The traditional description of the Trinity is three “Persons” in one God. Those Persons have been described as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I wish to reframe that description. Since “Father”, connotes maleness and does not necessarily sit well with those whose father-child relationship was less than desirable, I refer to the “First Person of the Trinity” as the Source of Being. Rather than “Son”, I prefer the Johanine emphasis on “Word” for the “Second Person of the Trinity”. And the “Third Person”, I simply will refer to as “Spirit”.
A multiplicity of Persons in one God is called the “Mystery” of the Trinity.
There is the essential tension between individuation and universality. Theorists in human dev elopement describe experiences of infancy as immersed in a pool of original collectivity. Some say this boundariless experience is remembered as a paradise, for which we unconsciously yearn. As we develop, the personality is eventually individuated. Eventually, maturity and wisdom bring what the Buddha referred to as “enlightenment”, when we return to the primal realization that we are individuals who are inherently part of a greater whole. Ghandi shows that individuation that serving the greater good is individuation fully realized.
Besides the story of St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland, the next famous image of him is holding a shamrock (a three-leafed clover) to demonstrate how one plant can be expressed in three parts. Likewise, in his teaching, the One Person of God can have a three-fold manifestation.
Interestingly enough, some psychological theories postulate that the personality has three dimensions. Sigmund Freud’s analysis of the human personality offers an interesting simile to the Trinity. The personality has three components: the ego (or executive function), the superego (or conscience) and the id (or pleasure principal). As we will see below, a like simile is developed in Transactional Analysis, where the personality has three functions: the Parent, the Adult and the Child.
My sister displays a beautiful painting in her living room. It features an attractive hula dancer facing the surf exactly emulating the pose of a shadow figure, her teacher who had gone before.
Recently I did a surprise visit on my sister. She is now in her late sixties. She has been a student of the hula all of her life, finally buying a residence in Hawaii to continue both as a learner and a teacher. She was creating a dance with a lady I recognized as our dancing teacher when I was a child. (Clearly, I did not follow the path of a dancing career!) So her partner in creating the dance had to be close to eighty. They were planning a hula presentation for the upcoming holidays! The two ladies have been dancing partners for so long that they were mirror images of each other, each beautiful and graceful step exactly imaging the other.
The Persons of the Trinity dance in perfect synchronicity.
The universe expresses itself in dance. The fish dance with the sea; the mighty coastal redwood trees dance with gentle mists carried by the morning fog. The tune set by each ecology is the master plan containing the steps and moves each partner makes.
Surrounded by the dance of the universe, we are invited to do our own dance. Our individual dances are specially scripted by our spiritual self direction and conditioned by our upbringing, our environment, our society. We ourselves are a particular dance of being. Our life task is to achieve balance between the disparate parts of our personality. If we attempt to deny or suppress any part of the giftedness of self in order to conform with an external standard, it may not be our dance . Synchronization may be arrived at through self-control and discipline or at the office of a good pastor or therapist. Even if it means dancing by ourselves off to the side of the dance floor—where I can be found!
The Trinitarian union expresses the self-love of God.
All love has its source in self-love. When asked about the way to salvation, Jesus invited the rich young man to love as God loves: God above all, and love neighbor as self. Implied in that description is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to love the other, even God, without first loving oneself.
The irony is, developmentally, the individual cannot love his or herself without first being loved by another. At birth and infancy, under normal circumstances, the parent is programmed to love the individual that is his or her child throughout that person’s life. When one finally gains independence from the parent, there is the search for another to love and by whom to be’ loved. When an individual has not experienced this basic need to be loved, the ability to love oneself may never be fully developed, leading to all sorts of emotional difficulties throughout life.
The Trinity is inherently relational in a way that expresses itself. There is a compulsion in the fabric of the Trinity for creative expression.
The Gospel of John opens: “Before the world was made, there was already the Word. The Word was with God, and was the same as God. Through the Word, God created all things.” The relationship that is Trinity is creative. A word is spoken to express in a way that is understandable.
