Many years ago, I endured one of the required social rituals of preadolescent youth in the ‘70’s, at least where I lived-dancing classes, or more precisely, “Cotillion classes.” Weeks of instruction for cultured young ladies and gentlemen in ballroom dancing, manners and social graces. Being 11 years old with glasses, and sufficiently uncoordinated, it was a terrible experience for me, and I suspect it was for most of the equally awkward boys with whom I tried to waltz, cha-cha, foxtrot and tango. Alternating between nervousness and boredom. I have gone on to enjoy dancing, but I still am not really very good at it, and I am certain it would take serious lessons with a very patient teacher to make me dance-worthy, much less reach the level of the people on “Dancing with the Stars.” And just as much today as all those years ago, I would not be anyone’s likely choice for dancing partner.
And yet, despite my experiences, I find that dancing is a useful way of understanding the interaction of the Trinity- the persons of God with each other and with us. On this Sunday when we celebrate the majesty and mystery of God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I cannot fully explain how God is three Persons in One who are distinct yet undivided. And ballroom dancing will not show that either, but I think dancing is useful to show how God interacts.
In ballroom dancing, there is a “lead” and a “follow.” It takes two to dance- a “lead” and a “follow.” You cannot both lead- my toes remember that. And you cannot both follow.
Moving while maintaining unity also takes a framework- the phrase “being in frame” is dancing lingo for two moving as one. The “lead” starts the movement and the “follow” follows or responds. But even having a “lead” and a “follow” does not itself make a dance. It takes one thing more- music. Preferably not the drone of the instructor-“step, back, cha, cha, cha.” When there is a “lead” and a “follow” and music- there is a movement. A dance.
Brian McClaren and C.S. Lewis are two of the more modern writers who have spoken of God the Trinity as a dance. But the tune they are playing is not new. The early church writers described the Trinity in the same way, with the word “perichoresis.” A word that means dancing and circling around. A circling dance that reflects the community of being and where each person’s identity is distinct, yet moving as one. Together and around. The Trinity is that dance- an eternal, never ending dance of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the world. Showing mutual love, honor, happiness, joy and respect. This is God’s movement.
We see this in our lessons this day- God moving over the waters in creation, making springs burble forth, setting mountains in place and fixing clouds in the sky. God tracing the heavens- the sun, moon and stars with a fingertip. That image alone gives me goosebumps. And then God moves placing fish in the sea, and placing them in schools to splash in the paths of the sea. More movement. Places animals in herds to travel the earth. Watch any of the documentaries about our planet, and the aerial views of what happens here is always showing life in movement. Even the Earth has a song.
Last year, NASA Science News reported that the Earth has a song- the sound of electromagnetic waves around the Earth hums. It is called a chorus. Imagine the broad moving dance of our planet with all of creation humming that tune. This captures the majesty of the language in Proverbs and Psalm 8 in a broad scale.
At the same time lately I’ve been looking at the dance of creation on a small scale in my backyard. In the dance of ants on peonies. If you have ever seen peony bushes and their flowers you know they always have ants. Every year when the peonies form buds there are groups of ants dancing on those buds as they sway in the breeze. The first time I had a peony bush I decided those ants needed to go and I sprayed. Overstepping my bounds. It did not affect the peonies but it did affect God’s arrangement. For years I was told that the ants come to eat open the outer shell on the bud so the plant will bloom. This is not true, but what is true is that those buds have a nectar that the ants can feast upon. For days they get to feast before God moves them on somewhere else in the dance.
But just in case we humans see ourselves as superior to the rest of creation, God’s world gives us other ways to see we too have a place in something much bigger. Years ago we traveled to Nova Scotia and I got the stand on the floor of the ocean in the Bay of Fundy. At low tide you can stand on the floor of the ocean and look up at rock formations towering 70 feet over your head, carved by the constant movement in and out of the water. But you better not be there when the tide comes in. It rushes in suddenly changing the water level by 54 feet! Being there blows your mind and gives that sense of the question we heard today- who are WE that God is mindful of us?
Who are WE that God is mindful of us?
It’s more than just noticing us- It’s not like God says “Oh look there are some humans over there.” God has us in mind.
The dancing Trinity has us in mind. And McClaren notes, God’s act of creation means God is inviting us into the dance. We are invited into the middle of God’s eternal dance- of mutual love, and honor, happiness, joy and respect. And unlike those awkward dance class days where we wonder if anyone will notice us or ask us- God’s whole vision is for all of us to join in the dance.
Sin sometimes makes our dancing difficult, one writer notes- we get out of sync, or frustrated. We step on toes or stomp around rather than moving with grace and reverence. We get in each other’s way. But then God in Jesus Christ came and comes more fully known to restore the rhythm and beauty again. And in the Holy Spirit we are reminded and guided, just as we hear this day in the gospel-
We will be guided into all truth. And invited to dance again and to reflect the God who makes the dance happen.
This is not only what blesses us, but gives us the capacity to rejoice in God’s presence and to delight in the dance with all humanity and all creation.
Again this day we celebrate because in the work of the Trinity, God says to each and to all
You’re just who I had in mind- Let’s dance!