The Trinity: A Model of Interdependence and Sustainability for a Threatened World

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Three Sisters

Every society and culture that has arisen on the earth appears to have developed a concept of power(s), supreme being(s) or wise teacher(s) that provide/s instruction or guidance on how to live.  Within the study of cultural anthropology, there has been a long history of academic dialog regarding the role of spiritual or religious belief within society.

In early human societies, belief as a method of transcending self can be considered a highly adaptive and successful strategy for coping with dangers in the environment and engaging in risky or innovative behaviors that may yield a high reward or benefit for the self and/or the family/community. From the historical perspective of the study of spiritual/religious belief systems, the ability for a community to survive within the competition for land and resources, for achieving freedoms and new opportunities, has always come down to what a given culture believes and is prepared to do because of those beliefs.

I believe that we are observing (again) in our current time, that no matter what demonstrable knowledge we may have of the world, it is what people believe about that knowledge that makes the difference between either assuring human survival or assuring our demise. Subsequently, belief itself could be said to be the summation of an ultimate power.

One example of how belief (in supernal beings or wisdom figures) dovetails with knowledge of the natural environment as a successful survival mechanism is the domestication and cultivation of the crops of squash, beans and maize (corn) among the Iroquois peoples.  In a technique known as “companion planting,” the three crops are planted close together. Flat-topped mounds of soil are built for each cluster of crops. In parts of the Atlantic Northeast, rotten fish or eels are buried in the mound with the maize seeds, to act as additional fertilizer where the soil is poor. When the maize is around 6 inches tall, beans and squash are planted around it, alternating between the two kinds of seeds.

The three crops benefit from each other. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants use, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent the establishment of weeds. The squash leaves also act as biome of living mulch that helps retain moisture in the soil, while the prickly hairs of the vine are a natural deterrent to bugs.

Anthropologists theorize that the process to develop this agricultural knowledge took place over 5,000–6,500 years. Knowledge of how to grow “The Three Sisters,” as they are called among many North American indigenous cultures, has been passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition. Variations of the theme exist between Native cultures, adapted to specific environments, resulting in a diversity of “Three Sister Gardens.”

For many Native peoples, the meaning of the Three Sisters runs deep into the physical and spiritual well-being of their people. Known as the “sustainers of life,” the Iroquois consider corn, beans and squash to be special gifts from the Creator. The well-being of each crop is believed to be protected by one of the Three Sister Spirits. Corn, beans, and squash contain complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and all eight essential amino acids, allowing most Native American tribes to thrive on a plant-based diet. In this instance, knowledge and belief support one another and collaborate to assure the survival of several types of plant species as well as supporting several types of human communities.  The interdependence of knowledge and belief becomes cultural wisdom, while the interdependence of several species supports the well being of each.

Within the stories associated with the Judeo-Christian belief system, three interdependent beings emerge in the form of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  Though there are variations of the specific nature of the relationship between these three beings within the variants of Christian belief, the common theme is that the Trinity is a divine expression of a unified way of being. The three beings support one another, care for one another and ultimately seem to be mutually dedicated to sustaining and nurturing people specifically and life in general.

The adaptive survival mechanism to human communities through maintaining a Trinitarian belief system may not be as readily tangible or apparent as food production.  However, when one applies the importance of the belief in the incarnation of God in Christ, Jesus becomes the model for how his followers are to incarnate the Holy Spirit as an indwelling reality. Through the spiritual ritual of Baptism, the believer is motivated (called) to actively engage in several practices that can effectively improve the survivability of several species simultaneously.

Trinitarian spiritual life practices include (but are not limited to): service to others, dedication to social justice, commitment to the alleviation of poverty and hunger, sustainable stewardship of Creation, healing of communities and reconciliation between peoples, laboring for peace, and teaching about the life-giving power of love. These actions are understood to demonstrate the believer’s love of Christ, having an ultimate affect that changes the socio-cultural world and improving the chances of survival of life – in all its diverse expression as the singular entity known as Earth.

Truly, as the stories of many faiths and cultures teach us, the archetypal form of the Trinity within belief systems speaks to a deep and shared wisdom – an intuition that seems passed on in the human genome – that all of life is connected, interdependent, mutually resilient, collaboratively co-creating, capable of tremendous life-sustaining nurture and equally threatened in survival without this awareness.

