“… God is more a verb than a noun: God is three “relations,” which of itself is mind-boggling for most believers. Yet it opens up an honest notion of God as Mystery who can never be fully understood with our rational, instrumental, mechanical minds. God is a process rather than a clear name or idea, a communion, Interbeing itself and never an isolated deity that can be captured by our mind.” Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self


The Christian mystics always go to the Trinitarian level, because here God is a verb more than a noun. God is a flow more than a substance. God is an experience more than an old man sitting on a throne. And we are inside that flow. We are indeed products and images of that outflowing. This is what all the language in John’s Gospel means when Jesus says in several places, “I have come forth to take you back with me” (see John 17). We end where we began.

Julian of Norwich says, “Greatly are we to rejoice that God dwells in our souls, and more greatly are we to rejoice that our soul dwells in God. Our soul is created to be God’s dwelling place, and the dwelling of our soul is God.” This we might now call interbeing, or life as participation. Julian continues: “It is a great understanding to see and to know inwardly that God who is our Creator still dwells within what he has created—God in his substance, of which substance we are what we are.” We share in the same substantial unity as God, she seems to say. This is not pantheism (I am God), but it is orthodox panen theism (God is in me and I am in God). We would call that ontological union or metaphysical union between two distinguishable beings, although God is not a being as much as Being Itself.In the end Julian is quite careful to preserve the mystery of twoness within the dance and flow of divine oneness.  We cannot bear the impossible burden of being God, but we can and should enjoy the privilege and dignity of being with and in God. Here we accept being fully and freely accepted, which for some sad reason is very hard for the ego to do.

Adapted from Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 7
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As I’ve mentioned before, the doctrine of Trinity is a powerful and totally non-dualistic image of reality. The Father, Son, and Spirit, as we named them, share in an endless mutuality of giving and receiving of an infinite love. We too are allowed to participate in this oneing of diversity through unitive consciousness. Reality is radically relational, and the power is in the relationships themselves. If reality is created on the model of the Trinity where Yahweh even speaks in the plural (Genesis 1:26), then intercommunion is the first and final shape of the universe.

The Celts readily welcomed the Christian Trinity perhaps because their own deities took shape in threes. For example “the goddess Bridget appeared in three forms: the goddesses of fire, of poetry, and of fertility, all three named Bridget” [1]. Celtic prayers and poetry are full of references to each member of the Trinity, as in this psalm by Columba (late 6th or early 7th century):


The High First-Sower, the Ancient of Days and unbegotten,

was without any source, limit, or foundation in the beginning and is,

and will be throughout unending ages forever;

With him is the only-begotten one, the Christ;

And the co-eternal Holy Spirit in the constant glory of the Godhead.

We do not claim that there are three gods; rather we declare that God is one,

But not at the expense of believing in three most glorious Persons. [2]


I believe the flowing waterwheel of the Trinity was intuited in the circle and “medicine wheel” of many Native American religions. Many Native images and metaphors take the shape of a circle, an endless ring symbolizing the interconnectedness of all things. In the words of Black Elk, an Oglala holy man:

You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion.

Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children. But the Wasichus [white men] have put us in these square boxes. Our power is gone and we are dying, for the power is not in us any more. You can look at our boys and see how it is with us. When we were living by the power of the circle in the way we should, boys were men at twelve or thirteen years of ago. But now it takes them very much longer to mature. [3]

When we forget the roundness of life, the inter-being of all creatures and the Creator, we lose our sense of true identity and belonging–to that very circle. Tomorrow I’ll share the gift of initiation as a way of bringing us back to home and center.

[1] Timothy J. Joyce, Celtic Christianity: A Sacred Tradition, a Vision of Hope (Orbis Books: 1998), 19.
[2] “The High First Sower” (The Altus Prosator) by Columba, as quoted by Oliver Davies, ed. trans., Celtic Spirituality (Paulist Press: 1999), 405.
[3] John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux; As Told Through John G. Neihardt (University of Nebraska Press: 1979), 194-196.

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I often tell the story of the holy recluse whom I came across while walking in the woods during my retreat at Merton’s hermitage in 1985. A recluse is a “hermit’s hermit” who lives alone, in silence, and only joins the community for Mass at Christmas and Easter. Somehow he recognized me and excitedly said, “Richard! You get to talk to people. Please tell them this one thing: God is not ‘out there’!”and he pointed to the sky. Then he said thank you and walked on.

Paul Knitter also sees the Western over-emphasis on God as a Transcendent Other who is “out there” somewhere as “the crux of the problem: Christian dualism has so exaggerated the difference between God and the world that it cannot really show how the two form a unity. . . . If there is in Christian tradition and experience a God within, a God who lives, and moves, and has being within us and the world, we need help in finding such a God. Buddhism, I believe, can provide some help.” [1]

Knitter writes, “As Christians seek God, Buddhists seek Awakening . . . [to] the way things are, the way they work.” Although Buddhists emphasize that Enlightenment is beyond words, they use the term Sunyata to touch on what the Awakening means. Knitter explains: “The Mahayana tradition of Buddhism [describes Sunyata as] Emptiness . . . in the sense of being able [and open] to receive anything. . . . Zen Buddhists speak of Emptiness as the ‘Buddha-nature’ that inheres all sentient beings. . . . Thich Nhat Hanh translates Sunyata . . . as InterBeing. . . . PemaChödrön [A Buddhist nun who teaches in the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism], refers to Sunyata as Groundlessness . . . since everything is moving in interdependence with everything else.” [2] Sounds like the incarnate mystery of Trinity to me!

Knitter continues, “If we Christians really affirm that ‘God is love’ and that Trinity means relationality, then I think the symbol Buddhists use for Sunyata [InterBeing] is entirely fitting for our God. God is the field–the dynamic energy field of InterBeing–within which, as we read in the New Testament (but perhaps never really heard), ‘we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). Or, from the divine perspective, there is ‘one God above all things, through all things, and in all things’ (Eph. 4:6). This presence ‘above, through, and in’ can fittingly and engagingly be imaged as an energy field which pervades and influences us all, calling us to relationships of knowing and loving each other, energizing us when such relationships get rough, filling us with the deepest of happiness when we are emptying ourselves and finding ourselves in others.” [3] This is what I like to call the Spirit as a force field.

Knitter describes how we are inextricably linked with God: “without the spirit, the body cannot live; without the body the spirit cannot act. The same is true of Spirit and creation. . . . Thinking about or imaging God as InterBeing and relating to God as the connecting Spirit is a major antidote to the dualism that has infected Christian theology and spirituality. . . . With God as the connecting Spirit, the Creator cannot be ‘totally other’ to creation. . . . Here I think I’m getting closer to what Aquinas was trying to express when he described the relationship between God and the world as one of participation. . . . Therefore, a better image for creation might be a pouring forth of God, an extension of God, in which the Divine carries on the divine activity of interrelating inand with and through creation.” [4] Clearly, then, God is not just “out there”!

[1] Paul F. Knitter, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian (Oneworld Publications: 2009), 7-8.
[2] Ibid., 11-12.
[3] Ibid., 20.
[4] Ibid., 20-22.

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