Thursday, June 7, 2012

A universe of threes—TRINITY

In the name of the Mother and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In the name of the Father, and of the Daughter, and of the Holy Spirit.
In the name of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
[creator, preserver, dissolver/restorer]
In the name of Isis, Osiris, and Horus.
In the name of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
In the name of Juno, Artemis, and Hecate.


Religions are full of trinities. Our speech is full of trinities. Ever notice it? I do because I’m a writer and notice the tendency to group in threes. Reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

Ours is a three-dimensional universe with height, width, and depth in space; past, present and future in time; and three states of matter—solid, liquid, and gas. Scientists now think there are universes with different sets of dimensions that we can’t fathom because our minds are shaped and limited by certain constraints of our minds (thus Immanuel Kant). Because threeness structures our universe, the Trinity appropriately symbolizes spiritual reality here. And that brings me to my usual annoyance with the liturgy on Trinity Sunday, last Sunday.

The imposed Mass language, ordered by the Vatican, ensures that genuine enlightenment will not happen during Catholic services. We are to remain locked in the limitations of familiar formulas.

Gregory of Nyssa, considered the most brilliant in the trinity of Cappadocian theologians establishing Trinitarian theology, clearly stated there is no gender in divinity. Any reflection on the Trinity should START with the inadequacy of the formula “Father/Son.” It is not enough to admit that God is not three guys in the sky if this formula remains unchanging. It yields two mistaken impressions—that God is distinct individuals and that God is male.
Christian leaders have the responsibility to help correct popular misconceptions, and the only way to disrupt the idolatry—the worship of three distinct idols—is to mix the metaphors, most effectively, to mix female with male symbols.

There is no disagreement about the primary meaning of the trinitarian symbol—unity in diversity/diversity in unity or relationships. The Trinity tells us to get along despite differences, to love no matter what (Jesus’ message too). It’s all we need to know about the Divine and all we need for leading a good life.
Decades ago while studying Christian theology, I read an article that has stayed with me and gained force with the passage of time because its truth has become ever more strikingly evident. The idea is this: Relationships form the heart of spirituality and give the greatest satisfaction in life. If we have healthy relationships, we don’t need to worry about getting along with God. Scores of stories tell of dying people mending broken relationships and strengthening good ones. Close to passing over to the Other Side, they know what’s important.

So much of the top-down thrust in Catholic messages today focus on the opposite; they portray God as a being distinct from us, over us, demanding homage. Worse, they tell us to obey a few religious overlords (“the magisterium”) with “keys to the kingdom,” a pernicious idea to plant in pious minds. Huge numbers of Catholics leave the Church—one in three Americans raised Catholic—because they don’t buy it.

Mass language subverts the essential message of Trinity by glorifying certain idols, when getting along with each other is the challenge we should concentrate on. Our religion reveres the spiritual master Jesus, a man, but to represent the meaning of the Trinity, "Mother/daughter” would be as correct as “Father/Son.” I challenge any theologian to argue against this. The Father/Son formula is sexism in God-talk, more abusive than sexism in people-talk.

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