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Center for Action and Contemplation

The Mystery of the Trinity

Sunday, January 9, 2022

This week’s Daily Meditations circle around the Mystery of the Trinity, the Christian faith’s central and fundamental description of God. Father Richard Rohr writes:

The notion of God as Trinity is the foundation of all Christian thought, and yet it never has been—not truly! Our dualistic minds largely shelved the whole thing because we simply couldn’t understand it. Most Christians do not consciously deny the Trinity, but as Karl Rahner (1904–1984) wrote, “We must be willing to admit that, should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged.” [1] What a sad statement on our fundamental understanding of God!

The Trinity reveals God more as a verb than a noun, but we rarely speak about God that way in either our preaching or our prayers. God is three “relations,” which itself is mind-boggling for most believers. Yet that clarification opens up an honest notion of God as Mystery who can never be fully comprehended with our rational minds. God is dynamic—a verb rather than a static name. God is Interbeing itself, and never an isolated deity that can be captured by our mind.

Christians believe that God is formlessness (the Father), God is form (the Son), and God is the very living and loving energy between those two (the Holy Spirit). The three do not cancel one another out. Instead, they do exactly the opposite. Recognizing the Trinity as relationship itself opens conversations with the world of science. This surprising insight names everything correctly at the core—from atoms, to ecosystems, to galaxies. The shape of God is the shape of everything in the universe! Everything is in relationship and nothing stands alone. The doctrine of the Trinity defeats the dualistic mind and invites us into nondual, holistic consciousness. It replaces the argumentative principle of two with the dynamic principle of three. It brings us inside the wonderfully open space of “not one, but not two either.” Sit stunned with that for a few moments.

The most ancient and solid theology of the Trinity proceeds from the Cappadocian (Eastern Turkey) Fathers of the third and fourth centuries and is then adopted by later Councils of the Church. Trinitarian theology says that God is a “circular” rotation (perichoresis) of total outpouring and perfect receiving among three intimate partners. Historically, most of us, except for mystics, preferred the pyramid model with God the Father at the top, which then got imitated and promoted all the way down! This is no exaggeration.

As Catherine LaCugna (1952–1997) presented in her monumental study of the Trinity [2], any notion of God as not giving, not outpouring, not self-surrendering, not totally loving is a theological impossibility and absurdity. God only and always loves. You cannot reverse, slow, or limit an overflowing waterwheel of divine compassion and mercy and a love stronger than death. It goes in only one, constant, eternal direction—toward ever more abundant and creative life! This is the universe from atoms to galaxies.

[1] Karl Rahner, The Trinity, trans. Joseph Donceel(New York: Herder and Herder, 1970), 10–11.

[2] Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 155–158.

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:

Since I read “The Universal Christ,” I have put into practice scripture reading from the point of view of “original goodness.” I now talk to my adult children about staying connected, instead of holding an inquisition [if] they miss mass. Instead of curating music for parish liturgies based on trends, I choose based on “original goodness” —compassion, mercy, kindness, forgiveness. When my peace is disturbed by things I hear or see, I search my soul to see how I can remain connected and there is always resolution.
—Elana S.

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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Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

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Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.