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Center for Action and Contemplation

Images of the Trinity

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Father Richard Rohr offers several images to help readers understand the dynamism of Trinitarian love.

The Franciscan philosopher, theologian, and mystic St. Bonaventure (c. 1217–1274) described the Trinity as a “fountain fullness” of overflowing love. Picture three buckets on a moving water wheel. We can see these water wheels in rural areas of Europe. They usually have more than three buckets, but each bucket empties out and swings back, inevitably waiting to be filled again. And it always is! Most of us can’t risk letting go or emptying out. We can’t risk letting go because we aren’t sure we will be refilled. But the three Persons of the Trinity empty themselves and pour themselves out into each other. Each knows they can empty themselves because they will forever be refilled. To understand this mystery of love fully, we need to “stand under” the flow and participate in it. It’s infinite outpouring and infinite infilling without end. It can only be experienced as a flow, as a community, as a relationship, as an inherent connection.

Another image we might use is that of a spinning, whirling top of perfect infinite love that is planted inside of everything. What we recognize is that everything is attracted to everything, that life is attracted to life, that love is attracted to love. Universal photosynthesis and gravity, one might say. This is what it means in Genesis 1:26–27 where it says everything is created in the image of God. God planted this whirling, alluring attraction of life toward life in everything created.

Once we allow the entire universe to become that alive and dynamic, we are living in an enchanted world. Nothing is meaningless; nothing is able to be dismissed. It’s all whirling with the same beauty, the same radiance. In fact, if I had to name the Big Bang in my language, I’d call it the Great Radiance. About 13.8 billion years ago, the inner radiance of God started radiating into forms. All these billions of years later, we are the continuation of that radiance in our small segment of time on this Earth. We can either allow it and let the Infinite Flow flow through us, or we can deny it, which is really what it means not to believe. This is not something I can prove to anyone.

This is nothing I can make logical or rational. It’s only experiential, and it’s only known in the mystery of love when we surrender ourselves to it, when we grant the other inherent dignity and voice—the plant, the animal, the tree, the sky, Brother Sun and Sister Moon as my Father Francis of Assisi put it. The contemplative mind refuses to objectify. It grants similarity, subject to subject relationship, likeness, symbolism, communion, connection, meaning. We can use whatever words or images are helpful, but suddenly we live in an alive universe where we can never be lonely again.  

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Trinity: The Soul of Creation, sessions 1 and 4 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2017), MP4 download.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Brian McLaren, Untitled 4-6 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Brian McLaren as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. His photos are featured here in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: Trinity is the mystery of deep, abiding relationship. Each of the organisms in these photos reflect different forms but share the same source, providing benefits to the others. They are intricately related in their shared ecosystem.

Story from Our Community:

At the beginning of inner work, I walked a beach one morning and wrote all the things causing pain at the water’s edge. I stood and watched the waves slowly wipe away the words. It was a prayer and a promise that one day the pain itself would be wiped away, and the grief eventually abated. That spot became my go-to place to pray. Integrating this into my Christian practice helps me embrace it on a deeper level.
—Carolyn R.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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