Formations 06.26.2022: Joining the Dance

Ephesians 3:14-21; 2 Peter 1:4

When I was in college, I fulfilled my physical education requirements by taking two semesters of Couples, Folk, and Ballroom Dancing.

18th Estonian Dance Celebration

No, it didn’t take. Several decades later, I might if pressed be able to pull off a simple box step, but that’s about it. There is no danger I’ll ever appear on Dancing with the Stars: Baptist Edition. I did, however, come to love the traditional circle dances one associates, for example, with cultures of Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

These dances aren’t for couples. Any number of people can join in the circle, often linking arms or draping arms over the next person’s shoulders. Sometimes, if everyone knows what they’re doing or pay close attention to the instructor, a group can form interlocking circles revolving in different directions. A well-performed circle dance is complex, precise, and unreservedly jubilant all at once.

When the early church was hammering out what it believed about the Holy Trinity, these kinds of dances were already ancient. And I can’t help but think that familiarity with them led those ancient theologians to describe the interplay between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with the Greek word perichoresis.

Perichoresis literally means “dancing in a circle.” How can we imagine the relationship between the divine Persons of the Trinity? It’s like a circle dance, the fathers and mothers of the church explained.

Furthermore, our forebears in the faith insisted that ordinary believers are invited to join in the dance.

Second Peter 1:4 makes an extravagant claim: God’s saving work includes not only escape from corruption but becoming “participants of the divine nature.” In Eastern Orthodox tradition, participating in the divine nature is understood as mystically participating in the inner life of the Trinity.

How can we finite human beings do this? The Ephesians passage offers some suggestions. There, the writer speaks of the Spirit strengthening our inner being, Christ dwelling in our hearts, and believers being filled with “all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19). Through all this, we find a power at work within us that is beyond all human imagining.

Everything I know of God leads me to expect that all God’s fullness implies dynamic motion, interplay, giving and receiving in an eternal community of oneness. That’s what God is like. God doesn’t stand still; God is always on the move, always pushing outward into creation, always welcoming us into the divine presence.

In the Christian tradition of my childhood, people talked about being “saved.” I don’t hear that terminology as much anymore. Maybe we’ve convinced ourselves we’re more sophisticated now, but we still need ways to talk about what it means to be swept up into the life of God—and transformed by the experience.

We can all stand to delve deeper into what it means to worship the Triune God. More than that, today’s Scripture passages raise the possibility that we are welcomed into this divine community of oneness, that we can enter in and move to the very rhythms of God.

We can learn to dance.

Discussion

• When have you experienced God as a community of oneness?
• How is God’s nature as Trinity reflected in your church’s worship? In your personal life of devotion?
• How do today’s passages deepen our understanding of what it means to be “saved”?
• What are the hallmarks of someone who has been made a participant of the divine nature?
• Do you think of salvation more as an event or a process? How do these passages help you understand the process of salvation?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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