My six-year-old daughter is all in when it comes to Christianity, except for one little thing that she can’t quite come to terms with: The Trinity. The absence of a logical explanation for the three-in-one has left her grasping at words and ideas not unlike those used and argued over in the fourth century, when the definition of the Trinity we still hold today was born. I’ve given her demonstrations with rubber bands, shamrocks, unskilled drawings, Challah bread, and interlocking rings, but she remains dubious and confused. She cycles quickly from one heresy to another, the six-year-old embodiment of all that is confounding about this particular piece of orthodoxy.
She’s far from the only one, of course. That’s where Franciscan priest and contemplative Richard Rohr comes in.
Rohr has a way of putting into words what most people can only feel, but never articulate. His new book The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, is no exception. In it he, along with Mike Morrell, invites readers to take a closer look at the mystery better known as the Holy Trinity.
The invitation is not to understand the Trinity – Rohr makes no true attempt to explain it in logical terms – but rather to experience Trinitarian “flow” firsthand, and thus know, innately, what it means to be “three-in-one.” For too long we’ve been content to carry this confounding dogma in our doxologies, our prayers, our hymns, without stopping to contemplate or fully appreciate the enormity of what is offered to us in this revolutionary and triune relationship of beings that describes the very heart and nature of God. Thus, Rohr writes, the time to further investigate the mystery is now.
This investigation, however, cannot be undertaken like an emotionally aloof science experiment. We cannot watch the test subjects to see what happens; instead, we must be the test subjects ourselves, becoming willing participants in the divine dance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the only way we can experience a true “paradigm shift” in which we kill off the old, stale, and broken notion of the Trinity for a new, revolutionary, and transformative one instead.
The revolutionary transformation behind living into the three-in-one comes from realizing that rather than being a noun, the Trinity is in fact a verb to be acted out. When we become willing actors in the Trinitarian dance, we not only become part of the relational flow between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we let the flow seep into our being, growing us into the person God intends for us to be, and allowing us to serve as mirrors of God’s love. In this deepest of relational acts, we will physically feel the truth behind the words that Christ belongs to us, and we belong to him.
But this isn’t just a decision we can make and then live into. Rohr writes that certain factors must exist before we can successfully inter into the divine dance. Among other things, we must live vulnerably, open about our weaknesses and failures. We must allow ourselves to be known to others the way that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit intuitively know each other, as well as seek to know those around us. We must be psychologically mature, and we must recognize that each person is created by God as unique and irreplaceable. We must be inclusionary, not exclusionary, and we must take to heart and live by the words of Jesus.
If we can do all of these things well and achieve living into the flow, we ourselves become Trinitarian, acting in concert with God and those around us, “perfectly handing over, emptying [our]selves out, then fully receiving.” But if we attempt to stop this flow, we enter into a state of sin, defined primarily as self-inflicted separation from God, refusing to move in the direction of our deepest God-given identity as embodied love.
This would have – and so far has had – disastrous results in which humanity holds itself aloof from its creator and continues to see God as a finger-pointing man set on retributive justice. This false notion only serves to pull us further away from the flow and out of the dance, taking us to a place where God is about exclusion rather than inclusion, punishment rather than forgiveness, and an us-versus-them mentality rather than the communal relationships the Trinity models for us. Indeed, Rohr goes so far as to say that experientially “knowing” the Trinity could end up being the “answer to the foundational problem of Western religion.”
To this end, Rohr encourages a complete psychological reconfiguration of the image of God as a stern and white-bearded man, ready and eager to assign retributive condemnation of our sins. Instead, we must come to know God as a God of restoration, constantly seeking to bring love into our lives, even in the midst of suffering. But despite Rohr’s conscious efforts to address the perennial questions around human suffering and why bad things are “allowed” to happen, I left the book with the same questions regarding human suffering I had when I entered into it. But perhaps that’s part of Rohr’s point: Until we experience firsthand what Rohr himself has experienced – dancing with the divine – we must be content with knowing God only from the outside, which is to say, not fully knowing God at all.
The next time my daughter asks me to explain the Trinity to her, rather than offer an explanation, I think perhaps I will take her by the hand and ask her to dance. And when she starts to smile and laugh the way she does when we’re being silly, I’ll stop and look her in the eyes, and say, “this – the joy you feel right now, as we hold hands and dance the steps together – is how they are one.”
I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.