The Circle Dance

In the fourth century, Christian teachers in an area called Cappadocia came up with a term to help illuminate the concept of God as ‘trinity.’ They called the Trinity a ‘circle dance.’* A circle dance. Imagine three dancers engaged in complex choreography. They are interlocking and cooperating in all of their movements, separating only momentarily to rejoin again in a pattern of complicated, beautiful formations, depending on one another in each graceful configuration of bodies and movement. It is impossible to imagine such a dance with just one of the dancers. The interlocking circle, the relationship of the dance, is what gives it its character. The interrelationship of the dancers is the very nature of the dance.

This weekend liturgical traditions mark Trinity Sunday. The Trinity has always seemed a complicated concept; for decades, I saw it as a muddle, or a clever construction to address early-church wrestling about the nature of Jesus. But increasingly, progressive theologians have shed light on Trinity in a way that changes my mind. In part, they have noticed what science shows us, providing insights that illuminate the beauty of our tradition in imaging God as Trinity. What science shows us, particularly at the subatomic level, is that relationship is the very nature of reality. Nothing truly exists apart from anything else. And what the theology of Trinity has been trying to show us—what it intuited almost two thousand years before quantum physics—is that relationship is also, and has always been the nature of God. Divine nature is all about relationship. You could say the nature of reality as science is discovering is a reflection of this Divine nature.

God is relationship. This world of ours is relationship. And relationship means that nothing exists apart from, or autonomous from anything else. There is no ‘Almighty’ within interlocking relationship. God is a beautiful circle dance of equal partners. Therefore, though we hear a lot about an almighty God, Trinity tells us a more accurate characterization would be of an all-vulnerable God. An all-vulnerable God is a mutually sharing, outpouring God of relational-love. What a fun and radical concept.

There is no domination in God, there is only relationship. It is helpful for me to think of the oneness of God not as a noun but as a verb, as suggested by theologian Richard Rohr. Rather than “God is one,” to think “God is one-ing”—an action. Trinity says that in our tradition, this one-ing is the nature of reality itself. So to mark the liturgical celebration of Trinity, I say go this week and experiment with one-ing. Find a way to erase or blur the separateness between yourself and another in an act of loving relationship. This will show you, in a practical way, what the concept of Trinity is all about.

Perhaps stop trying to understand Trinity as a concept. Try instead to experience it. How would understanding God as mutual inter-loving relationship change the way we operate in the world, if we embraced self-giving, non-hierarchical relationship as the foundational nature of reality? How would we operate differently in our parent-child relationships, in the way we interact with employees, in the way we view strangers or immigrants?

We are in a time when we increasingly see division—people standing against one another. Yet at the heart of the Christian tradition is a concept of God as a dance of intertwining unity. Again, what a radical, redeeming, much-needed image. It is our challenge as Christians to live it in the world.

* No theologian has influenced me more than Richard Rohr, and I’m grateful for how his thinking and in-depth writings on Trinity have shaped my own. For a deeper treatment of the topic, see especially his book, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (2016, SPCK Publishing).

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