The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation [book review]

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Being a serious glutton for all things knowable, I once took a seminary class on the history of the doctrine of the Trinity. It was hours and hours of the immanent Trinity versus the economic Trinity, and what this or that theologian thinks and why the others think he or she is wrong. While it was clearly a shameless indulgence of my insatiable 5 Wing (of the enneagram), it was actually a good class. It was fascinating. And disappointing. Even with interesting material and an engaging professor, it could not manage to really stir my heart. In this tumultuous age, many of us are yearning for something beyond metaphysical ideas and doctrinal words. We want what will touch – and change– the heart. We want something that will bring us to life again.

In the Divine Dance, Richard Rohr (with Mike Morrell) brings forth a dynamic exploration of this Mystery in a way that is as moving, joyful and enlivening as the Trinity itself. I have often thought that the emphasis on doctrinal jots and tittles over two millennia is to create a tabernacle to shield us from the world rocking reality of actual engagement with the living God. (I do not deny the need for sound scholarship.) However, Rohr invites us to see and live in the relationality that is God’s very essence, the reality in which we truly live and move and have our being. Rohr asserts, “Everything you have ever seen with your eyes is the self-emptying of God into multitudinous physical and visible forms.” There is a deeper, truer foundation from which to live. It is not merely to be understood, it is to be experienced.

It is clear that the world is in crisis. We are enjoying more global connectedness than ever before in history due to the ubiquitous access to the Internet, but that has also enabled the questioning of many old paradigms as well as what we had assumed were unshakable foundations of knowing. We are seeing tiny fissures grow into deep fractures at all levels of human culture, creating extreme polarities that are often defended by the circling of exclusivity wagons and at times, even with violence. In our western hyper-individualism we claw and climb and trample over one another to plant our flag at the top of our religious, political or financial mountaintop. Rohr says, “In our western isolation we become masters of our own shrinking Kingdoms, Empathy starves in those hermetically sealed containers of self; goodness goes there to die.”

And yet, Rohr and many others are sensing that there is something even deeper going on. Paul Young writes in the introduction, “Waters made of many voices rise into a fountain of life that is collecting dreams- of expectancy and chronic wonder and longing love – the cusp of a new reformation and the release of renaissance. As wonderful as revival has been, it has never been enough. We have witnessed the shattering of old wineskins and watched the blood red wine be absorbed into the ground. For those with eyes to see, they look out from a towering, rising mass of living water about to crash over the planet.”

Richard Rohr testifies to the fountain fullness of God in our midst. While the doctrine of the Trinity is for most of us as dry as sitting in a seminary class in the heart of summer with the beach only a few miles away (I really did that), Rohr brings us back to the circle dance of life and love that is at the center of everything. He writes, “Trinity is the ultimate paradigm shift.” It teaches us to see as Jesus did. He invites us to look anew, and see the dance of the Trinity in and as all things. “We see this flow in the attraction of all beauty, in all admiring, in all ecstasy, in all solidarity with any suffering. Anyone who fully allows the flow will see the Divine image even in places that have become ugly or undone. This is the universal seeing of the Trinity.”

What is key for Rohr is kenosis – the self-emptying of God. Kenosis is the pouring out of one’s life to another and is the eternal happening of the divine Being. Kenosis is more than self sacrifice, it is a movement of self-giving toward the other. It also creates the possibility of receiving the other because self-emptying creates space for the other. To be a human person is to be in this movement toward the other and open to receive the other. We see this is again and again in the life of Jesus – being “for the other”. This is the reality of the life of Jesus and the intra-Trinitarian life. And therefore, it is our life as well.

What happened on the cross, Rohr says, is the “visible symbol of what is always going on inside of God.” To follow Jesus is to be invited into this life, just as he has modeled the path of kenosis and calls us to follow him on it. In this radically new way of being in the world, we can move beyond hierarchies and power grabs, and learn to see from the underside as Jesus did, in solidarity with those on the margins. There is a place for us in the inner life of God in which we can live as we are truly are with our “inherent capacity for goodness, truth and beauty.”

Clearly, I highly recommend this book. I have studied in the Living School for two years and believe deeply in what Fr. Richard teaches. I have only one criticism, which is that I wish that Richard would articulate how he comes to his theological conclusions a bit more precisely because too many of my theologian friends freak out a bit at what first may appear to be some theological jumps. Even so, this book will stir the heart towards the very real healing and hope brought about by a life lived in the light of a dancing God. As Rohr writes, life within the dancing, vibrant Trinity offers a “grounded reconnection with God, self and others that most things such as religion and politics and success are searching for but can never attain.” And we need to learn to live from the life of God now more than ever.

Rohr, R. & Morrell, M. (2016). The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House. 217 pages.

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