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Participatory Knowing

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Trinity: Week 2

Participatory Knowing
Sunday, September 18, 2016

All authentic knowledge of God is participatory. I must say this directly and clearly because it is a very different way of knowing reality—and it should be the unique, open-horizoned gift of people of faith. But Christians have almost entirely lost this way of knowing, ever since the food fights of the Reformation and the rationalism of the Enlightenment, leading to fundamentalism on the Right and atheism or agnosticism on the Left. Neither of these sides know how to know!

Divine knowing—some would call it spiritual intuition—is actually an allowing of Someone Else to know in us, through us, for us, and even as us!  It demands what I like to call an “identity transplant.” It’s “I live no longer, not I” as dear Paul would put it (Galatians 2:20).

This isn’t some New Age idea! Esteemed sixteenth-century Carmelite friar, teacher, and high level mystic Saint John of the Cross describes this Trinitarian transplant this way:

One should not think it impossible that the soul be capable of so sublime an activity as this breathing in God, through participation as God breathes in her [the soul].

For, granted that God favors her by union with the Most Blessed Trinity, in which she becomes deiform and God through participation,

How could it be incredible that she also understand, know, and love—or better that this be done in her—in the Trinity, together with it, as does the Trinity itself!

Yet God accomplishes this in the soul through communication and participation.

This is transformation in the three Persons in power and wisdom and love, and thus the soul is like God through this transformation.

He created her in His image and likeness that she might attain such resemblance. [1]

Such knowing does not inflate the ego but beautifully humbles it, teaching us patience, because even a little bit of spiritual knowing goes a long way. Read Paul’s Sermo Sapientiae (Sermon on Wisdom, 1 Corinthians 1:17–2:16), a masterful attempt to describe this alternative way of knowing. It is, frankly, why the gifts of the Spirit distinguish between knowledge and wisdom, which most of us think are the same thing (see both Isaiah 11:2 and 1 Corinthians 12:8). Spiritual knowing is often called wisdom and must be distinguished from merely having correct information or knowledge.

In other words, God (and uniquely the Trinity) cannot be known as we know any other object—such as a machine, an objective idea, or a tree—which we are able to “objectify.” We look at objects, and we judge them from a distance through our normal intelligence, parsing out their varying parts, separating this from that, presuming that to understand the parts is to understand the whole. Our dualistic approach is really more taxonomy than true knowing of a thing in its wholeness.

God can never be objectified in this way, but can only be “subjectified” by becoming one with the Source! When neither you nor the other is treated as a mere object, but both rest in an I-Thou of mutual admiration, you have spiritual knowing. [2] Some of us call this nondual consciousness or contemplative knowing. To even begin to understand Trinity or our deepest self, we must move beyond the dualistic thinking of judging to experience things center-to-center, subject-to-subject, both an I and a Thou. Love and knowledge are almost the same thing now.

Gateway to Silence:
Love flows in and out, in and out.

[1] St. John of the Cross, “The Spiritual Canticle,” stanza 39, commentary, no. 4, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. (ICS Publications [Institute of Carmelite Studies]: 1973), 558.
[2] See Martin Buber, I and Thou (Scribner: 1958).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Whitaker House: 2016), 49-51.

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