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.