A few years ago, I attended the fiftieth wedding anniversary of some dear friends of mine. It was a wonderful celebration with lots of good food and drink, good-natured kidding of the anniversary couple by the best man (the husband’s brother) and then they cut the cake and started the dance. The anniversary couple had the first dance, and they could still glide gracefully across the floor together, anticipating each other’s moves in a wonderful synchronization to the music, which was “Our Love is Here to Stay.”
Dancing is a lot of fun: I used to dance a bit. I’ve gone to polkas and waltzes and line dancing and contra dancing. I’ve even been in a couple of school musicals. Dancing takes a good sense of rhythm, coordination, balance, grace and a feel for what everybody else on the dance floor is doing. Dance is delightful to watch as well as participate in, particularly if the dancers are first rate. It also has a lot to teach us about moving together, learning to share one mind, one rhythm, one movement, even if only for a short time. It can broaden our awareness as we move with someone across the floor mindful of those around us. Of course, I’m not talking about slam dancing, and if that’s your thing, fine, but that’s not the kind of dancing I’m talking about here.
When we contemplate the Holy Trinity, it’s tough to get a handle on the concept; there are few images that help us. The shamrock bailed St. Patrick out: the Irish weren’t getting the idea of the Trinity and looked as if they were going to kill Patrick until he looked down and found the shamrock. But the nature of the three in one is difficult. God is love, and that love was so strong that it became a presence in the Christ, and the love of the Father and the Son going back and forth became personified in the Spirit. Heady language and easy to misunderstand. It’s not three Gods. It’s not one God taking turns being the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s not One God with three labels. It’s the edge of comprehension, but still a mystery, and sometimes we just have accept the mystery and live through it.
We have known God in at least three ways through the ages. The Father created the world, entered into history to work with a Chosen People: Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Jeremiah among others. The Son took flesh in Bethlehem, lived life as we lived it, taught us how to live life fully, brings healing, feeds us his Body and Blood reconciles us through the Cross and Resurrection, ascended into heaven, speaks on our behalf. The Spirit came upon the Jesus at the Jordan, and upon the Apostles at Pentecost to send them out into the world to preach the good news, guides the Church today, reminds us of Jesus and who we are, transforms the gifts on the altar into Christ’s Body and Blood. God has come to us in many ways, and most specially in Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The working of the Trinity is mystery: we have few ways to imagine it. We can talk about a transcendental interchange between the three, acting in perfect harmony, separate but undivided. It has been pictured many ways in art through the ages and we have a hard time seeing it.
There is one image from ancient Egypt that I think can help us: it’s called terpsichoresis. The image is three individuals dancing in a circle holding hands, moving in perfect harmony but staying constant in relationship to one another, reveling in one another, in perfect step and perfect grace. For me, this is a good way to imagine it. It’s a model of community, a way to imagine all of us in one big dance: being ourselves and yet being one as part of a larger whole.
As Church we are part of the life of the Trinity. We are part of the cosmic dance when we are joined with God. With the saints and all those faithful who’ve gone ahead of us, we take part in the dance that never ends; when we’re in the rhythm and the music of the Trinity, then we are whole and at peace with the ourselves and the universe.
Usually where there’s a dance, there’s food. We have food and drink to help us stay in part of the dance, the Body and Blood of Christ. Through this food and drink we gain the strength to keep up in the dance, we can hold one another close, we can hold close to Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and be part of the great dance of eternity.