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The Dance of the Trinity

By Sr. Elizabeth, SSJD.

I’m not sure what made me sign up to preach today, a day when clergy sometimes ask someone else to do the homily. I remember Debra Johnston sharing several years ago an experience she had when trying to teach a confirmation class about the Trinity. [We were exercising in the pool at SJR at the time.] As I remember it, she had compared the Trinity to water: God the creator was like the rain and the rivers watering the earth; God the Spirit was like the steam that appears when you boil water; so that meant that God the son was like ice—you could feel it and touch it because Jesus became a human person and lived among us. So like water the three persons of the Trinity are experienced in different ways. Debra thought it sounded O.K. at the time, but not long after the class ended, she had a complaint from the parents of one of the young people. What did she mean by telling her child that Jesus was like an ice cube! That was the last time she used that imagery.

The Trinity is a mystery to me as perhaps it is to most people. However, I received some insights about the Trinity several years ago when I heard Richard Rohr talk about it. The word that stuck with me is “perichoresis” which he felt was the best word for the Trinity. “Perichoresis,” a Greek word meaning “dancing,” was coined by Tertullian for the Trinity in the 3rd C. Richard Rohr suggested that God is the dance itself, God is the flow between the three persons of the Trinity. I love this metaphor of the dance: it has life and movement and vitality.

According to Wikipedia, the perichoresis is described as the dance of love. What a lovely way to think of God. As human beings, we relate to one another in the “dance of life” and as Christians we long for it to be a “dance of love”. Wikipedia suggests that the relationships among the three Persons of the Trinity “is dynamic, interactive, loving, serving” forming a model for our human dance steps.”

Four years ago I read Richard Rohr’s book, produced in 2016, entitled The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, which really spoke to me. I would like to share some thoughts from Richard Rohr’s book which I found helpful.

Rohr describes the revelation of God that we have called Trinity as beginning in relationship—the relationships between and among the three members of the Trinity. He suggests several ways of thinking about God.

  • instead of thinking of God as the Eternal Threatener, think of God as being “the Ultimate Participant—in everything—both the good and the painful.”
  • Instead of God watching life happen from afar and judging it… think of God as “being inherent in life itself.”
  • Consider the possibility of God being the Life Force of everything.
  • “Instead of God being an Object like any other object….imagine God as being the Life Energy between each and every object (what we would usually call Love or Spirit).   (Rohr, p. 36)

Rohr sees God as much larger than the way many Christians have traditionally imagined God. He sees God as with us in all of life instead of standing on the sidelines.

For many years now I have been drawn to Acts 17:28. Paul is visiting Athens and is standing before the Areopagus after having discovered an altar to the “Unknown God.” He says, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” Paul continues by saying that God is not far from each one of us. For “‘In God we live and move and have our being’ even as some of your poets have said.” I have often pondered these words. What does it mean to live and move and have our being “in” God as one of the Compline prayers says?

In John 15 Jesus says: “abide in me as I abide in you.” In that same passage he says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” In 1 Jn 4:7-8, we hear the words, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

This says to me that God is an outpouring of Love and is found in all loving relationships. We live in a relational universe. Rohr points out that physicists and contemplatives alike confirm that the foundational nature of reality is relational; everything is in relationship with everything else. The three persons of the Trinity are in a relationship of love with each other and we are invited into that relationship of love, into the dance of love.

This kind of love is Agape love as described in Michael Curry’s book, Love is the Way. This love is active not passive. It’s not a feeling; it is the love that flows out of God towards us and out of us towards God, towards one another, even towards complete strangers. It’s a way of living in the flow of the Spirit. It is “perichoresis” or “the dance of love” and God wants to draw each one of us into the dance of the Trinity.

Dame Julian also has something to say about the Trinity in her own inimical style:

In ch. 59, she writes:

            As truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother. And that He showed in all the showings, and particularly in those sweet words where He says

                  “It is I – that is to say:
It is I: the Power and the Goodness of the Fatherhood.
It is I: the Wisdom of the Motherhood.
It is I: the Light and the Grace that is all blessed Love.
It is I: the Trinity.
It is I: the Unity.
I am the supreme goodness of all manner of things.
I am what causes thee to love.
I am what causes thee to yearn.”  

One final quotation from C. Baxter Kruger (as quoted in Rohr’s book) who describes the Trinity in this way:

The stunning truth is that this triune God, in amazing and lavish love, determined to open the circle and share the Trinitarian life with others. This is the one, eternal and abiding reason for the creation of the world and of human life. There is no other God, no other will of God, no second plan, no hidden agenda for human beings. Before the creation of the world, the Father, Son and Spirit set their love upon us and planned to bring us to share and know and experience the Trinitarian life itself. Unto this end the cosmos was called into being, and the human race was fashioned….  (67)