There are revelations that, in the belief of many, have been committed to writing (the Bible, the Torah, the teachings of the Buddha, the Bhagavad Gita). Religious tradition also speaks of highly spiritual people particularly attuned to the Word: the prophets of Judaism, Jesus the Christ, Joseph Smith. There is a danger here as well. Jim Jones apparently was able to manipulate the death hundreds of people by claiming that God was speaking to him.
However, the Word of God has not been confined to any space in time. The Word of God finds individual and communal expression
We are charged with the proper use of words. It is easy to let slip thoughtless descriptions, inappropriate verbalizations, harmful phrases. Words make public what is in our hearts and minds. Once spoken, they cannot be taken back. Words give entrée to another into our worlds and admit us into the heart of another. Sometimes words may be casual (“Have a nice day”) , at other times life-changing (“I love you”).
Since a central function of the Triune relationship of God is the Word, what is sacred is trivialized when a thoughtless word is rendered, when words are manipulated to deceive the hearer, or words are directed to hurt the most sensitive areas of the other person.
THE BEAUTY OF NATURE
There have several arguments employed by religious thinkers in scholastic theory to prove the existence of God. For example, there is the argument of the “Unmoved Mover”. As the argument goes, if everything in motion needs something else to get it moving, there has to be a Force (God) that is unmoved at the source of movement. (It is exciting how modern physicists and astronomers have pushed the boundaries of the universe and it examined its origins to the extent that we have discarded much that we took for granted, leading us to the brink of greater mystery_ and, hopefully, greater discovery.)
Theologians from Saint Augustine on down have considered “Beauty” as one “argument” for God’s existence. The beauty of nature has long been considered a reflection of the Hidden Godhead, from the surf crashing on the shore to the microscopic pattern of a snowflake. People are drawn to a source of Beauty that can produce what is beyond what the artist at his or her palette can only try to create or the photographer can hope to capture in the periphery of the camera’s lens.
Beauty inspires mortals to imagine reality in balance, harmony, and grace. When all else is sterile in a small room where a convalescent patient waits patiently in his or her hospital bed, the shape and color of a potted orchid at the bedside consoles. Facing another crowded commute after a hard day in the workplace, a sudden sunset turning the sky crimson glimpsed in the rear-view mirror inspires. Encountering a beautiful young man or woman (we too are part of the natural world!) at the turn of a corner excites.
It seems that animals do not stop to admire beauty. Perhaps there is some truth in the special creation of the human species. We are privileged to share in the thrill of experiencing , in the beholding of earthly beauty, the balance, harmony, and grace of our God who consoles, inspires and excites being.
The Trinity is innately diverse with a plurality of Persons.
Dealt a hand of ongoing diversity, the natural world is always in the process of recreating itself to refine what has gone before. Whether the product of intelligent design or natural selection, the outcome amazes.
Teleology recognizes an impetus at the center of being. Teleology comes from the Greek word, Teleos, meaning end or purpose. It presumes that being is oriented to outcome, although not all existence will attain the actualization that is present in its potential. What oftentimes calls forth being to its full purpose is alignment between Teleos and Opportunity (sometimes referred to as "Serendipity"). Teilhard de Chardin has applied teleology to history and society and outlined a course of social development. .
The convergence of the “Pax Romana” and the spread of Christianity exemplifies this alignment between Teleos and Opportunity. How could a ragtag assemblage of men and women, making preposterous claims about a crucified leader and his kingdom of the poor and outcast, grow into one of the greatest historical religions? The “Pax Romana”, which lasted from 27 B.C. to 180 A.D., was a time of relative peace in the Roman Empire. The infrastructure established by Rome offered advances of transportation and commerce and relative freedom of travel and communication, as in few eras did before or after. (Sadly for the Christians, once the Romans got wind of what they perceived as a political threat from this now newly established movement, persecution soon followed. But, by this time, the word had gotten out!)
