The dance of life

Trinity Sunday

Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31

Psalm 8

Romans 5:1-5

John 16.12-15

12 July 2022

The dance of life                                                                ©Suzanne Grimmett

“Now what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.”

These words of the character, Thomas Gradgrind are among the most famous of literary first lines.  It is from Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, a satirical masterpiece about the evils of utilitarian philosophies which based moral choices around the greatest good for the greatest number, using so called statistics and averages to determine such outcomes.

I was thinking of this as I approached the formulaic way many seek to describe the doctrine of the Trinity, and how easily we can approach the whole of our religious understanding in similar terms, aiming for doctrinal purity and liturgical correctness, all the while weighing the balance scales of morality.

Greek theologian, Christos Yannaras, liked to say that Christianity is not a religion- it’s life. It would be hard to find a more succinct critique of the kind of thinking that would explain God or reduce Christianity to doctrinal statements. Yannaras would say also that good and evil is not the measure for all morality but rather, Christianity enables us to see that the real choices are between life and death.

So this morning I will not be producing intricate doctrinal statements about the nature of the Trinity, but hopefully I will be talking about God and about life. One thing Trinity Sunday should provide is the opportunity to zoom out and talk about the big questions of the nature of God and what is real, but we cannot afford to be sidelined by intellectual formulations and deadening dissections of that which only makes sense in spiritual experience and lived practice.

One of the most powerful metaphors for the Trinity is as a Divine Dance of relationship into which we are called to join. The most important beginning place, then, is in participation. God is not, like Zeus or other bearded ancient gods, a great big other in the sky, but rather an in exhaustively generative source of life, as expressed so beautifully in Jim Cotter’s Collect for Trinity Sunday;

Living Presence, beyond all names,

Overflowing with creative and redeeming energy,

Continually giving life, bearing pain, making love…

 Into this presence we are invited to join with the divine source of life through the transformative power of love. This is not a maths puzzle nor even an exercise in learning the rules for good living but a story. You are in this story, and this story is in you.

And what is this story about? There are many ways to tell this story which goes on and on down the ages through the dance of creation. The dance is such a vital image as it tells us that the nature of God is not only joyful and invitational, but always moving. If nothing else, a central understanding of God as Trinity will prevent us from creating doctrinal or other idols of certainty within our religion, that, because they are static and immovable, cannot keep up with the whirling dance of God.

The dance is present in the poetic reading about wisdom in Proverbs. Wisdom, we read, was “brought forth” before the beginning of the earth, ‘when there were no springs abounding with water and before the mountains had been shaped.’ The Hebrew verb for “brought forth” may also be translated ‘whirl, dance or writhe.’  This dancer was beside the creator, ‘like a master worker’ and daily rejoicing before God and delighting in the human race.  The point is, Wisdom was there. She was always there, participating in the creative process and bringing forms to life. By now, you may be hearing the resonance with the Gospel which seeks to tell the big joyful story of God from the very beginning. We read in John 1;

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. 

Scholars are divided on the identity of Wisdom in Proverbs, but I think we can clearly hear the sense of a God who is in relationship from the get-go, and from whose relational being, an energy of love overflows into a dance of delight that breathes life into formlessness and order from chaos. The dance between the creator, saviour and sanctifier is one which has been bringing forms to life since the beginning of time, but who also has been the eternal architect of peace and justice in the ongoing creation of the world. Here we are reminded of the beautiful Psalm which assures us that God does not make and forget us, but rather continues in eternal loving attention. This astonishes the psalmist and hopefully will have struck us all in the same way once we have experienced the shocking realisation that the God of the universe cares about us in an intimate and startlingly personal way;

What are we that you should be mindful of us;

What are we that you should care for us?

The Triune God is a humbling and extravagant lover who would share the delight of their very being with their creation, opening to the creation and inviting it to participate in the ongoing joyful work. And what is this work? Wisdom raises her voice in the streets and in the town square, telling of the nature of God and the peace and justice of a world created in God’s image. We are all called to publicly be its hopeful and courageous architects. As Douglas Donley puts it, “Wisdom is the speaker who not only explains who God is, but reminds us of who we seek to be.”[1] The whirling dance of God not only brings order to the world, but brings love to life. “Justice”, says Cornel West, “is what love looks like in public.” Wisdom is about her work of making the invisible God visible, both in form and in action, and we are to join her.

The point is this. The love within the very being of God is shared and eternally self-giving in a hospitality that could not remain aloof and above creation. When a young woman from Nazareth said, “Let it be done according to your will”, a new expression of the self-giving wisdom of God was nurtured in her womb and wrapped in human flesh. When the Spirit of Wisdom was poured out at Pentecost, God’s presence set about enlightening and enlivening the world one person at a time, bringing a revolutionary peace through the Christ who made a way with his own body.  Although many have tried to craft this atoning act into a formula, it is a wondrous story of love and mercy that will rupture and subvert any attempt to make our salvation into an equation. It is a story of participation in a mercy shockingly wide and inclusive, offering a forgiveness that does not have to descend from the heavens because it is right here amongst us. How revolutionary this was, is witnessed to by the rage of religious leaders every time Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed the forgiveness of sins. So much was invested in the religious systems that kept God in his heaven that the Divine Dance making a new way on earth was too confronting for some. Worse still, God took the risk of making a home in us, and the dance spread wider and was embodied in all creation with the same abundant love and extravagant mercy. As we are forgiven in Christ, so we offer that same forgiveness to others, through the Spirit flowing through us. The story includes everyone, releasing the presence of grace and sharing the glory of God, on earth as it is in heaven.

So, this Trinity Sunday is an opportunity to step back from a small view of religion and take in the big picture from creation and across the cosmos. May your interactions with fact and formula not prevent you from embracing the mystery of your being and the wonder of the universe. May you know that this way that we call Christianity is also called life.  And may you sense the joy of the holy invitation of the Trinity and step into the love and freedom of the eternal dance.

+Amen


[1] Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16) (p. 82). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

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