Dancing with the Divine

A few years ago (when I was being, what I refer to as, “Moltmannized”), I began to really take a deep interest in the nature of the Trinity. After reading a few of Moltmann's works, I began reading scholars like Colin Gunton, Stanley Grenz, Miroslav Volf, Gordon Fee and Paul Fiddes, among others. All of these authors have, in some way, contributed to or helped me gain a more healthy understanding of the nature and persons of the Triune God.

In Trinitarian circles, a word has been revived from the times of the Church Fathers: perichoresis. This term was a type of play on words that evoked the image of a circle-dance. Yet, when the term is used, it is meant, not to focus not on the dancers per se but rather on their interweaving movements. The way to picture it is to think of an old-fashioned hoe down where there are numerous movements between various persons. Thus, when used of the Trinity, the imagery emphasizes the motions or movements, the free-flowing yet rhythmic dance steps between the Spirit, Son and Father; the Three are interweaved and interweaving!

On Sundays, when I partake of the communion emblems, the image that I continually return to is this one. Yet, I imagine myself dancing with the Godhead; as I commune with Them, I penetrate and partake of Their dance and They love it and so do I. Just as well, They penetrate my life, my dance, all Three of Them, and I love it, and so do They. I love this imagery and this thought; this is what communion is!

While I was doing some research this week, I came across a word in Hebrew that has the same imagery of a circle dance to it: meholah. I found the word only in two places: 1 Samuel 21.12 and Song of Songs 6.13 (in some translations this may be 7.1). In the Samuel passage, it refers to David’s victory dance, a dance that the whole community joins in and partakes of. The Song of Songs passage reads, “…Why should you look upon the Shulamite as a dance between two armies.” While I do not want to focus on the details of that passage at this point, I do want to acknowledge that the dance being referred to here was a circle-dance which, as an ancient Near Eastern custom, was conducted in the nude. It could have originated as a dance to fertility goddesses (IB, Vol 5., pg. 134-5).

Needless to say, this sent me searching. After reading the Hebrew, I went to the LXX (a.k.a. The Septuagint: the first Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) to see how they translated these terms. Not surprisingly, they used the term “choroi.” This, of course, is where we get our words “choir” and “choreography” from. So, in translation, the imagery of the circle-dance was not lost. Derivations of this word, “choroi” or “chorego” can be found in a number of New Testament passages (e.g. 2 Cor. 9.10; Lk. 15.25).

In 2 Cor. 9.10, the term has the sense of “ministering to” more than “dancing with.” However, lurking deep within the verse, the imagery is still there. By the way, isn’t this a beautiful image for ministry, stepping into the dance of someone else’s life and becoming a part of it and letting someone do the same to you? I think it is! Anyways, the term is also used in the Lk. 15.25, the story oft referred to as The Prodigal Son. In that scene, the whole family is dancing with one another and rejoicing.

Moving from Greek back to what we started with, Latin, we now return to the term perichoresis. Though this Latin term may not be directly derived from the Greek (it may be!), it is, at the least, a play on words; it has the connotation of doing a circle-dance. Synthesizing my findings, I began to see a wonderful picture unfold and my sense of a dance with the Divine deepened.

For example, I began to wonder if, as a hermeneutical or interpretive move, we could apply the imagery of the “nude dance” mentioned in Solomon, to the perichoretic dance between humans and The True and Triune God. In other words, in this dance are we bearing our souls and selves before God, leaving and keeping nothing from God? And what about ministry? Well, isn’t the interweaving dance with the Godhead, God’s way of ministering to our souls? To put it differently, when we go before the Triune God, enter into Their dance bearing our souls, doesn’t God then, minister to us? And shouldn’t this be a model for how we do ministry?

Shouldn’t our theology of ministry be rooted in the Trinity? Shouldn’t our theology of mission be rooted in the Trinity? Shouldn’t we enter the dance of other people’s lives and minister to them and allow them to minister to us? Shouldn’t this be our theology of life? Shouldn’t we understand life as a free flowing walk or dance with God and others, a dance that does not have every step planned out but rather is created by the movements of the dancers in that moment?

Now, I must confess, if you were to see me dance, you’d have to just laugh because I have no good dance moves. But that’s okay because when I pray and commune with God, it is a beautiful dance, an unfolding dance, a creative dance, a dance that I am not embarrassed to partake in. So, I guess I should ask you, “Have you danced with the Divine lately?”


  1. Michael,

    I like this idea of the "divine dance" although, like you, I cannot dance at all. I understand how you see Sundays and communion as participating in this divine dance. Shouldn't all of life be a dance with the Triune God - a dance that we help others into as they learn new steps and follow new partners? So, while Sundays and communion are certainly steps in the dance, feeding the poor, clothing the downtrodden, helping the widow, and showing mercy to the hurting are also steps in the great dance. Similarly, driving to work or school, working, studying, eating... all of these should be lived as more steps in the beautiful dance that we have been invited into by God himself.



  2. Alan,

    I do think, as I tried to suggest in my post that all of life and all of ministry should be grounded in this thought, this dance, not just those few minutes of communion on Sunday mornings. Maybe I didn't make it as clear as I had hoped but regardless, yes, I agree wholeheartedly with you.

    Good and thought-provoking comments, as always.

  3. Ahhhh...perichoresis...one of the best high-dollar words out there.

    Beautiful post, Michael. Really nice. Thank you.

    If anyone would like to read a brief treatment of the concept of perichoresis, check out http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Perichoresis