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Center for Action and Contemplation

The Metaphysical Lens

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Trinity and the Law of Three

The Metaphysical Lens
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Guest writer and CAC teacher Cynthia Bourgeault continues exploring Trinity and the Law of Three.

How we see reality impacts the nature of our reality. As Richard often says, “How we see is what we see.”

If you wear glasses, you likely often forget that they’re even there! Only when you take the lenses off do you realize how much your capacity to see is informed by the lens through which you are seeing. When we talk about metaphysics we are speaking of a specific lens by which we have tended to perceive reality. Like glasses that we’ve grown accustomed to but are no longer strong enough, we need a “system update” in our Christian tradition. I believe the Trinity is our necessary new lens.

When we look at the Trinity from a metaphysical standpoint rather than simply a theological standpoint, it’s not so much about persons in relationship as it is about a process by which the world is constructed and maintained.

The vast majority of the world’s metaphysical systems are binary. They work on the principle of paired, equal opposites. We see great archetypal polarities that are somehow held in balance: male/female, dark/light, conscious/unconscious, good/evil, action/being. Our dualistic minds feel comfortable in that kind of binary swing. Binary systems prefer symmetry and come to resolution in stasis or stillness.

My hunch is that Christian metaphysics are not binary—as traditional religious metaphysics are—but ternary (having three parts). This is precisely because of Christ (as Richard will share in a couple weeks) and the Trinity.

Ternary systems have three independent forces coming together to form something new, a fourth thing. Perhaps the simplest example is a braid. You need at least three sections of hair for a braid to hold; the braid is then a new creation. The interweaving of threeness results in something that didn’t exist before. It is not just a swinging back and forth between two old things that were already there, but a drive into a brand new dimension.

While a binary system is by nature stable and symmetrical, a ternary system is asymmetrical and innovative. Unlike a pendulum, it cannot come to equilibrium within its own orbit; it seeks stability in a new plane, through a resolution that is at the same time a new arising. It corkscrews its way through time, matter, form—whatever plane is at hand—in a riot of uncertainty and new combinations, the whole of which is the fullness of divine reality.

I believe that Christianity has, from the start, been a ternary swan in a binary duck pond. Once the ugly duckling has been correctly identified as a baby swan, we begin to see valuable clues for healing the schism between theology and metaphysics and for tapping into a ternary system’s inherent aptitude for dynamism, change, and process. That, I believe, is the real reason for paying more serious attention to this obscure principle of the Trinity.

Gateway to Silence:
Behold, I make all things new. —Revelation 21:5

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, The Shape of God: Deepening the Mystery of the Trinity, disc 2 (CAC: 2004), CD, DVD, MP3 download; and
The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three (Shambhala Publications, Inc.: 2013), 6, 64-65, 81.

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