WHAT IS THE TRINITY?
In the previous set of posts, we discussed the meaning of the Christ in Christian Spirituality. Another foundational wisdom-innovation of Christianity is the idea of the Trinity. In this idea, God can be understood in three coexisting personalities, thus mysteriously Three-in-One. These personalities are dimensions of a single unified God, yet by teasing them out we can find each offers a unique lens on the nature of the Divine:
Creator – God as a Parent, Mentor, and transcendent Being/Energy,
Christ – God as a Child, Sibling, and imminent Being/Energy, and
Spirit – God as a Spouse, Friend, and interflowing Being/Energy.
Before going into detail on each, let's address some preliminary questions:
Our minds tend to default to dualism and binaries – something is this or that. Thinking in terms of three-ness overloads this tendency, pointing us toward a reality that is deeper than ideas of opposition and contradiction – God is this and this and this. Besides, there's a mysterious quality about the number three that people all over the world seem to be attracted to. Think of how we relate to three in music: 2/4 time signature drives a march beat, while 3/4 time coaxes a dance rhythm. Or even think of how we relate to plain-old numbers: saying “1, 2, 3” could complete a countdown, or signal the beginning of a tally to infinity. I myself could go to infinity here, but you get the idea of the specialness of three. Jesus got it too, referencing these three personalities of God explicitly and implicitly many times in the Gospels.
Why not just One?
While Christians recognize God is One, we also recognize God is so immense in unity and so complex in diversity that teasing out different (yet inextricable) aspects can be helpful. Creator, Christ, and Spirit can easily substitute for the name “God,” whether or not you focus on one aspect more than others. For instance, I often invoke the name Spirit, since I and others so often need reminding of how interactive we are with God, even in the seeming trivialities of life.
What about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
I believe Creator, Christ, and Spirit more truly convey the nature of God and of Christian theology, transcending and including Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I can best address the relationship between the traditional and updated terminology by weaving some of my own story into an exploration of the Trinity...
THE CREATOR, PARENT, & MENTOR
Like most kinds of spirituality, Christian Spirituality recognizes that something can't come from nothing. The Universe has to originate from somewhere – from Someone, the same Someone we still interact with 13.8 billion years after everything came into being. Reality, therefore, was created by a Creator. And if this Someone bothered to create reality, such a Someone must care about it, and about us – indeed, that's what we keep hearing from the Creator after all these years! The Creator, therefore, loves Creation, and Creation as both a noun and a verb!
Seeing God through this lens emphasizes God's role as a Parent. This is a Being who is bigger, older, wiser, and more powerful than we can imagine – transcendent. This is a Being who ushers other beings into existence. This is a Being who adores these beings, wants goodness for them, wants to nurture and protect them.
In addition to having been created, our Universe operates according to consistent – though still quite mysterious – laws, norms, or principles. Every living thing knows this to be true on some level, whether cognitively or genetically – indeed learning these rules is the only way living things survive and evolve. So in designing the Universe, and designing us to be curious about it, we can conclude that God also has a passion for teaching us, the way parents and other mentors do. What is God teaching us to do? One possibility is that the Creator wants us to be parents too! God has infused subtle guidance into the Universe about how we can grow wiser, bring more life (broadly defined) into the world, and love the family of Creation we're helping create. And if we pay attention, we can learn from the Divine!
Following this cue, the institution of the Church has developed over time, attempting to be a sort of Godparent and junior mentor for humanity, an ambassador for the Creator's teachings. At its best, the Church can lend open-minded, open-hearted interpretation to God's guidance, and help us develop deeper love and wisdom, inclusive community structure, and humility about the mystery of Creation. This is where most people want to lead the Church. Unfortunately, the institution can get tripped up in forgetting it is not the Parent or the Mentor, that it is just as much a child of God as everyone else, and can at best hope to be a good sibling, spouse, and friend to humanity. At its worst, the institution can become imperial, veer into Lord-archy and Church-ianity, and try to recast our perception of the Creator in its own false image – as a vengeful patriarch. This perversion of God's image has alienated millions of people. Fortunately though, more and more folks are helping steer the Church in a better direction.
Many people also follow the Divine impulse by becoming literal parents. Here too there is great opportunity for Creation as well as wounding. More so than any institution, our parents have profound, intimate power in our lives, and thus in the images we project onto the Parent. And due in part to harmful imperial and Church traditions, as well as a widespread, continual crisis around healthy masculinity – big forces which seep into everyday interactions – the vengeful patriarch can sadly be present in families too. As a result, at every level of relationship, we are currently in an era of cultural reckoning and reconciliation with God the Father.
HEALING OUR FATHER-WOUNDS
I'm so fortunate to have had a wonderful relationship with my mother and step-father. But, like many people, I’ve had a complicated and often damaging relationship with my father. I learned young what unhealthy masculinity looked like – and cost. I had to find sanctuary in Nature’s beauty and in relationships with the women, girls, and more feminine and queer folks in my life. Thus, much of the prayer I’ve done throughout my life has been to Goddess and Mother, which I can testify are just as much the Divine as God and Father.*
I’ve had to do much reconciliation with my dad and my masculinity, and much cultivation of my femininity. I've been fortunate to have lots of support in that: in working with Illuman – a lifechanging organization helping men navigate grief and spirituality – as well as through therapy, marriage, and relationships with family, friends, and mentors. I still have much, much more work to do. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve been able to honestly approach the Divine as a Father, and I still have trouble. But it's been pivotal to have so many examples of healthy people of all gender expressions showing the way.
This struggle with father-wounds has helped me appreciate why so many of us – women, girls, and more feminine and queer folks included – have often invoked the name Father for God throughout the ages. It’s true that the Imperial Church has never given people another option, so the scorned Goddess, Mother, and other names have had to remain subversive and private. But the Father name is also deeply aspirational: we all need and want the love of Father and father, need and want healthy, Divine masculinity in our lives and world. When we feel this energy, it is an unforgettable, Soul-uplifting experience that calls us into healing and wholeness and creativity, just as it is to feel the love of Mother, mother, and healthy, Divine femininity and queerness. Sadly, we men have often settled for letting masculinity be anything but healthy or Divine, and have underappreciated femininity and queerness, to the detriment of all.
How much better our world will be when we men discard the tattered mask of egoic patriarchy, step into the fullness of our Souls, and support others – including boys – while they do the same. How much better our world will be when we open to Goddess, Mother, femininity and queerness – of women, of all, of ourselves. Indeed, this is what it means to live with recognition of Christ: to embrace of the whole Circle of Life, Love, and Incarnation; to help carry our and everyone’s Cross of Suffering and Redemption; and to venture into the scariest parts of the Cycle of Spiritual Evolution – purgation, death, and union. This radical love is what the Creator created us for, and it's how we can all move toward becoming true creators of goodness ourselves.
I hope we can all step into reckoning with our wounds, reconciling with the Parent, and creating with the Creator. This is no easy task, and I and all of us have much to learn. I believe aspiring to and practicing these things is part of what it means to be a committed Christian and a true follower. And we desperately need more folks doing that in our world.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post - the Christ, Child, and Sibling!
In the meantime, I offer you some reflection questions:
How have you been experiencing the Divine as Creator, Parent, and Mentor?
How have you been experiencing the Divine as queer, feminine, and masculine?
How have you been moving with wounds into healing and wholeness?
To learn more
Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (SPCK: 2016)
Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Crown Publishing Group: 2019)
* - When I use the term “God” elsewhere in these Articles of Faith, I never mean to refer to the Divine as distinctly masculine. I’m only using the term that is most colloquially common. Personally, I most often use the name Spirit, which is unambiguously all-encompassing. You’ll see more reference to both "Spirit" and “Goddess” from me going forward.