PROCESS VS OUTCOME
The dynamic relationship of the Trinity teaches us to value process over outcome.
Relationship is not a static characteristic between persons. It is always changing, developing, evolving. That change can be either positive or negative, as we experience the full range of characteristics of the other and build the relationship (or end it).
The human person and human history are always in process. Who we are now is a stage in the process of what we will be in the future.
Valuing Process of Outcome is countercultural. Our culture loves to celebrate the successful outcome. Winning the championship, graduating with honors, moving to a higher paying position at work: these are causes for celebration. Our culture prompts us to wait for nothing and no one. Everything in our culture is instant, and we are conditioned to believe, if we can’t have it right now, it isn’t worth the wait. We have freeways and fast jets to get us where we want to go in a heartbeat; we have microwaves to instantly cook our food; digital cameras to enable us to share pictures then and there; the internet for on-the-spot information, communication, and social connection; drugs for instant pain relief. We no longer see the need to delay gratification. And so anything that takes patience, or sacrifice, or waiting is culturally outmoded.
Who we are now is a stage in the process of what we will be in the future. None of us can foresee the future. However, dedication to process is not playing the innocent bystander. We wait for whatever outcome will unfold not by a passive observing of the human process: we actively enter into it, without the certain knowledge of the outcome.
In the Latin languages, the word for “wait” is very similar for the word to “hope”. The Spanish work for wait is “espera”. The word for hope is “esperanza”. When we enter in the process every day, we wait in hope. Desperation is giving up on the process.
To dedicate oneself to the process is to stand with those whose chief work is to wait. With the sick, who wait for healing. With those ensnared by evil, who wait for deliverance. With the oppressed, who wait for liberation. With those trying to overcome addiction, who simply wait for another clean and sober day. For the terminally ill, who wait for death.
“I pray that my people may all be one , Father! May they all be one in us, just as you are in me and I am in you.” (John 17:20,21). The Trinity is a perfectly symbiotic relationship.
To search for unity in diversity is not to betray the wonders of our diverse world. To establish unity between the diverse races, tribes, and nationalities in the human family is not to overlay the cultural variety that enlivens society. It is to recognize the need for cohesion: the forces in the world pulling us apart witness an escalating cost in lives lost.
Divisiveness is based on fear. What often results is a inequitable social situation where there is a separation between the privileged (often the minority) and the disenfranchized (often the majority).
The Christ, much to the chagrin of his followers, chose to throw his lot with the marginalized and find there the locus of his Kingdom. Commensalism (table sharing) with the outcast (“tax collectors and sinners”), where “first will be last and the last first”, characterized his social preference.
Mahatma Ghandi had as a life mission to establish unity: between Hindu and Moslem, between privileged and untouchable. When violence or persecution was directed at one or the other group, Ghandi would travel, sometimes on bare feet, to the village of the oppressor to live and preach a message of acceptance and nonviolence. He would invite to his table the most impoverished of the “untouchable” underclass and open Hindu temples to those whose social caste would have banned them from entrance; he would travel to dominantly Moslem communities and set up a simple residence among them, inviting them to his morning prayer meetings. Sadly, his message was too often ignored. Before his death, Ghandi had a presentiment of what was about to happen: to give one’s life for the sake of unity was a blessing rather than a fear. A Hindu himself, Ghandi was killed by another Hindu as he was defending the Moslems, who at that point, where being persecuted. His message of unity found world-wide appeal after his martyrdom – except in his own county, were discord continues.
The relationship that is Trinity is inclusive of human beings. The Lord’s prayer, that Jesus the Christ taught his followers, calls God not only our Father … Our Abba, the words Jesus used, means “papa” or “daddy”. All people are embraced by the parent that not only generates being but shares the divine life with the children. Jesus the Christ further includes humanity in the Trinitarian relationship when he describes his followers as coheirs with him.
