God as a Circle Dance

{Sermon delivered at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Woodburn, Oregon, 12.27.20; Lectionary text: John 1:1-18 (text below).}

The Prologue of John is a fitting scripture to read just after Christmas because it encapsulates so much of what we celebrate at the holiday: God coming among us; God enfleshed; God represented in the life of this baby who became a man we call Jesus. “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” our gospel passage reads. And what does this mean?

Essentially, John 1 is about the Universal Christ. What is the Universal Christ? Certain passages of the New Testament tell of what we as Christians call “the Christ” present before the beginning of all creation: “the firstborn of all creation,” in which the “fullness of God dwells,” who became present in and through all created things. John 1 is an intentional echo of Genesis 1, an echo of this idea of God scattering God’s presence throughout all created things, which is how we experience God—in and through the very stuff of creation and our own lives.

As John writes poetically, “the Word was with God.” An alternate, helpful translation for “the Word or “the Logos” is “the Blueprint.” The Blueprint was with God before all things. That means that this presence we Christians call the Universal Christ was present before creation and became incarnated in creation long before the birth of the man named Jesus from Nazareth, who we celebrate at Christmas. The Christ presence has always been present; it is God present in, or enfleshed in, all of creation. The incarnation did not begin with Christmas, it began with Genesis 1, or the Big Bang. Our experience of God in the life of a singular individual named Jesus, born as a child in a barn, gives us something to hold to—God entering into our human experience and feeling our pains as a man who fully embraced this Christ presence. But God was not un-incarnated, or absent until the birth of Jesus a mere 2000 years ago. This is what the New Testament passages about the Universal Christ alude to. This is why, as Christians, we have the symbolism, the imagery of God as a “Trinity.” God in three parts: Creator; incarnated presence of God in creation or “the Christ”; and God as the imminent, ever-present-with-us Spirit. 

I thought I would talk a bit about the Trinity today. Trinity has always been a complicated concept; I know for decades it was for me. And I think we in the church should talk about it more and do a better job of explaining and embracing it. Of all the ways of talking about God as a Trinity, I find most helpful the language of the 4th century Christian teachers known as the Cappadocian fathers and mothers. 

These early Christians called the Trinity a ‘circle dance’ (perichoresis). Think about that: God as a three-partner, circular dance. Imagine for a moment three dancers engaged in a complex dance. They are interlocking and cooperating in all of their movements, separating only momentarily to rejoin again in a pattern of complex beautiful choreography, depending on one another in each graceful configuration of bodies. It is impossible to imagine such a dance with just one of the dancers. You can’t do it. The interlocking circle, the relationship of the dance, is what gives the dance its character. The interrelationship of the dancers is the very nature of the dance.

Increasingly, theologians are noticing what science is showing us. Scientific insights help us appreciate the beauty of our tradition in imaging God as Trinity. What science demonstrates, 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 the Trinity has been trying to show us, what it intuited almost two thousand years before quantum physics and what John 1 alluded to—is that relationship is also, and has always been the nature of God. Divine nature is all about relationship. The nature of reality, as science is discovering, can be seen as a reflection of Divine nature. 

God as relationship. “The Word was with God and the Word was God.” This world of ours is relationship, which means 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 or Creator God, Trinity tells us a more accurate characterization of God would be of an ‘all vulnerable,’ ‘all giving,’ ‘all sharing’ God. God as mutual, outpouring, relational love. There is no domination or one-ups-manship in this concept of God; there is only connection—including with creation. It is helpful for me to think of the oneness of God not as a noun but as a verb. Rather than “God is one,” to think “God is one-ing”—an action. The concepts of the Trinity and of the Universal Christ in our tradition say this oneing is the nature of reality itself. 

Let us go this week and experiment with oneing. 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, who God is. 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 unity and relationship. What a radical, redeeming, much-needed image. It is our high calling and challenge to live it in the world. 

Let us go this week and experiment with oneing. 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, who God is. 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 unity and relationship. What a radical, redeeming, much-needed image. It is our high calling and challenge to live it in the world. 

John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

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