Spiritual Life: The Dance

We have seen the appeal of the spiritual life through the metaphors of longing, homecoming, and living faith. There is another one–an ancient metaphor–which carries the tone of our formation even more clearly: a dance.  [1]

The idea of a dance comes from a vision of the Trinity, and it is important early on to note that our look at spiritual formation includes the persons and work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Far from being an abstract doctrine that has little to do with us, the Trinity is a revelation of the essence of the spiritual life we are exploring.  By looking at the Trinity, we see the source, substance, and spirit of our formation.

In early Christianity this dance was called a ‘perichoresis.’  Essentially, it was a circle dance in which the persons of the Trinity went to and fro in a never-ending relationship of love, gliding back-and-forth in an orderly and rhythmic fashion. Because God is one, God was not only the dancer–God was the dance.  But it was/is a participatory dance in which each person of the Trinity had/has a part. [2]

All this might seem far afield from a series about spiritual formation, until we come to a mysterious and astounding fact, the entire creation is an expression of the dance.  What the Trinity is, the cosmos is too–both in its grandeur and in its particularity. Cynthia Bourgeault calls it “the law of three.” [3]

At the macro level, everything orbits around everything else.  It is a circle dance that goes farther into space than we can see, but it is a pattern we can detect through the entire cosmos. At the micro level, a dance is going on inside each of us at the molecular level–a circle dance–as atomic components spin and whirl around each other.  Life is a dance from the smallest particle to the fartherest star.

Being made in the image of God, we bear likeness to God.  The God who dances has made us to dance in our spirit, soul, and body.  Spiritual formation facilitates the dance.  But what does that mean?

Among other things it means that the cultivation of the spiritual life is natural, in sync with the pattern and purpose of our being.  E. Stanley Jones wrote that our experience of abundant life would move us to exclaim, “For this I am made!”  Experiencing God and maturing in God enlivens us at the deepest level of our being.  It writes the note of joy into every nerve, cell, tissue, and fiber of our being.

And so, the song invites what God hopes for in everyone and everything, “Dance, dance wherever you may be!”

[1] Richard Rohr & Mike Morrell, ‘The Divine Dance’ (SPCK, 2016).  The book revives the idea of the Trinity and restores it to its renewing power in our lives.

[2] Elias Marechal, ‘The Tears of an Innocent God’ (Paulist Press, 2015), 7.

[3] Cynthia Bourgeault, “The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity’ (Shambala, 2013).

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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