Father, Son, Holy Spirit – A Story for Each

Zemeckis illus. from "A Christmas Carol"

Trinity Sunday

Today I share a question I have been wrestling with: can one say that different authors, when crafting their stories, are inspired by different figures of the Holy Trinity? And if so, what does it mean that we are drawn more to one type of story over another. The question arose last week in my Pentecost post when I noted that I am particularly susceptible to stories of grace entering our lives. I often find these stories more emotionally powerful than those stories that revolve around a Christ figure.

So let’s start with the presence of God-the-Holy Spirit in literature. Some authors write specifically about the drama, such as T. S. Eliot in Little Gidding:

The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart’s heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year.

Other works that come to mind are James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation,” George Eliott’s Silas Marner, Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, and much of the poetry of William Wordsworth and Mary Oliver.

Other stories, by contrast, are shaped by the crucifixion story. Christ figures in literature include Melville’s Billy Budd, Jim Casey in Grapes of Wrath (initials J.C.), Simon in Lord of the Fies, Harry Potter, Hemingway’s “Old Man,” C. S. Lewis’s Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Sydney Carton in Tale of Two Cities, Stowe’s Uncle Tom, Finny in John Knowles’s A Separate Peace, Tolkien’s Frodo, and Ken Kesey’s Randall MacMurphy.

And then, though I can’t think of as many examples, there are those stories of a covenant restored—of a people who have lost their way but who then return to some deep belief (embodied by God-the-father) and find themselves.  I’ll start with Milton’s Paradise Lost and Leon Uris’s Exodus since they are explicit about using the drama, but we could also include communal novels like Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, Shakespeare’s green world comedies, and (less optimistically because the characters only experience an avenging wrath) Moby Dick.

I’m in the early stages of working this idea out. Please send in any thoughts and examples that come to mind.

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  • Barbara

    Robin, This is such an interesting idea. One thing that strikes me is that some genres tap into this. Murder mysteries are in some sense about restoring order (covenant) and romances are often about transcending a crisis (crucifixion): I’m thinking Jane Eyre although I haven’t read it in decades. For spirit, perhaps Jane Austin where characters come to a new (truer) version of a reality they they thought they knew. Elizabeth comes to know and love Darcy and so on. Here it’s the “still, small voice” not the whirlwind. Lot’s to ponder: thank you!

  • Sue

    Fun idea, Robin. It will be an interesting project, and I’ll be happy to think along with you.

  • Farida

    I was thinking how this is something I will now reflect on as I read…
    I haven’t read enough to offer any answers…but I read this poem a few weeks ago and it is my offering to this discussion.

    Beagle or Something by April Bernard

    The composer’s name was Beagle or something,
    one of those Brits who make the world wistful
    with chorales and canticles and this piece,
    a tone poem or what-have-you,
    chimes and strings aswirl, dangerous for one
    whose eye lids and sockets have been rashing from tears.
    The music occupied the car where
    I had parked and then sat, staring at
    a tree, a smallish maple,
    fire-gold and half-undone by the wind,
    shaking in itself,
    shocking blue morning sky behind, and also
    the trucks and telephone wires and dogs
    and children late to school along Orange Street, but
    it was the tree that caused an uproar,
    it was the tree that shook and shed,
    aureate as a shaken soul, I remembered
    I was supposed to have one—for convenience

    I placed it in my chest, the heart being away,
    and now it seems the soul has lodged there, shaking,
    golden-orange, half-spent but clanging
    truer than Beagle music or my forehead pressed
    hard on the steering wheel in petition for release.

  • Robin Bates

    What a remarkable poem, Farida, by a poet that I don’t know. By the way, there’s a new book out, Daniel Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ, that argues that the Jews also have a version of a Trinity and that other religions do as well. I’d be interested in whether you as a Muslim agree. There is God, there is God manifesting Him/Herself in a human prophet who brings divinity to earth, and there the sense of God that each individual is filled with.

    You could be right about murder mysteries, Barbara. And romances are definitely about reestablishing a new covenant–less on individual transcendence than on a community being renewed.


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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