Third force-blind no more, no more

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By Christie Walkuski

I’m so grateful to have heard Cynthia Bourgeault at ESR’s Spirituality Gathering, and to get to observe her quiet, unobtrusive presence during the day, and later at a dinner with other students and workshop participants.  There’s not one bit of pretension about her, from her calm, one-of-the-crowd presence, to her meal of spaghetti and meatballs.  I admire this.  You can tell a lot about a person from their inter-personal interactions.

Bourgeault speaks about things that I don’t hear many other voices in the Church or in the academy talking about (Richard Rohr is another).  There are others I have been reading in my theopoetics class that are also thinking imaginatively about theology in similar ways–John Caputo, our own Scott Holland to name a couple (and I sense that these voices are also marginal–take “marginal” as a compliment).  The leading voices catching my ear on these themes are also largely male.  Cynthia Bourgeault is a gem.

These opening impressions reflect a little on how Bourgeault has stuck with me and impacted me since her talk here at ESR over a month ago.  In almost all of my work since, and in my non-academic life as well, I have been referring back to her talk entitled, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, also the title of her most recent book.  My thoughts have centered around the following ideas:

  • that our orthodox traditions and doctrines do hold treasures that are still relevant for our lives;
  • that the Trinity (three, not two) reflects non-dual consciousness;
  • that the Trinity holds the idea of the Law of Three: within the process of change there is always affirmation, denial, and reconciliation, or new arising.

I love the idea of finding new treasure in the Trinity, not as a creedal doctrine, but as a powerful tool, as Bourgeault says, that we, as Christians, can be wielding in the world.  Yes, Bourgeault is someone who is rescuing and reviving the mystical tradition, a heritage that might just be what so many people who are disillusioned with the church are seeking.  Bourgeault calls the Law of Three, inherent in the Trinity, a dynamic template for change, for evolutionary process; a mystical basis for enlightened action.  This is exciting stuff!

At the heart of what I am learning about contemplative spiritual life is the way of non-dual consciousness that Bourgeault and Rohr (and other non-Christian, non-Western voices) talk about so much.  This relates directly to the Law of Three, and the three forces, or lines of action that summarize it: affirming (1st force); denying (2nd force); and reconciling (third force).  These forces are not fixed positions or identities and we need non-dual consciousness to understand this.  If we are stuck in dualistic thinking we are stuck in either/or mindsets and polarizing positions. The spiritual work of mindfulness, Bourgeault says, of entering into a different kind of mind and witnessing presence, enables us to actively and intelligently dis-identify; to shift out of egoic frameworks so that a new force can enter in, making us alert to possibility we didn’t see before.  I believe this is why Bourgeault says that we humans are often third force-blind: because few are doing this creative, inclusive, and hard work of unlearning what has been formed in us. Few of us are courageous enough to be willing to go through the humbling and uncertain process of midwifing evolution, letting go of our own desires or fears to dwell in some holy other possibility.  This thought makes me tremble, makes me think of the sacred mystery that is both within and without–and between. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God.

Some other teaching points: affirmation, denial, and reconciliation are all necessary for new arising; affirmation is never going to be the outcome, and resistance, or opposition is never the problem or the enemy; a new arising is different from compromise: everyone is satisfied, and old roles are released, offering a new configuration. This cyclic motion reminds me of a spiral, ever-twisting and evolving, sometimes seemingly regressing before circling back upward (or onward). Third force is always there, Bourgeault says, waiting to be discovered, as we do the work of getting out of ourselves and egoic-mind.  The work of this process is like the work of replicating the mind of Christ.

This teaching is so powerful and helpful to me personally, and in thinking about how I want to be in my relationships, in the world, and how I want to participate in the Church.  I pray for understanding, and willingness, and to be led from disillusionment to mindful calm; from self-centered fear to enlightened action.


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