Saturday, February 28, 2009

lord of the dance

Elizabeth A. Johnson in Quest for the Living God, expanding on the analogy between perichoresis and the cognate word for choreography:

"If God is dancing, why not step out to the contagious rhythms of salsa, merengue, calypso, swing, or reggae or to the intricate a-rhythmic patterns of modern dance? The point is, with the three circling around in a mutual, dynamic movement of love, God is not a static being but a plenitude of self-giving love, a saving mystery that overflows into the world of sin and death to heal, redeem, and liberate. The whole point of this history of God with the world is to bring the world back into the life of God's own communion, back into the divine dance of life." (p. 214)

The word perichoresis first caught my attention while I was reading for my master's thesis. What a funny word! Broken into its parts it's: peri - around + choresis - dancing. I didn't entirely get it. It was something to do with the trinity, the communion of those aspects, and them giving to everything else. What has God "dancing around" got to do with any of that? But it certainly captures the imagination. I mean, imagine the trinity that way - not some dry theological fine point anymore, is it. I noted it in my blog and kept on with my reading.

So it's like running into a friend of a friend at my favorite take-out place to find that word again in another book that is significant to me. Maybe we'll get to know each other a little better this time.

The word was embedded in a chapter devoted to the recall and revitalization of the trinity as an expression and understanding of an essentially different relationship with God made possible through Christ. A trinitarian description of God began as a vivid articulation that in addition to the God whose name is YHWH and goes unspoken, there is also God as we know in the historical life of Jesus and God as we know in the ongoing presence of the Spirit. YHWH drew near to us, nearer than a burning bush or still small voice, by living with us as one of us, extending that solidarity to the point of death. That is a phenomenal gift. It continues with Jesus' resurrection and upon his return to Heaven we perceive the Holy Spirit which remains with us granting insight, supporting & prompting change in the world, offering comfort in the midst of this great work.

Getting back to perichoresis, Johnson leads up to it with this description on the previous page, "The holy mystery of God is not a single monolith with a rigid nature, an undifferentiated whole, but a living fecundity of relational life that overflows to the world."

And now I start to get it. There is a Mystery. We learn to let it be Mystery and simultaneously we try to articulate what we have observed and experienced of it. We say, "it is a Transcendent Other, and an Historical Man, and an Immanent Companion." We say anything about it at all because we want to honor it (along with our less flattering motives). We believe, and the evidence of these three ways of meeting the Mystery fosters that belief, that it wants to know and be known, love and be loved, by us.

Johnson, Elizabeth A. Quest for the Living God: Mapping frontiers in the theology of God. New York: Continuum. 2007

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