ones were able to teach me.

Truly “from the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise” (Matthew 21:16).

Sr Elvera Sesta is a Presentation Sister who was principal of St Rita’s College, Clayfield, on Brisbane’s northside, for 20 years. She retired from the position at the end of 2008 but continues to teach at the college.

Written by: Staff writers
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