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Knowing through Loving

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Trinity: Week 1

Knowing through Loving
Sunday, February 26, 2017

We must begin with Trinity if we are to rebuild Christianity from the bottom up. The Trinity is absolutely foundational to Christianity because it reveals the heart of the nature of God. And yet, as Karl Rahner pointed out, it has made almost no difference in the lives of the vast majority of Christians. [1] That either means it’s not true or that we just have not understood it. I can tell you that on the level of my own experience, I believe Trinity is true. I hope and pray that something I say in the next couple weeks will resonate so you can know it for yourself, so that dogma and doctrine move to the level of experience.

Catherine Mowry LaCugna’s (1952-1997) book, God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life, has helped to bring Trinity alive for both me and my colleague, Cynthia Bourgeault. As Cynthia explains, “LaCugna rigorously traces the ‘defeat’ of the doctrine of the Trinity over a thousand years of theological development as it moves from its starting point as a participative vision of God’s redemptive love at work in all creation to an increasingly abstract speculation on the inner life of God.” [2]

LaCugna brings the Trinity down to earth, revealing God through Jesus Christ and the Spirit he left with us “to teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (John 14:26). LaCugna writes:

The doctrine of the Trinity is ultimately a practical doctrine with radical consequences for Christian life. [It] summarizes what it means to participate in the life of God through Jesus Christ in the Spirit. The mystery of God is revealed in Christ and the Spirit as the mystery of love, the mystery of persons in communion who embrace death, sin, and all forms of alienation for the sake of life. Jesus Christ, the visible icon of the invisible God, discloses what it means to be fully personal, divine as well as human. The Spirit of God, poured into our hearts as love (Romans 5:5), gathers us together in the body of Christ, transforming us so that “we become by grace what God is by nature,” namely, persons in full communion with God and with every creature. [3]

Although the Trinity truly is a “practical” doctrine, we cannot come to know this in the mind’s usual, dualistic way. God can only be known by loving God. This is “contemplative epistemology.” Part of the reason Christians got off track is that around the time of the Enlightenment we tried to stand apart from and objectify God, as if we could explain God using scholastic philosophy and theology and rational, objective thinking.

The mystics would say whenever you stand apart and objectify anything you stop knowing it. You have to love, respect, and enter into relationship with what you desire to know. Then the mirroring goes back and forth, subject to subject, center to center, love to love. Then the loving becomes its own kind of knowing. This is knowing by participation.

Gateway to Silence:
God for us, God with us, God in us

[1] See Karl Rahner, The Trinity (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999), 10-11.
[2] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three (Shambhala: 2013), 83.
[3] Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (HarperSanFrancisco: 1991), 1.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: Exploring the Mystery of Trinity, disc 1 (CAC: 2004), CD, MP3 download; and
Living School symposium, unpublished talk, August 2016.

Image credit:  Möbius Strip (detail), Photograph by David Benbennick, 2005.
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