Three Faces of the Ultimate Revisited

Three Faces of the Ultimate Revisited June 8, 2012

Now that we’ve investigated the three perspectives, or faces, that we humans naturally use to experience the Ultimate, I want to talk about why it matters. I’ve already mentioned that both individuals and spiritual traditions seem to lean strongly toward one perspective at the expense of the others. It is true though that at least two, and usually all three can be found within the theology of most traditions. Several of the writings I used in the three previous posts actually demonstrate how a religious tradition that majors in one perspective can use the less emphasized perspectives as well. For example in the First Person post I used Jesus’ saying “I and the Father are One.” Both the Jewish and Christian traditions lean toward a Second Person relationship to the Ultimate yet we have Jesus, a Jew on whose message Christianity was founded, uttering a crystal clear First Person perspective.

We’ll talk in later posts how the stages of cultural development also impacted the perspectives of the mystics, saints and sages but for now it is enough to notice how deeply embedded all three perspectives are in the spiritual traditions both ancient and modern.

The first reason this matters is it offers a way for a tradition to understand itself. Christianity for example can begin to see that it has often discouraged a first and third person experience of the divine, in spite of its Trinitarian theology. This recognition opens up a fruitful inquiry. Several of the modern day mystics including Bede Griffiths, Beatrice Bruteau and Thomas Merton, found that study and practice in the Eastern traditions deepened their own understanding of their Christian tradition.

In my experience, many people who’ve left this venerable tradition, do so because the way they experience Spirit is not appreciated. Practices that develop a First or Third person perspective are not offered in traditional Christian environs, thus leaving people feeling as if they are not getting it right. One of my family members suffered terribly because he could not experience a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Imagine how the world opened for him when he began to see his preferred perspective, the Third face of the Divine, as a valid way to connect with God. When paying attention he see Spirit “shimmer” in everything around him now.

In a world where religious beliefs are often at the root of our most tragic conflicts, dialogue between the traditions is imperative as well. One way to explore the similarities and differences is to make explicit what has been implicit for thousands of years . . . the particular perspective embedded in a spiritual tradition informs the theology that flows from it. Once the truth of that theological perspective, and its’ partialness is seen, a rich avenue for interfaith exploration unfolds before us.

Of course for the most part I’ve been addressing the world’s ancient spiritual traditions, but what is true for them is true for the newer spiritual paths as well. Each tends to favor a particular perspective as well. It is as useful for those of us who do not stand in one of the ancient traditions, to attend to all three perspectives as well. In my own journey the realization that a Second Person perspective was sorely lacking in my practice was revelatory for me. Having walked away from the traditional Christian idea of God as the “old man in the sky,” I was under the mistaken assumption that an I-Thou relationship with the Ultimate was not possible or even necessary. How wrong I was! Integrating Second Person practices revealed to me how much I have avoided relying on anyone, including the Mystery that we call by many names.

Integral means possessing everything essential or significant; complete; whole. Experiencing all three faces of the Ultimate, the non-separation of the First face, the devotional surrender of the Second face and the awe of seeing clearly the Spirit in all there is in the Third face cannot help but offer a more complete picture of Ultimate Reality. In my next posts I’ll offer specific practices for each remarkable Face.



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