Friday, May 25, 2018

You Are the Dance

I’ll be honest with you.  I tried for years to make Trinity Sunday something memorable.  I was even rector of a Trinity Parish for thirteen years.  So at least on thirteen different occasions I worked hard to make it something other than the last Sunday of the church school year, the Sunday that often fell on Memorial Day weekend, the Sunday that paled in comparison to Pentecost the week before, the Sunday that Hallmark cards knew nothing about, and the Sunday that clergy frequently blow by saying that the Trinity is just totally beyond understanding. 

You might want to read it.
My enthusiasm for the Trinity has been rekindled, thanks in no small measure to Richard Rohr’s new book The Divine Dance:  The Trinity and Your Transformation.[1]  The title gives the message away. The Trinity is about your transformation.  But if you’re like me, you want to know why the transformation and where it’s coming from.  You want to know, if somebody wants to transform you, what you’re being changed into.

I want to deal with those questions, but first I want to tell you a couple of stories about my own pilgrimage with the Trinity.  When in seminary one of my first and favorite courses was one entitled “The History of Christian Doctrine to the Middle Ages.” When we read St. Augustine’s famous tract “On the Trinity,” I was tickled by his phrase, “vestigia Trinitatis,” which can be translated “traces of the Trinity” or “footprints of the Trinity.”  Augustine found that there were three’s all over the place in nature, in human beings, and so on.  I thought it was hilarious.  Smart-aleck that I was, to some of my friends I lampooned the idea saying that I supposed when Augustine ran into some poison ivy with its three-leaf clusters he thought of the Holy Trinity.  Now, however, I have come to see that Augustine was onto something, as we’ll see in a moment.

A couple of years after seminary, I was ordained and in my first parish as the curate.  On my first Trinity Sunday, which fell soon after my arrival, my rector preached a sermon in which he said that the Trinity—one God expressed as three persons—contains the brilliant insight that the very nature of God is relationship.  For God cannot be understood apart from community—it’s in God’s very nature.  I’ve spent the ensuing 45 years processing that sentence.  Putting both these anecdotes together, I can see how for years I’ve been carrying around with me these two ideas that have now come not only to make sense to me but are quite literally transforming the way I approach and appropriate reality.  Augustine’s notion of the traces of God throughout nature has less to do with poison ivy and shamrocks than it has to do with relationship.  We now know that everything in the universe affects everything else. There is literally nothing in complete isolation, because isolation is an illusion at best.  Not only is everything related to something, but each category of thing, no matter how we slice the cake, is contained within a larger category.  In quantum physics, “entangled particles” remain connected so that actions performed on one affect the other, even when they are separated by great distances. Einstein dubbed it "spooky action at a distance."[2]  Although this might be a prominent but unique example of relatedness, the same thing occurs repeatedly in both physical and psychic experience.  Even without resorting to these sorts of discussions, consult your own experience to find how not a day goes by that you are not affected in hundreds of ways by a host of things.  It comes from being in a body.  Because bodies have to be somewhere.  And that somewhere is always some kind of environment, if nothing more than a bed in ICU or a prison cell where a body is affected by whatever else is in that space.

Entangled particles

My friend Bruce P. Grether has recently published The 9 Realities of Stardust, in which he argues persuasively that nothing is actually separate from anything else.[3]  We are quite literally stardust, creatures that are made out of stars born of the Big Bang, stars that died and turned to dust just as we ourselves will do.  And the dust of the stars becomes the stuff of planets that ultimately takes the shape of specific forms.  Fascinating! You see where this is going.  The Force that sets off the Big Bang bringing the universe into existence is the Source that incarnates itself in every particle, quark, string in the universe.  What is not material is the sheer energy of that Force itself.
Peter Paul Rubens, "The Three Graces."  1630-35, in the Prado, Madrid.
In Greek mythology, the Graces are often depicted dancing together in
unity, not unlike the Greek Fathers' depiction
of the divine dance of the Holy Trinity.
The name Christians give to the Source is God.  But “God,” the primal and overarching Unity, is a dynamic that manifests in three distinct ways.  There is always the Source itself. And there is always whatever way the Source makes itself known, felt, observed, experienced.  And thirdly there is what Rohr calls “The Divine Dance” engaging the two.  Rohr writes, “Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three.”[4]  The ancient Greek Church Fathers depicted the Trinity as a round dance, an endless flow of love back and forth between Father and Son, a trinitarian dynamism that goes on endlessly. 