In the Offertory rite of the Catholic liturgy of the Eucharist, there is a prayer said by the presider with bold intent: “In the offering of the bread and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who himself shared in or humanity.” Every person is inherently sacred.
The inner life of God does not represent isolated being, but is inherently oriented toward other-directed relating.
Alienation is the tragic outcome of a culture of divestment and isolation.
A culture of divestment dissociates the individual, family, and community from the power that could be theirs. Divestment dissociates the employee from meaningful work, the student from the joy of learning, the citizen from real voice in the democratic process.
A culture of isolation affects identity in two ways. The “American ideal” of the insular family and the self-sufficient hero dissociates the family and the individual from a sense of community. The addictive preoccupation with electronic media, relational networks, video games foster an ultimate loneliness. In the midst of instant cyber communication and a vast array of electronic entertainment, the complaint heard most often by the young is -- “I am bored”.
We are by nature relational beings and the extended relationships of many cultures can gift us with the answer to the hunger of the insular and individual culture.
The extended family provides a sense of identity and nurtures the young. The American dream of the small family, independent of the influence of the parent and the support of the grandparent, is alien to cultures where generations live together and (sometimes are forced to) practice mutualism.
Relational capacity is not determined at birth (unless there is some neurological limitation). Role modeling, positive discipline, praise, encouragement, and support when it was most needed all contribute to the individual’s ability to form satisfying relationships in life.
An early stage of human development involves self-obsession. A toddler thrives on personal recognition and older child on skill recognition. If the significant parental figure is somehow absent or so self-obsessed (which may be the case if there is mental illness, alcohol or other drug abuse, or trauma), he or she cannot meet the child’s developmental needs. With early emotional deprivation, the older child may have episodes of rage or the adult may development a narcissistic personality. Patient, loving, consistent caretaking may help to remedy what has been described as an attachment disorder. It is much easier to give the child what he or she needs when they need it, rather than to apply some sort of regressive therapy to undo the harm that had been done.
The basis of good mental-health is the ability to involve oneself in world around us with interest, trust, generosity and gratitude. A perduring report characteristic of people who have enjoyed a longer-than-normal lifespan is positive interpersonal involvement.
The Bible is reluctant even to name “God”. “Yahweh” is one name the first People of God used to identify God – a word that means “I am who am”. That’s why it is a surprise to hear Paul boldly express the nature of the Divine: “God is love, and the person who abides in love, abides in God, and God in that Person.”
Erotic love is a theme we will look at later in this study.
If God is love, then love is inexhaustible. In his inspired words in, Paul reminds us that “love never fails”.
The love of God never fails, and the reservoir of love available to the one who loves is inexhaustible as well. There is no risk of a “dry spell” when it comes to love. Our body may wither with so great an expenditure of energy; we may exhaust every other resource with the effort; we may even be bruised and scarred by the pain of so much giving --and there always will be more to give.
Paul continues in his description of love: There are three things that last: faith, hope,and love. The greatest of these is … Love.
Love supersedes everything. Love can overcome a misdirected life; bombs and bullets and missles; evil and pain.
Colorado was the scene of two senseless massacres. The first was at a high school in Columbine, the second at a movie theater in Aurora, just slightly more than fifteen miles away. I recall a television interview at the site of the second shooting with a young man who had lost his beloved younger sister at Columbine ten years earlier. After years of grief and anger, he was able to overcome the tragedy. The reporter asked him his advice for the relatives of the victims of the current shooting. He counseled them to focus on the good that can come out of it, as it did for him. His words were “By forgiveness I was able to set the prisoner free, and the prisoner was me.”
The marriage vow, by which we invite the love of God into our partnership, dedicates a couple to conform their love to what sacred history tells us about the love of God: a love that is unconditional, forgiving, and creative.
