“Suffering holds hidden within it, in extreme intensity, the ascensional force of the world."
Teilhard de Chardin
“It’s all about carrying to term and giving birth. To let every impression and every seed of a feeling realize itself on its own, in the dark…beyond the reach of your understanding, and to await with deep humility and patience the hour when a new clarity is born…”
It was Trinity Sunday last week. Yep. I didn't know there even was such a thing, but I’ve been paying a bit more attention to the Christian liturgical calendar lately and marking the journey in my own ways.
Traditionally, the Trinity is taught and understood as a self-enclosed community of God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Most understand it somewhat as a theological speculation on the inner life of God, an abstraction created to make sense of Christ’s divinity and humanity, and so its no wonder that Karl Rahner made the statement that if the Trinity were to drop out of our religious lexicon, no one would even notice.
I’m actually pretty fond of this particular Christian doctrine, however, and many of the mystical writers that I’m a fan of (ancient and contemporary) are too: Bonaventure, Teilhard, Panikkar, Beatrice Bruteau and current wisdom teacher Cynthia Bourgeault all have interesting things to say about the Trinity. Rather than viewing the Trinity as three persons, they view the Trinity as dynamic functions of a relational God-in-the-midst-of-the-cosmos.
When seen through the light of evolution and colored by the insights of some of the aforementioned theologians and scholars, the Trinity is no longer simply a theological speculation on the inner life of God; it becomes a dynamic mandala of God’s ongoing creativity in an evolving universe. It becomes, in fact the evolutionary principle.
Threeness, creativity, and evolution are joined at the hip.
If the physical structure of the universe is love , then attraction, frustration, and creativity are all a natural cycle of a universe in motion both at a meta-scale, and in moment-to-moment occurrences.
You could think of it this way; in every circumstance there is a triadic structure at play: a yearning force, an opposing force, and a reconciling force, and these three forces work together to create something new.
What I am describing is a universal principle of change and transformation first articulated George Ivan Gurdjieff’s “Law of Three.”
Gurdjieff (1866-1949), although still not widely known in theological conversation, was an Armenian-born Wisdom teacher who developed a system of spiritual transformation (commonly known as “The Work”) in which the Law of Three was a centerpiece. The Law of Three, or “The Law of World Creation” as he called it, stipulates that “Every phenomenon, on whatever scale (from subatomic to cosmic) and in whatever world, springs from the interaction of three forces: the first active, the second passive, and the third neutralizing.” The new arising from this interaction will in turn form a new triad by which the process continues in its course of creativity.
In other words: resistance, frustration, and opposition are the essential path by which new creation happens.
Like the collision of flint that makes a spark, it seems that creativity rests on this principle of friction, and perhaps instead of running to immediately diffuse all tension in our lives, we’re invited to learn how to hold it long enough to allow more being to emerge.
But tension isn’t easy to bear…and anything that entails suffering isn’t something we tend to get excited about as humans.
Sixteenth century German mystic Jacob Boehme wrote a reflection in which he describes the “compression from nothing into something” of God as being mediated through the reconciling point of anguish. You can feel the meaning of the word in saying it, can’t you? Anguish.
It conjures up memories for me of being in Ballet with my Russian born ballet teacher, Olga. She used make us sit with our backs to the wall, and our arms stretched above us hanging on to the bars, while she would push her heels against our ankles until our legs were painfully stretched open into a perfect 180 degree split. It was Anguish. She kept us pinned, one after the other, for what felt like an eternity. If we dared to utter a single complaint to our torturer she'd keep us there longer, smiling all the while and saying with her thick accent, “You will do nothing in ballet if you cannot endure this.”
She was right, of course. All the hours on the floor stretching and at the bar perfecting form are all the unseen moments of anguish that result in the graceful beauty that takes your breath away as you watch seasoned dancers pirouette and leap through the air, seemingly impervious to gravity.
Teilhard described suffering as “the ascentional force of the world”. In other words: friction, frustration, and suffering can be thought of as an energetic compression, an occurrence that happens in the process of a converging evolution. I mean, really....what do we know about how much it hurts to bloom? Or what it costs to grow a pine needle?
We certainly know that the birth of a human being entails some pretty excruciating anguish, so why would the evolution of our consciousness be any different?
Smack dab in the center of the pressure you’re under at work, the unresolved issue in your relationship, or even in the daily grind of menial tasks is a progression that begins with anguish: the yearning for something, the energy that seems to push against it…and if we’re patient enough to bear the tension, a third force will arise that will set the seeming impasse into motion.
Hang in there, dancer-in-training. Don’t run from the next experience of constriction. Something new is being formed in you through every compression, and if you can patiently ground yourself in the midst of the friction, allowing that threefold tension to do its work, you might just give birth to something you never could have anticipated or imagined.