How I Gave Up Water and Apples and Joined the Dance!

Matthew 28:16-20, John 14:18, 20, 26, John 15:4, 11

Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday, but it is often ignored or scarcely mentioned in many protestant churches. The Trinity is among my favorite mysteries, along with the Incarnation, Resurrection and Pentecost, but that was not always the case for me! I didn’t pay much attention to the concept of the Trinity until I was middle-aged. Today I invite you to join me in the dance with this Mystery!

Mystery implies a sense of awe, an understanding that we are in the presence of something that is bigger than us, beyond us, — something that transcends us. And so it is when we speak of the Trinity. In Hunting the Divine Fox: Images and Mystery in Christian Faith Robert Farrar Capon has said that our attempt to describe God is as foolish as an oyster trying to describe a ballerina!

Our human thinking tends to lead us to what is considered the heresy of modalism – understanding God to be in three forms, or modes – kind of like a science fiction shape-shifter! This is a comparison of the unity of God like H2O and the trinity of God like ice, water, and steam, an analogy I heard as a child. Or likening the Trinity to an apple with three parts – seeds, flesh, and peeling. These were not at all satisfying, even then, and my response was “So what?”

In my middle-age I was surprised and delighted to discover the Mystery of Dance! I learned that the concept of Trinity comes from the Greek word perichoresis, which means “revolving” or “circling around.” It comes from peri, meaning around and choresis, meaning dancing and comes from the same root word as choreography. Roman Catholic theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson elaborates:

“God is not a singleness but a communion, a living fecundity of relational life. For God to be is to be in relation, this is the primary characteristic of God” [and] each of the three divine ‘persons’ [of the Trinity] dynamically circles around, pervades, and interweaves the others in what some theologians call a dance of divine life” [1]

St. Gregory of Nazianzus, articulated it in a most interesting way, as explained by 20th century Roman Catholic Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B:

We are the People of God, dancing on pilgrimage….

The great Church Father St. Gregory Nazianzus, in the fourth century, gave us a Greek word to describe this marvel: perichoresis. The word literally means “moving around.” It’s how the Greek theologians in the early Church described the dancing in the Trinity. It’s the sign that God’s love is so full that it can’t stay still.

Some of these Fathers of the Church even said that God’s love was so great that it had to break forth. Creation itself, they say, is nothing but God’s love looking for more things to love….

But the next marvel is also incredible. God wanted to come down and swoop up all of that creation into the dance of love, the perichoresis. And … why God becomes one of us…. God’s love and God’s life swoop down and that God somehow wants to pull up all of creation, including us human beings, into that dance, God’s inner life….

That’s why the next marvel is even more wonderful. The mission of Jesus Christ is handed over to us human beings. What a risk Christ took! He’s telling all of us that’s the Good News; that we have to dance to the right tune (a love song, actually), we have to be a part of and eventually share totally in the dance of the Trinity. [emphasis added][2]

As this understanding of the Trinity developed, it came to include the concept of  interpenetration – the mutual indwelling of each Person of the Trinity with each other. Donald G. Bloesch describes it this way:

[God] is capable of having fellowship with humanity because he has fellowship within himself. He is capable of caring because he embodies love within himself…. He is a gregarious God, seeking to include man in fellowship with himself….[3]

Unlike a single Person or a Couple, a Trinity leaves room for us, as C. S. Lewis explains:

The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made.[4]

The doctrine of the Trinity is not clearly stated in the New Testament but it was part of the life and experience of early believers. The early church’s experience of God was as One and as Three. This is powerfully and mysteriously expressed in the Gospel of John:

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you..…you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. ….the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.  (John 14:18, 20, 26) Abide – that means “pitch your tent” —  in me as I [pitch my tent]  in you…. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:4, 11)

Shaun McCarty, S.T. wrote a little book which totally changed my understanding of the Trinity and has brought me joy ever since I first encountered it: Partners in the Divine Dance of Our Three Person’d God:

We best reflect their divine life and activity when we live as they do, as “partners” in the divine dance—in spiritual community with them and with one another.

By “spiritual community” I mean the experience of … a unity-in-diversity engaged in mutual dialogue and selfless love…. This is an invitation to become partners with our three-person’d God in their divine dance. [emphasis added] [5]

This understanding of the Trinity invites us to celebrate God with great love and joy!

What is more hospitable than the invitation to dance, an invitation to intimacy? ….the dancers and the dance are one—and the whole world needs us to dance and to invite them out on the floor with us, all hearing the same music and responding to it in our own ways. Or is it that the whole of creation is dancing and we’ve just caught the music?[6]

We are invited to Dance and, equally important, commissioned to continue to invite and include others in the Dance of God’s Divine Life and Love until the prayer of Jesus is fulfilled that we all become one and Joy shall be full!

Trinity Sunday follows Pentecost, where worship settings often include fiery-colored streamers and helium-filled balloons. Perhaps next year, our Trinity celebration should include round dancing!

 

 

[1] Elizabeth A. Johnson and Julia H. Brumbaugh , “Trinity: To Let the Symbol Sing Again,” http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/SFS/an0599.asp
[2] http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jun1999/feature1.asp#F4
[3] Donald G. Bloesch, The Struggle of Prayer
[4] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 13
[5]Shaun McCarty, S.T.,Partners in the Divine Dance of Our Three Person’d God (NY:Paulist Press, 1996, p. 4-5)
[6] Shirley Cunninghamat the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation Residency in 1990

 

 

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About Nancy Smith

Nancy Smith has 20 years’ experience in technical writing and management in software companies. She also has more than 20 years in Christian ministry as an educator, course designer, retreat leader, spiritual director, pastor, and coach. A United Methodist Deacon, Smith has her M.Div. from Boston University. She is a graduate of the Guild for Spiritual Guidance, and is certified in Spiritual Direction and Retreat Leadership from Boston College.
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2 Responses to How I Gave Up Water and Apples and Joined the Dance!

  1. Frank Ober says:

    I had printed this one out some days ago but did not read nor reflect on it until last evening. As I read it I recalled my own inspiration some years ago of how I described how us humans would only be able to perceive God. My thoughts at the time used an analogy of a large cardboard box with a small hole in it which we would use to see what is inside. If we got too close there would block the light into the box and if we moved back a bit the light would enter the box but our vision would be limited. Bottom line was there we could not see clearly the contents in the interior of the box. Such was the nature of God. At an earlier time, I was inspired to describe how our perception of God might be compared to our looking at a tall tree. If we stood at the base of the tree and looked up, that gave us one perspective. Standing back from the tree gave us another and if we climbed the tree, there was a whole different perspective. So it seems that our vision of God is influenced by our location in relation to the tree and it seems that we might move about a bit in order to see the whole picture. Not unlike the image of a elephant as described by the blind going by an manual exam of the animal. Your posting is a little more “mysterious” and offers a method to work with how we might “see” God and not be concerned that we have the whole picture. Reassuring for sure. Peace, Frank

  2. Nancy Smith says:

    Frank, thanks for sharing your own analogies — great work!

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