The Trinitarian Dance


The Divine Dance: The Trinity & Your Transformation by Richard Rohr

We must—absolutely must—maintain a fundamental humility before the Great Mystery. If we do not, religion always worships itself and its formulations and never God.

The very mystical Cappadocian Fathers of fourth-century eastern Turkey eventually developed some highly sophisticated thinking on what we soon called the Trinity. It took three centuries of reflection on the Gospels to have the courage to say it, but they of this land—which included Paul of Tarsus before them and Mevlânâ Rumi of Konya afterward—circled around to the best metaphor they could find: Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three—a circle dance of love. And God is not just a dancer; God is the dance itself.

Brother Elias Marechal, a monk at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia:  The ancient Greek Fathers depict the Trinity as a Round Dance: an event that has continued for six thousand years, and six times six thousand, and beyond the time when humans first knew time. An infinite current of love streams without ceasing, to and fro, to and fro, to and fro: gliding from the Father to the Son, and back to the Father, in one timeless happening. This circular current of trinitarian love continues night and day…. The orderly and rhythmic process of subatomic particles spinning round and round at immense speed echoes its dynamism.

Created by Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev in the fifteenth century, The Trinity is the icon of icons for many of us.

There’s green, easily representative of “the Spirit.” Hildegard of Bingen, the German Benedictine abbess, musical composer, writer, philosopher, mystic, and overall visionary, living three centuries before Rublev, called the Spirit’s endless fertility and fecundity veriditas—a quality of divine aliveness that makes everything blossom and bloom in endless shades of green.

The divine photosynthesis that grows everything from within by transforming light into itself—precisely the work of the Holy Spirit. Is that good or what? The Holy One in the form of Three—eating and drinking, in infinite hospitality and utter enjoyment between themselves.

If we take the depiction of God in The Trinity seriously, we have to say, “In the beginning was the Relationship.” This icon yields more fruits the more you gaze on it. Every part of it was obviously meditated on with great care: the gaze between the Three; the deep respect between them as they all share from a common bowl. And note the hand of the Spirit pointing toward the open and fourth place at the table! Is the Holy Spirit inviting, offering, and clearing space? If so, for what?

God is not seen as a distant, static monarch but—as we will explore together—a divine circle dance, as the early Fathers of the church dared to call it (in Greek perichoresis, the origin of our word choreography). God is the Holy One presenced in the dynamic and loving action of Three.

In other words, divine inclusion—again, what we rightly name salvation—was Plan A and not Plan B! Our final goal of union with God is grounded in creation itself, and also in our own unique creation. This was a central belief in my own spiritual formation as a Franciscan friar. Our starting place was always original goodness, not original sin. This makes our ending place—and everything in between—possessing an inherent capacity for goodness, truth, and beauty. Salvation is not some occasional, later emergency additive but God’s ultimate intention from the very beginning, even “written in our hearts.” Are you ready to take your place at this wondrous table? Can you imagine that you are already a part of the dance?

God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. My Father goes on working, and so do I. The Holy Spirit…will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

A paradigm shift is tantamount to what religion often calls “major conversion.” And it is equally rare in both science and religion! Any genuine transformation of worldview asks for such a major switch from the track we’re familiar with that often those who hold the old paradigm must actually die off before a new paradigm can gain traction and wide acceptance. Even more shocking is Kuhn’s conclusion that a paradigm shift has little to do with logic or even evidence, and everything to do with cataclysmic insight and breakthrough. German mystic Meister Eckhart called this phenomenon “boiling”!

History has so long operated with a static and imperial image of God—as a Supreme Monarch who is mostly living in splendid isolation from what he—and God is always and exclusively envisioned as male in this model—created. This God is seen largely as a Critical Spectator (and his followers do their level best to imitate their Creator in this regard). We always become what we behold; the presence that we practice matters. That’s why we desperately need a worldwide paradigm shift in Christian consciousness regarding how we relate to God.

Instead of God being the Eternal Threatener, we have God as the Ultimate Participant—in everything—both the good and the painful. Instead of an Omnipotent Monarch, let’s try what God as Trinity demonstrates as the actual and wondrous shape of the Divine Reality, which then replicates itself in us and in “all the array” of creation.

Instead of God watching life happen from afar and judging it… How about God being inherent in life itself? How about God being the Life Force of everything? Instead of God being an Object like any other object… How about God being the Life Energy between each and every object (which we would usually call Love or Spirit)? This allows God to be much larger, at least coterminous with the ever-larger universe we are discovering, and totally inclusive—what else could any God worthy of the name be? Instead of the small god we seem stuck with in our current (and dying) paradigm, usually preoccupied with exclusion, the Trinitarian Revolution reveals God as with us in all of life instead of standing on the sidelines, always critiquing which things belong and which things don’t. The Trinitarian Revolution reveals God as always involved instead of the in-and-out deity that leaves most of humanity “orphaned” much of the time. Theologically, of course, this revolution repositions grace as inherent to creation, not as an occasional additive that some people occasionally merit. If this revolution has always been quietly present, like yeast in the dough of our rising spirituality, it might help us understand the hopeful and positive “adoption” and “inheritance” theologies of Paul and the Eastern Fathers over the later, punitive images of God that have dominated the Western church. This God is the very one whom we have named “Trinity”—the flow who flows through everything, without exception, and who has done so since the beginning. Thus, everything is holy, for those who have learned how to see. The implications of this spiritual paradigm shift, this Trinitarian Revolution, are staggering: every vital impulse, every force toward the future, every creative momentum, every loving surge, every dash toward beauty, every running toward truth, every ecstasy before simple goodness, every leap of élan vital, as the French would say, every bit of ambition for humanity and the earth, for wholeness and holiness, is the eternally-flowing life of the Trinitarian God. Whether we know it or not! This is not an invitation that you can agree with or disagree with. It is a description of what is already happening in God and in everything created in God’s image and likeness. This triune God allows you, impels you, to live easily with God everywhere and all the time: in the budding of a plant, the smile of a gardener, the excitement of a teenage boy over his new girlfriend, the tireless determination of a research scientist, the pride of a mechanic over his hidden work under the hood, the loving nuzzling of horses, the tenderness with which eagles feed their chicks, and the downward flow of every mountain stream. This God is found even in the suffering and death of those very things! How could this not be the life-energy of God? How could it be anything else? Such a big definition of life must include death in its Great Embrace, “so that none of your labors will be wasted.” In the chirp of every bird excited about a new morning, in the hard beauty of every sandstone cliff, in the deep satisfaction at every job well done, in the passion of sex, and even in a clerk’s gratuitous smile to a department store customer or in the passivity of the hospital bed, “the world, life or death, the present or the future—all belong to you; [and] you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God,” as the apostle Paul puts it. It is one Trinitarian Flow since the beginning.

It is not about being obviously religious. We have tried that for centuries with small results; it’s about being quietly joyous and cooperative with the divine generosity that connects everything to everything else.