Perichoresis – The Divine Dance


Celtic Knot Tattoo An ancient symbol of the Trinity.

It’s Trinity Sunday… the day when we celebrate God who has been traditionally known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And this reflection is less about the readings… and more about the idea of concept of the Trinity.

I learned a new word a few weeks ago: Perichoresis. It means the relationship between the three persons, or personae of the Trinity. “Perichoresis” is derived from the Greek peri, “around” and chorein, which has multiple meanings among them being “to make room for”, “go forward” and “contain”.[7] Choresis is also the root word choreography. So the Trinity could be described as a divine dance.

That image or metaphor is in sharp contrast to the words of our opening hymn:
Holy, Holy, Holy
Lord God Almighty.

To me that doesn’t give any sense of the flexibility and flow and interaction that is necessary in any kind of dance. And we are all invited into the divine dance.

David Lose writes, “I have this hunch that we’ve gotten a little off track with our thinking about the Trinity. That is, I think the Trinity was the early church’s way of trying to grapple with a monotheistic belief in one God in light of their actual, lived experience of God’s activity powerfully in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and after an encounter with the power of the Holy Spirit. And the Trinity provided an answer…of sorts… somewhere along the way the Trinity because less about describing an experience of the living God and more about accepting metaphysical doctrines and definitions of God.” (

I have wondered at time, why we don’t scrap the Trinity, or simply keep it as part of our history that we have outgrown? How does it speak to us today? The number three is built into the universe in a lot of ways. It is the smallest number of lines that can enclose a space. We have water that has three phases, including ice and steam. We have a whole rich tradition of Celtic Spirituality in which the Three is a vital part. And, most important, I think, is that the Trinity models the importance of relationship for us. It speaks of working together, of caring for and loving each other. So if caring and love and collaboration are built into the very idea of God, we have a lot of learning and growing to do.

What image or images come to mind when you think of God? Is it always the same? Is it the image that you had as you were growing up? Do you have any idea where those images came from? I, like most people, carry particular images, not only of God but of the people whose stories are written in our Bible. And again, I think like most of us, I really had no idea where they came from. But I found out one day where I got most of my images. I was visiting my parents and my mother asked me if I wanted a book that I had loved as a child. It was called The Bible in Pictures. I thought that the book was long gone in one of our many moves as an Air Force family, but my mother had found it tucked away in a box. Opening it up was like discovering a lost friend. There they were: all the images from my childhood. Images that I have carried, subconsciously, into my adult life. All wonderful images, but they were a child’s images and a child’s ideas of what God and God’s people are like. And I am no longer a child. Even as I am still a child of God.

And as that child of God, I still am curious and I still explore and I still question.
Questions like:

Who is this God of ours?

What is the nature of this God?

How have people experienced God throughout the ages?

How is God made known to us in real and concrete ways?

We have traditionally referred to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And as helpful and as compelling as those images are to some, to me they can’t possibly encompass the entire nature of God. So I did what I often do, I went exploring through the Bible. I found an immense variety of images of God. Images of a baker woman, an eagle, a widow, a fortress, a rock, a king, a wind blowing freely, and many, many more. Far, far too many for us to count. I was particularly taken with a passage from Isaiah 49:

13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the LORD has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
14 But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me. (NRSV)

The first part of the passage from Isaiah speaks about the wonder of creation, the joy and exultation that was God’s when God created the world. So in this short little passage we are talking on the one hand of the Creator, the One who Spoke the universe into being in the Big Bang. And then in the second part we have the cuddling God. The God that snuggles a nursing baby, the God who remembers each of us because we are carved on the palms of God’s hands.

How could the people of that time reconcile those two views? How can we reconcile those two views? The God that is so huge and so vast and so wondrous… the God that created the moon and the stars… alongside the God that feeds us and nourishes us and holds us close.As close as a pregnant women or nursing mother.

The contrast of what is expected and what is received.

The contrast of waaaay out there, and right here.

Both real, both true, both God.

We all have stories… all of us… family stories, community stories, faith stories… some of them are rooted in the past, some are being written as we speak… and some are as
yet even unimagined.

Our most recent Statement of Faith, A Song of Faith, says this about the Trinity:

With the Church through the ages, we speak of God as one and triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We also speak of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer
God, Christ, and Spirit
Mother, Friend, and Comforter
Source of Life, Living Word, and Bond of Love,
and in other ways that speak faithfully of
the One on whom our hearts rely,
the fully shared life at the heart of the universe.

And woven through them is the love of God our Creator, Jesus our Companion and the Holy Spirit our guide.

Thanks be to God for the many ways in which the sacred can be experienced, amen.

Catherine MacDonald 2016


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