This would all be just another exercise in trying to understand the Trinity rationally if we were to stay in our heads cogitating about it.  Quite honestly, that is where a great many people in our culture are most comfortable.  We tend to want to figure it all out before we plunge in.  But here is the very point at which I become charged about it. This divine dance is not going on somewhere out there.  It is going on right here and right now.  Not just in this church but this very minute in you and me.  There is not a cell in your body, not a substance passing through your alimentary canal, not a hair on you or a microscopic mite clinging to you that does not have the imprint of the Trinity.  It doesn’t even matter whether you believe in God enough to use the word “God.” If it exists, whether animate or inanimate, it is buzzing with life.  The dance takes the form of electrons whizzing in their subatomic clouds.  The gorgeous crystals of geodes are as alive with the dance as any bacterium or protozoan or elephant.  Complexity varies.  Consciousness makes a huge difference.  Mind differs from species to species.  Plants and planets vary widely.  But there is nothing that does not fit in the universe. 

Rainbow crystal geode

But what about other things that we associate with God?  Does this Trinity not have a moral standard?  Of course it does.  Or more precisely, of course God does.  But what our Triune God doesn’t have is a human-made morality.  And that is frequently what people suppose God is, namely a great big being who thinks like us.  Remember that the very nature of God is Love.  Thus the divine dance is pure unadulterated love.  The only way to be with the flow is to love.  We are, so far as is known, the only species on this planet that has difficulty being what we are created to be.  Plants and other animals just simply are.  Sometimes their nature is pretty.  Sometimes by our standards it’s not. 

But we humans get into deep trouble when we start living contrary to the flow.  Trinitarian morality, as evidenced by Jesus, is neither flimsy nor fluffy.  It certainly is firm, courageous, and bold.  Everything that Jesus reveals about God accords with love.  If you want to see what love is like when it is diverted and obstructed, then go to Jesus’ denunciation of the religious leaders of his time and read aloud what he says to them [Matthew 23; Luke 11:37-53].  Listen and understand that when love is thwarted, dammed up, twisted by systems how quickly it is displaced by injustice and downright hate.  Read aloud those passages in John’s gospel where Jesus takes on the forces of darkness [John 8:31-59].  Read and re-read today’s gospel about Nicodemus and hear Jesus talk about transformation in terms of being begotten anew (or “born again.”) [John 3:1-17] To live life from the motive of love is in effect to reinvent what it means to be human.  The most radical thing that Jesus ever said was “except you become as a child, you will never enter the kingdom [Matthew 18:1-4, cf. Mark 9:36-37, Luke 9:46-48].”  He was not talking about an afterlife, but a different way of living.  That is what he means when he tells Nicodemus that no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.  The child is the model not because of innocence or purity, but because the child is newly minted—and, if young enough, malleable and not stuck in ruts.  Return to that moment of your own creation, when, as the poet Rilke wrote, this happened:

God speaks to each of us as [God] makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.[5] 

That is what it means to be transformed—to return to the Source, to be in its flow, to live free, to play, to love profligately not just people but all creation.  And while you’re at it, don’t forget that love won’t go very far from you if you don’t first love yourself.

A sermon preached on Trinity Sunday, May 27, 2018.

Newly minted

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2018.

[1] Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation. New Kensington, PA:  Whitaker House, 2017).
[3] Bruce P. Grether, The 9 Realities of Stardust:  A Guide To Being Human In the Universe.  (Wimberley, TX:  Heart Bird Books, 2017).
[4] Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, Kindle Locations 362-363.

[5]  Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (The Berkley Publishing Group: 1996), 119, text alt. by the writer.

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