The ultimate power of belief in the Trinity is that it has the potential – if fully lived among human communities who practice its tenets – to save the world, not from some mythic end of divine retribution but from an all too real consequence of humans not believing in the interdependence of all life. The human species has an immanent survival need to create sustainable communities based in a mutual commitment to sharing resources, cultivating multiple species upon which we depend and which in turn depend on our species for their survival through responsible care of creation – appreciating the knowledge we have (in fact) of the impact of our species on the Earth.

Knowledge and belief are lovers in the aware mind, and we are called to incarnate the compassion by which that union compels us to act. Knowledge, belief and compassionate action compose a trinity of consciousness unique to human kind, an incarnate trinity that can transform the world as we know it into a new creation, one on which all life depends upon us to realize.

In the name of the Creator, the Gardener and the Nurturer – Amen.

Nurturing is the Labor of Spring and of the Easter Season

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Angelico - Magdelene & Jesus in Garden

Fra Angelico’s Painting of Mary Magdalene recognizing the risen Christ, who is depicted as a gardener, carrying a hoe used in cultivation – the New Adam cultivating both Creation and people through his relationships with them.

At the end of a grey and rainy winter, I feel very grateful for the breaks of sunlight and sweet spring melodies of the songbirds that have returned to nest in the woods and brush that surround our home.  To support the birds and squirrels that are making nests at this time of the year, I have put out special containers containing the carefully saved lint from our dryer at home for the animals to use in nest building.

As I watch the animals in the spring and experience my own desire to assist them, it seems to me that nurturing is an instinctive quality among most species – even older trees share nourishment through their root systems to help support saplings and trees that are unwell. Nurturing is sacred work, and it is work in which all the earth appears engaged.

For human beings, Nurturing draws on our fullest capacity for physical, emotional and spiritual labor. When we nurture, we become deeply connected to the recipient of our care, even as we become deeply connected to those who care for us in our vulnerabilities. Christ models the impulse to nurture as spiritual response to the need he sees around him.  His response is grounded in compassion and love, which is the essential work of God and reflects the summary of the Law as the commandment that Jesus gave to his followers to love one another.

In the last days of his life – when deep appreciation for his life and the love he felt for his friends welled up in him like the sweet nectar of a ripe grapes or the yeasty impulse of rising bread – Jesus nurtured those around him with all that he had to give; he bathed them, he fed them, he taught them, he comforted them, he forgave them, he encouraged them and he loved them.  Jesus nurtured all who came to him.

In the late 14th century, the English anchoress and mystic, St. Julian of Norwich, wrote:

It is a characteristic of God to overcome evil with good. Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him ­ and this is where His Maternity starts ­ And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us. Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother. And He showed me this truth in all things, but especially in those sweet words when He says: ‘It is I.’ As if to say,  I am the power and the Goodness of the Father, I am the Wisdom of the Mother, I am the Light and the Grace which is blessed love, I am the Trinity, I am the Unity, I am the supreme Goodness of all kind of things, I am the One who makes you love, I am the One who makes you desire, I am the never-ending fulfillment of all true desires…

The nurturing quality of God is in us as part of the image of God in which we are made.  In each of us resides the essential trait of mother/father nurture, even as this aspect was essential to the nature of Christ.  At this time in history, in the life of our world, nurture is a radical force that utterly unhinges the swinging door of hate that can shut away and separate parts of the human family, one from another.

Nurture is a force for unity, for profound relationship and connection across national boundaries, across belief systems and cultures, across ages, economic disparities and even across species – as we see in so many unique and beautiful animal friendships in nature. Surely, God is at work in all of Creation as the loving force of nurture, and we are meant to be part of that force.

This Easter, for you, for our Church and for our world, I pray that we may all know the deep nurture of God through our relationships with one another and with God’s Creation.  Through the sacred labor of nurture, let us live from Christ’s selfless love that has been instilled in our hearts.  Let us serve Christ by giving our hearts freely away to the world that Christ lived and died and rose again to save.

This Good Earth, like a Pearl of Great Price, spinning amidst the awesome wonders of the universe, is Beloved by the God who called it good and which has been given into our care. Let us be a force of nurture in our world.  All the lives on our dear planet deeply long for and deeply need the cultivating touch of genuine care.  In every heart there is a seed, you see, that needs the water and sun in us that we must provide. Every life with which we share God’s Creation desperately needs the gifting impulses of our Baptism, the fruit of the covenant that we have made with the Son of God. For, the Water and the Son in us is enough to nurture all the world, if only we believe.

Rachel Science March

At the March for Science, Coupeville WA – April 23, 2017