MIGHT AS WELL DANCE
I pray in the Name of the One who gave birth to creation; who gave birth to Jesus; who gave birth to the life of the Church; and who is with us always, birthing, guiding and redeeming, and inviting us into the dance of life.
As a young adult I remember stumbling about in the forest of mystery that is the Holy Bible – and coming upon the passage which said, “And God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our own image, according to our likeness” (Gen. 1: 26) – “our image … our likeness.” I had read enough English to know about the “royal we,” as in “We are not amused,” but here was something which seemed to say more, which seemed to be saying that God could not be understood in terms of simple personality – that God is complex – not just a being but a community of being – necessitating speaking in plural.
When I learned later something of the doctrine of the Trinity it made some sense to me. No single image defines what God is, but Trinity is a way of saying that we experience and understand God in distinct and separate ways, or modes of being, and yet we know that God is one. Christians have traditionally asserted that the primary ways in which we know God is as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But, as theologian Dr. Sally McFague suggests, we could just as easily use terms like “Mother, Lover and Friend” (Models of God p. 181). Or perhaps Lover, Beloved and Love. Or Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
Typically the readings for this Sunday are ones which seem to suggest and support this triune understanding: of God in three distinct aspects or personas. Jesus is quoted as speaking of God as being like a father or a parental figure, rather than as some remote and unknowable entity; and he spoke of a coming age of the Holy Spirit in which people would be inspired and empowered to worship God in spirit and in truth, empowered and brought to life. Also, of course, the Church came to see Jesus as God’s Son, in a unique sense, as having been an embodiment of the divine. These understandings all developed over many years (centuries) as the early Church solidified its beliefs and requirements for membership. Hence, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We are the somewhat unfortunate inheritors of a tradition which embraced Rene Descartes’ famous comment: “I think, therefore I am.” That expression took us down a path that exalted and isolated the intellect and encouraged operating out of a certain level of our minds, but often lacked in self-awareness, compassion and imagination. In religious terms it made us focus on precision of beliefs and complex arguments about God’s true nature, and the Church claimed to have certainty about things spiritual, not just mere faith or speculation.
But as St Augustine said: “God is not what you imagine or what you think you understand. If you think you understand, you have failed.” Or, as another thinker suggested, no one was ever argued into the Kingdom of God!
No language is adequate to describe what we are celebrating this Sunday. A Pastor asked a boy in a Sunday School class, “What is the Trinity?” Intimidated, the little boy said in a very weak voice “The Father, Son and Holy Ghost?” “I can’t understand you” said the pastor. The young boy replied “You’re not supposed to — it’s a mystery.”
Trinity is a way we Christians picture God, but let us always remember that a picture of something is not the thing itself – any more than a road map is your holiday.
Johannes Eckhart, otherwise known as Meister Eckhart, asked to provide a description of the life of God in Holy Trinity, said: “Do you want to know what goes on in the core of the Trinity? I will tell you. In the core of the Trinity the Father laughs and gives birth to the Son. The Son laughs back at the Father and gives birth to the Spirit. The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us. (Matthew Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, 1983). Laughter and joy – birth and celebration – individual identity in a communion of mutual love. According to one of the most insightful mystics of the Christian tradition, this is what life at the heart of reality is all about. This is what God is all about.
Precision of doctrine was a preoccupation of the Church at a particular time in history, and in the modern era jumped on that approach which suggested formulas and logical proofs for God’s existence and other supposed certainties. All of it was so solemn, so complicated, so deadly serious, so confident that these were the right answers! A more Christian way of expressing our truth would suggest a phrase like: “I love, therefore I am.” God is love, and it is when we enter into a relationship based on love that we begin to dwell in God and God in us. We don’t get into the kingdom because we understand God but because God loves us – we are invited into the kingdom as the people of a community are invited to a wedding celebration – a place in the ancient world where everyone was welcome – and expected to be there.
Getting into the Kingdom of God is not like having to pass a Math test or a bone scan! It’s not primarily about formulas or techniques, it’s about relationships, and I want to suggest that that is what the doctrine of the Trinity reveals as much as anything: God is relationships; God is communion.