Ecstasy comes from two Latin words: ex (out of) and sta∙re (to stand). It literally means” to stand out of ourselves”. Often, we use “ecstasy” to refer to peak moments in our lives. Those experiences that thrill us when we can transcend the borders of normal experience. When, standing on a mountaintop overlooking the vista at our feet, we are carried out of our being. When we are surrounded by music and our senses vibrate to the rhythm and melody. When we hold our newborn in our arms.
But ecstasy comes in simpler portions than those peak times. Listening to a good sermon. Learning something new. When acquaintance blossoms into friendship. Reading a good book. Cooking a meal. Finally solving a problem.
The human process of erotic love -- attraction, falling in love, sexual union -- is an ecstatic phase most of us experience. This is clearly encountered in the act of falling in love, where ego boundaries collapse. We become disoriented, do and say things we never did before or never thought we would or could do, are “swept away” by preoccupation with the other. We are “in heaven” gazing into the eyes of the beloved. Of course, we cannot sustain this forever. (Although for many the consequences are a “forever” thing!) There then comes a time where we need to reestablish our ego boundaries, now permanently scarred, now stretched beyond imagining.
In sexual intercourse, Individual polarities are superseded in the act of union. Mutual nakedness relieves us of those things we armor ourselves with to otherwise defend and maintain particular identities. Sexual touch renders intimate areas that are otherwise forbidden. The act merges separate selves into a whole. The disarray that so often preoccupies our consciousness is momentarily displaced by a primal sense of harmony with all of being.
Sexual intercourse elaborates the dynamism that binds the Source of All Being, the Word and the Spirit.
It is important at this point to take a closer look at “sin”, because some sexual activities have been described as “sinful”. And those features of our nature that we describe as “sin” certainly do not reflect the purity of the Godhead!
There is a range of human sexual experience that is morally neutral. Some experiences, while not necessarily sinful, don’t necessarily fit into an analogous description of God.
Sin is an activity that alienates us from ourselves, our neighbor, our God. Sexual abuse of children and rape are clear examples to most. But even to treat of human persons as a sexual objects may indeed alienate us from our true natures and distort our relationships.
Our understanding of the sanctity or sinfulness of human sexual activity is historically and socially conditioned. What we considered sacred in the past, even as acceptable practice in the bible, are now unacceptable to most moral people. One example of this is polygamy. The Old Testament heroes -- Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon – all had multiple wives. At the same time, what was looked on as “sin” in the past now may be considered acceptable to most moral people. Even though creativity is a function of the love of God, a moral theology limiting procreation as the only legitimate purpose of sexual practice may be too restrictive. A list that simply categorizes some sexual acts as sinful against a historical (and not necessarily scriptural) context cannot be “set in stone” for mature people who are struggling to live good lives.
Boundaries are obliterated in the Inner Life of the Trinity. Ecstasy may come close in illustrating the delight of the exchange of the Three Persons , the pleasure of their coexistence, the joy of their being.
In the Trinity resides the fullness of Life and Love.
The Christ was often criticized for his “eating and drinking”. What he would set before the outcast and marginalized wasn’t further deprivation and misery; instead, he would bring a feast. In Christian Scripture “Feast” describes the Kingdom of Heaven and often accompanies the presence of the Christ. As describing the Kingdom of Heaven the feast is characterized by “Commensalism” (“Table Sharing”) and Egalitarianism (all invited, regardless of status). There was always a preferential option for the poor.
What we see often depends of what we focus upon. To “Image” is to create a mental model that informs thought and action. We image sufficiency when we can apply a perspective of sufficiency to our understanding of situations, identity and relationship.
Sufficiency avoids the material excess that so often characterizes a group or culture. Material excess often falls into the disarray from physical, emotional, and spiritual deceit and seduction by commercialism and consumerism. The clutter that smothers us creates an experience of alienation from self, others, and our environment.
Surrenders capacity to the professional;
Overlooks available resources;
May be predictive of a negative outcome.
Establishes a sense of competence;
Provides a climate for security, ethical action, generosity and partnership;