The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation
Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell. Whitaker House (whitakerhouse.com), 2016. PP. 224 $16.
Reviewed by Patty de Llosa
“We must begin with Trinity if we are to rebuild Christianity from the bottom up. The Trinity is absolutely foundational to Christianity because it reveals the heart of the nature of God.”
–Fr. Richard Rohr1
In his foreword to this new book from Roman Catholic priest and author Father Richard Rohr, William Paul Young, author of “The Shack,” refers to communities of intelligent mystics who summon us to participate more consciously “in this divine dance of loving and being loved.” Rohr leads such a band, and in The Divine Dance he sets out to overturn what he considers a static image of God, inviting us to see Him not as “the Eternal Threatener,” but as “the Ultimate Participant—in everything—both the good and the painful.” For Rohr, God is “a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between three—a circle dance of love.”
Thus begins his latest book of 224 pages in three parts—not a lot of space in which to challenge millennial ideas or evoke cosmic perspectives around the Christian concept of the Trinity. The first section explains the need for what he calls a Trinitarian Revolution. In the second, Rohr explores the many difficulties that come between us and the experience of the presence of God, as he asks (or rather tells us), Why the Trinity? Why Now? In the third part, by far the shortest, he addresses the Holy Spirit.
We are invited to envision God neither as a fusty, bearded guy who sits in judgment on us; nor as a kind Santa Claus with our personal interests at heart and a bag of goodies for those who follow his Commandments; nor as an old-fashioned, irrelevant belief system; nor, finally, as “fire insurance just in case the whole thing turns out to be real.” Instead, Rohr’s God is a divine threesome, “a life force of everything flowing through us and all creation”; a “Divine Wave” rather than a “static, particle God,” because “the energy in the universe is not in the planets, or in the protons, or neurons, but in the relationship between them.”
A Franciscan friar and teacher with a worldwide following through his books (Everything Belongs, etc.), conferences, and daily e-meditations, Rohr is Dean of the Living School for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Cynthia Bourgeault and James Finley are part of the core faculty. A proponent of the Emerging Church Movement that attempts to cross theological boundaries, Rohr calls on us to be partners with God through contemplation, self-emptying, and the expression of radical compassion—especially of the socially marginalized. His co-writer and long-time friend Mike Morrell is a freelance journalist and communications director of the think tank Presence International.
In The Divine Dance, Rohr calls for a paradigm shift to a new way of experiencing the Trinity because “the greatest dis-ease facing humanity right now is our profound and painful sense of disconnection” from the divine, from ourselves, and from the world we live in. Such a reexamination of the Trinity is both urgent and essential for three reasons. First, our deep need for transcendence—the inner individuation process, which Rohr believes true religion serves. Second, “the globalization of knowledge,” which teaches us more about other religions every day, and brings new words into our vocabulary to replace the limited theological language of the past. And third, the need to reassess our restricted understanding of the Cosmic Christ as opposed to the human representative, Jesus. In this regard, Rohr insists that our tendency “to love Jesus without living (or even knowing) the Christ…has created an unhealthy tribal, competitive form of religion.” He suggests that we visualize Jesus as the representative of God who “walks with us,” but view the Christ in cosmic, metaphysical terms.
Here’s the math behind Rohr’s Trinitarian message: while One is lonely, and Two oppositional, the number Three represents a moving, dynamic, and generative flow. “In the beginning was the relationship,” he affirms, and therein lies our salvation. His new approach calls for new definitions: “The Father is Being itself” (think of the words flowing, formless, nothingness, mystery), and the Christ is a “living manifestation” of that Being. What’s more, the major future task of Christian theology and practice will be to bring Jesus and the Christ together in our understanding. As for the Holy Spirit or “Implanted Hope,” whenever it is missing, we are robbed of that “inner aliveness that keeps people from dying from their wounds.”
Throughout The Divine Dance, the emphasis is on experience or practice rather than words or beliefs, because Rohr concludes that in the search for God we must always deal in approximations, similes, allegories, and metaphors. He is convinced that, in the future, Christianity will be based less on belief and more on practice or what he calls “body-based knowledge”—“the basic sacramental principle (that) we can know spiritual things through the physical world and bodily actions.” To move forward, we must join the process, the flow, the dance, with all our doubts, living our questions rather than seeking answers. “The foundational good news is that creation and humanity have been drawn into this flow. We are not outsiders or spectators but inherently part of the divine dance,” he insists. “The divine dance isn’t a closed circle—we’re all invited!” And to those who hold back, uncertain of their welcome, he adds: “God is on your side, honestly more than you are on your own.”
To get started, he urges us to wake up from “mechanical thinking,” citing Russian philosopher P. D. Ouspensky’s suggestion that we must learn to separate the mechanical from the conscious.2 And Rohr’s challenging question, “How about God being the Life Force of Everything…the Life Energy between each and every object?” calls to mind the cosmic view that Ouspensky’s teacher, G. I. Gurdjieff, introduced in Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson:3 the trogoautoegocratic process created by God “to permit the exchange of substances,” or “reciprocal feeding” of everything existing in the universe.
While most of Rohr’s writing has a lyric quality, he is not afraid to offer a few harsh truths. In a message as contemporary as this morning’s news, he says: “When you see people protecting their small tribes and self-constructed identities as if they were lasting or inherently meaningful, you know that they’ve not yet experienced substantial reality. When you allow the flow of substantial reality through your life, you are a catholic person in the truest sense of the word, a universal person living beyond these tiny boundaries that human beings love to create.”
The Divine Dance ends with an appendix of seven practices to help the reader experience the Trinity in daily life. Among them is Movement—“trusting and enjoying the flow”—specifically in a conscious and loving repetition of the sign of the cross. Rohr also recommends Walking Meditation, “out in the real, open and unpredictable world” in “Holy goallessness,”especially for those who have difficulty sitting still. And there is Watchfulness, along with the Mirror Medallion, which he uses in his retreats and conferences. It can be worn facing out to indicate that the wearer has chosen to be silent, and also serves as an invitation to develop “the mirror mind,” as one learns to look without judging or labeling what is seen in oneself and others.
I asked retired Episcopal priest Jim Gill, who has read several of Rohr’s books and attended one of his retreats, for his opinion of The Divine Dance and his fellow ecclesiastic. “We are used to the pyramid shape with God at the top and everything else below,” he replied. “But no, says Rohr, not a triangle but a circle. His circle dance of the Trinity will rearrange our Christian imagination! The more I read and reread Rohr on the Trinity, the more it makes sense to me, and the more I am willing to go with him in this dance…not learning a theological proposition, but joining a divine dance!” ♦
1 Rohr, Richard, daily blog, Center for Action and Contemplation, firstname.lastname@example.org
2 P. D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching (New York: Harcourt, 1949).
3 Georges I. Gurdjieff, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson: An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man (New York: Harcourt, 1950).