Rather than seeing God as grim, serious even dangerous, some have described the life of God in terms of a cosmic dance. The Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi said: “Whosoever knows the power of the dance dwells in God.”
The ancient Greek term Perichoresis describes the way the three persons of the Trinity connect and relate and interpenetrate each other, but it is also a metaphor suggesting dance — God’s dance of passion and creativity and love – God’s dance of communion. Does Perichoresis describe the church as you know it? Do the members truly connect – is the Body of Christ connected and coordinated? What if the members were to make the choice to put the community first – to see the integrity of their relationships with others as the key to their salvation? How would that change things for you? For your church?
Think for a moment about the last time you danced for joy, for fun, for love – it might have been a long time ago, but when we really dance we experience a wonderful kind of freedom and fulfillment.
Something happens to us when we dance.
Over 30 years ago I arrived out here as a delegate to a Canadian Theological Students’ conference at VST. We arrived, all strangers to each other, and milled about stiffly and self-consciously. All of us were future pastors and yet it seemed none of us was all that willing to break through the frozen space around us – to take that risk. That’s when they told us our first activity would be square dancing. SQUARE DANCING?! We rolled our eyes, united in our cynicism and the belief that something like this was childish and beneath us. Nevertheless, zombie-like, we shuffled into place.
Then the dancing started. Stiff, self-conscious, reluctant, no matter, the dance changed us – in minutes, we became friendly and open, laughing and relaxed in each other’s presence. Until the dance, we had not been capable of being present or authentic – we had been milling about like cattle, unable to connect. The dance caught us all up in a tremendous unifying experience.
What would church look like if we really took that image to heart? What would neighbourhoods and communities look like if people could heeded God’s call to enter the dance?
Jesus described children of his day complaining about the lack of response in the adults around them, saying “We piped for you and you didn’t dance! How do you think the children of our day would respond if we danced more and talked less?
We in the church don’t tend to move or respond to the rhythm because we have been convinced that it’s disrespectful! What if we instead saw merely standing there as the disrespectful thing – as a sign of non-compliance with the movement of God in the world?
“Let go and let God” is one of the first things that people in recovery from habitual and compulsive behaviours need to learn, but we typically can’t let go because we want to remain in tight control. Yet it’s like we are fighting the natural inclination to move – to join in – to let go and become part of the dance – part of God’s movement on this planet.
“There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents” Jesus said – in this case the sin is the sin of separation, the lack of rhythm, the lack of trust, the denial of communion, the refusal to enter the dance of the Blessed Trinity.
Can we imagine God dancing – as electrons dance, as the northern lights dance across the winter night sky, as the sun dances on the surface of the water, as the moon dances around the earth, as children dance for joy? Can we imagine God dancing in joy as we decide to let go of our myths of separateness and better-than and fearful scarcity and begin to live in communion – in the dance around God’s table of plenty – the dance around the promise of God’s living presence?
We have designed our churches to make sure people are properly penned in and can’t move about, but King David had it right – to dance is to worship and to be a reflection of the jubilation that exists in the kingdom.
How do we usually express our sense of who God is? Typically by standing ramrod straight and rather mechanically reciting the Creed – propositions about God. What if we were required to dance our understanding of our relationship with God? What if dance became our language? I am betting the children would like it.
What if the Body of Christ didn’t feel it has to stand there in church like a statue, as though paralyzed with fear, and embarrassed to move a muscle. What if the Body of Christ were freed, encouraged, to move in joy and celebration?
The Spirit lifts us out of the lethargy of dis-connection – pulls us into fellowship – into communion – into something much greater than ourselves – so we see come to see life wholistically – as a great expression of the unity which is God’s essential nature. God is Communion, and so it is when we are in Communion that we are revealing the image of God in us and those around us, because the Dance of the Trinity is never about us alone, it is about becoming one as the Holy Three are one.
Psalm 30 says “You (God) have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,” May our celebration of Holy Trinity invite us out of sadness and into joy, out of gloom and into the light, out of our heads and into our hearts, where we feel God, embody God, and know God as love, in Holy Communion.
The Rev. Grant Rodgers+
RCL appointed readings:
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth– when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
Psalm 8 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
John 16:12-15 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.