The Flow of the Divine: The Dance of Trinity
Pastor Brian Rajcok
At my first call congregation in Pennsylvania they had an event once a month called the Friendship Dance. It was a dance for mentally challenged adults that’s been going on for the past 30 years. Every month there was a live DJ and snacks and a bunch of volunteers and of course our guests. We had special events like Santa coming in December and the Easter Bunny in April, and our visitors always had a good time. I used to go and show off my dance moves and made friends with some of our regular attendees, and I think I may’ve learned more about what it means to be the body of Christ at that dance than I did in any seminary class. The fellowship with the volunteers and the conversations with our guests showed me the face of Christ in the world.
When we think of what it means to be human, what it means to be created in the image of God, we often think of it meaning having intelligence, will power, a strong sense of self. But theologian and psychiatric chaplain John Swinton notes how this way of thinking leaves many persons with mental illness out of the image of God. Instead of intelligence, will power, and self identity, some words Swinton would say define the image of God would be community, relationship, and love. Being part of those Friendship Dances taught me this truth. I learned in practice what I’d heard about in theology books: God being made present in a community of outsiders. I saw God present in community, on the dance floor, at snack time, in the smiles of our guests for whom this was the highlight of their month. And I was also reminded of the wonderful metaphor for the Holy Trinity as God’s dance of community.
Today is Holy Trinity Sunday. A week after Pentecost. It’s a day to contemplate the mystery of God we understand as Trinity. And to explore its meaning for our lives. Theologians in the early church who explained the reality of the Trinity spoke of it as “perichoresis” which basically means “circle dance”. Trinity is a dance between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s not a top-down hierarchy. It’s a relationship. It’s a community. It’s a flow of love and oneness in the midst of diversity.
But far too often we’ve been taught directly or indirectly that the idea of Trinity means a patriarchal hierarchy with the Father as king of the universe, Jesus the prince, and the Holy Spirit the third in command. It seemed to be more a theory about who was in charge than anything else. The church didn’t always have this idea, but from at least the middle ages down to the 20th century the church seems to have framed our model of God the same way we frame our model of society. The top-down, authoritarian, legalistic way we understood God led to a top-down, authoritarian, legalistic way we understood the world. And I think the other way around is probably even more true: that our topdown, authoritarian, legalistic way of running society shaped our view of God to match it.
Thinking God was about power and control, a ruler rather than a lover, ready to punish anybody who doesn’t accept Him as king, has had a major impact on human history. It’s influenced the way we interact with nature and the environment, the way we teach our children, the way our politics and our economy are structured, and the way we associate with people of other nations, races, and religions. All these reflect a top-down, authoritarian, legalistic way of understanding the universe.
Human morality and ways of living in the world reflect a deeper misunderstanding of the nature of reality, that is, the nature of God as Trinity. You see, ancient peoples imagined gods like Zeus or Molech who demanded worship and sacrifice from humans. These gods were about proving your worth and earning whatever favor they gave you. It seems it’s human nature to think this way, and the church has often fallen back into this line of thinking. But the God manifested in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ is not a God you have to sacrifice to or a God you need to earn anything from. Our God is a God who sacrifices for us, a God who loves us and woos us to love Him back.
The ancient idea was you had to sacrifice to God to get God to love you. Jesus’ life and death flipped the whole notion of sacrifice upside-down. It was enormously countercultural then and we still don’t really understand it. God doesn’t demand sacrifices from us in order to be loved and accepted. In fact God loves and accepts so much that God sacrifices for us. That’s the message of the cross.
The early church understood how truly countercultural this message was, and their theology of the Trinity reflected it. Trinity was about God eternally giving Godself to the other: the Father to the Son and the Son to the Spirit and the Spirit back to the Father. And all three pouring themselves into creation with love and acceptance, self-giving and sacrifice. It was like a waterwheel pouring everything it has into the other. In an act of utmost trust and love, each giving away everything and then receiving it all back again, and then giving it all away again. The humility and self-giving nature of God is what flows through the entire universe. Living in union with God is about joining in that flow of emptying yourself and being filled to the brim and emptying yourself and being filled back up again.
It is our calling as children of God to grow up from our old ways of understanding the divine. And to discover what the early church knew full well: that God calls us to join the flow of the universe, the gentle acceptance of all things, neither resisting nor clinging to anything, but rather gliding with the energy of the Spirit and joining the dance of Trinity ourselves.
Like my friends at Hope Lutheran’s Friendship Dance who may not have had the mental capacities to study the theology and doctrines of the church, but who experienced God through community and relationship, so should all people enter into the flow of that divine relationship. Let us all enter into that flow, inviting God to change our nature and transform our lives. This mystery at the center of faith calls us to participate in community, self-giving, and acceptance. We are invited to join the dance of Trinity and to reveal this divine reality with our lives. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.