Essence, Interaction, Mediation: What Music Education Taught Me about the Trinity – June 4, 2023

Preacher: Aimee Schmidt

Trinity Sunday


Experience, expression, elusive, motion, communication, verbal, nonverbal, metaphoric, physical, creative, creating, creation, hardly perceptible, a symbol that symbolizes itself. Thoughts that can hardly be put into words because they aren’t semantic in nature. Something caught by our brains, but not by the rational part of our brain we exercise in an 8th grade math classroom. It’s something that can’t be frozen, it exists in a temporality and yet over and above temporality.  it’s meaningful, but the meaning can’t be contained within normal conversation, within normal time, within normal space. It is action, it is interaction. It is relationships.


I bet you think I’m trying to describe the Trinity. I’m not. The above description is from my doctoral notes when I was trying to set out putting my thoughts about music education on paper. I am a music teacher. I love being a music teacher.  Music and teaching. Two things I think I do well. They’ve made up a major part of my life. So, it shouldn’t have been difficult when I decided to turn my focus to research in music education. After all, I wasn’t jumping directly into doctoral research straight from my masters with no experience. At that point in time, I had been in a classroom for 2 decades. Teaching and music. 2 things I TOTALLY understand. I get them. Easy. Except it wasn’t.


When talking about education and educational theory, there is a big word out there called “constructivism”. I’m not going to go very deep into this, so if there are any big constructivists in the congregation today, please don’t take my head off for oversimplifying, but constructivism basically says that we as teachers need to be careful how we teach because our students construct their own reality from how their senses take in information and process it within their brains. The problem with music is, it gets under our skin, it has a life of its own; we create musical meanings when we create music together that go far beyond this dualistic theory.

That’s when I ran into Charles Peirce and his pragmatic triadic (or dare I say trinitarian) theory. Rather than constructing our own reality, reality is mediated through signs. If you think I’m going to explain this today, forget it. That would take too long. But I have a whole list of books for anyone who is interested. Important for me in the exploration of music education was Peirce’s ideas of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness.  Firstness has to do with the essence of things. Secondness with interaction and Thirdness with mediation.

Let’s say we want to learn about the color red.


Firstness is red.  What makes red red? What is the absolute essence of being red?

Secondness is this red. This red here that I can touch and see and paint with and interact with. Secondness is associated with discord, with rubbing up against reality, fighting with it. Hold someone else’s hand. If neither of you move, you will stop perceiving the other hand. Our perception is quite literally, always a battle. You can’t perceive the other hand unless the molecules in your hand move AGAINST the molecules in their hand. You can’t see something as red unless the light waves batter their way around an object and crash into your optic nerve.

Thirdness is redness. All the laws and concepts that go into redness. All that mediates between us and the spirit of that which is red. All of the associations of red, be it danger (a red warning sign) or sexiness (the lady in a red dress) , or pentacost (what color did you all wear last week?) ; all the things that our cultural history and experience has achieved to bring us to the point that red now means to us today, in this time and place, what it means to us.

I could now talk for a long time about how this applies to music. How we form and create musical relationships and musical meaning as a web of interrelated elements are drawn up out of chaos and woven into threads of an aesthetic building.

But. What happened to me was that as I was contemplating music education; God came crashing in on me. Or rather, our TRINITARIAN God came crashing in on to me.

God the father is firstness. This Firstness of God is so all encompassing, so awe-inspiring, so beyond words that the only way God could get it across to Moses were the words of Exodus 3:!4. “I am.”  Think about that for a minute. The firstness of God is so great that he stopped after the verb. I. AM. Those two words can only be understood with a part of our brains that goes beyond words, beyond semantics, into the elusiveness of comprehension that is uniquely human BECAUSE God created us to be in relationship, verbal, nonverbal, ESSENTIAL, with him. He is the GREAT *I am*. He is that WORD. That logos.


God the Son is Secondness.  He is God, THIS GOD. The God who poured himself out in flesh and in blood and in time and in space. He is that WORD: That LOGOS. That I AM made flesh. Fully human rubbing those molecules and atems of his breath and his body up against all the battle that is being here on the cross, drinking wine, healing the lame, throwing tables, dealing compassion, sharing pain, sharing love. Being in relationship. Not God. But this God. MY GOD. YOUR GOD. HUMANITY’S GOD. Not some far away essence that can only elude us but one that allows us interaction and relationship. One that allows us to rub up against him in the discord and battle that has to exist to create harmony. A perfect consonance that arises out of perfect dissonance.

God the Holy Spirit is Thirdness. He is the great mediator. The RUACH, the life breath. Godness. God in all times and places and cultures. He brings all unto itself and meets us where we are in all of our understanding. That law that is the new law, that covenant which is the new covenant; that which we can bind ourselves unto to become children of the Most High. A mediator between us and our understanding. That spirit which is life, and which is love.

A dear Muslim friend of my youth once accused me of worshipping 3 Gods. I tripped over a very awkward explanation, not even far enough in my walk at that time to have heard of the “usual” arguments of the Trinity such as it being like the sun and its rays and its warmth. My doctoral studies, though having nothing to do with religion, brought me closer to my understanding of the Trinity. It’s not the metaphor of the sun that does it for me. It’s music. It’s that which I profoundly know; that which I’ve dedicated my life to, yet the more I get to know it the less I understand it, but the more I understand it with a part of my brain that’s beyond words. Sounds waves exist and yet they don’t. I can’t hold on to them. I hold on to symbols of them, to memories of them. But as soon as it’s there, it’s gone.  But anyone who has every sat in THAT performance of Mahler 3 and has been shaken to their core knows there was a reality to that moment. A SIGNIFICANT reality. A SIGN-ificant reality that is different than any other Mahler 3 performance, and that the world is different because that piece of music happened. For REAL. Not as a construction. Because interaction changes things. It changes us. Because beyond the words, beyond the understanding, we find love. We find the great I AM: