Christian Spirituality: The Trinity, Part 1 - Creator, Parent, & Mentor

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:

great tree with three strong limbs extending from single trunk - Woodland Park, Seattle
  1. Creator – God as a Parent, Mentor, and transcendent Being/Energy,

  2. Christ – God as a Child, Sibling, and imminent Being/Energy, and

  3. Spirit – God as a Spouse, Friend, and interflowing Being/Energy.


Before going into detail on each, let's address some preliminary questions:


Why Three?

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...

breathtaking mountaintop, vista on whole landscape - Mt. Baker, North Cascades National Park

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!

concrete graffiti throne, overgrown and reclaimed by Nature - Discovery Park, Washington, USA

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.*

long rocky path toward huge mountain volcano - Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

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