In the 2004 movie “Shall We Dance?” there is a scene where Richard Gere (who has secretly been taking dance lessons) asks his wife, Susan Sarandon to dance. She says “I don’t know how. I don’t know the steps.” To which he replies “I’ll teach you.”
Now you might think that is a strange beginning for a reflection on the Trinity. Many times on this Sunday we find ourselves confronted with difficulty in understanding the specialized language of “three in one” – “one in three” – and we usually go home unmoved – and, perhaps, more than a bit puzzled by this most wonder-filled mystery at the core of our Christian faith – instead of being drawn more into the heart of God and being moved to live more fully – more deeply – to dance!
On this Sunday, we are invited to tap into the dynamic faith energy of the early followers of Jesus who experienced their life in God in a very personal way. St. Paul states this well in his letter to the early Christian communities: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2Cor. 13:13). Grace – love – communion – “three” words that say something about the God who is around us, beside us and within us. The challenge is to live our lives within this “three-ness” in such a way that makes a difference in our world so in need of grace, love and communion. But, how can we do this?
When the early Greek Fathers of the Church spoke of this “three-ness” – they expressed it in terms of a dance and they used a very interesting term – perichoresis. This term isn’t important but what it images is very important – it images the Trinity as a divine dance. Now, this dance is not for “two” where the two can be closed in upon themselves. It is rather a dance for “three” or more – a dance in a circle that moves to certain rhythms, in unpredictable ways with lots of different steps. It is a dance into which everyone is invited.
And is this not what the Trinity is all about? God inviting us – each one of us – all of us – into a dance – into relationship – to be together with God, with one another, with all creation. The dance expands our boundaries and to dance with God takes us into unchartered waters – to people and places where we might not ordinarily go.
That sounds very nice, but what do we have to do – what do we have to learn – to dance with God and one another? Well, let’s go back to Susan Sarandon: “I don’t know how to dance; I don’t know the steps.” Who will teach what the steps look like? Today’s Gospel tells us – the steps look like LOVE!
The Gospel from John makes this very clear: “God so loved the world and sent the Son . . .” That means that God’s love is prior to anything in our life. It is before all else. To continue the image of dance, we can say that God dances Jesus into the world because of this love and Jesus shares the music of this dance with all he meets so that “. . . whoever believes has eternal life.”
But what does that really mean? I suggest that to believe is to have the courage to come close enough to hear God’s invitation to life, to respond and to learn the steps of the invitation to dance with one another – and I would like to reflect on three women in John’s Gospel who had that courage. They are grace-filled models for us at each juncture of our lives.
The Samaritan woman, who we meet in the 4th chapter of John, is quite courageous. She engages in conversation with Jesus – who is not only a stranger but a Jew – and they have some startling exchanges – a dance, if you will, of steps back and forth as they discuss theological matters. This woman is bright and gutsy! She knows her “stuff”—she knows her people, their history and how they worship. At the same time she is fascinated by Jesus and remains open to the conversation they are having. Her realization of who Jesus is causes her to run to bring her community into an ever-widening circle!
The scene is quite different in John 11, where we see Martha and Mary in their heart-breaking sorrow at the death of Lazarus. Perhaps with them, we ask: how can I dance when my heart is breaking? It took courage for them to say “if you had been here my brother would not have died.” And John’s Gospel is clear: Jesus wept. From our life experiences, we know that not all dance is a “happy dance.” As a person struggling for belief, how can I feel in my being that God is beside me in the darkness? Perhaps the courageous “dance step” here is one of letting my guard down to experience that when I am with others comfort can step in. Mary, Martha, Jesus – they are “three” in a circle of grief and then “four” in a circle of life restored. At this time in your life, do you want --- do you need to be drawn into their circle?
And lastly, John 20 brings us a glorious, heart-felt story – that of the meeting of Jesus and Mary of Magdala after the resurrection. Artist renditions of their meeting usually show Jesus standing and Mary clinging to his feet thus having him say: “Do not continue to cling to me.” But perhaps their meeting was not so static – perhaps, at the sound of her name, there was fire in her heart. Mary leaped for joy – and they began to dance!! And what courage Mary needed to “let go” and let Jesus dance into eternity while she danced to tell the rest: “I have seen the Lord!”
What is the story of your belief – of your courage – of your experience of the love of God that surrounds you, is beside you and that, deep within, sets your heart on fire? The question before us on this Trinity Sunday is: do we want to be a “one” alone? Or, do we want to learn the steps of love from one another, from all of creation, and from the Holy One?
Today we are invited to have our lives and relationships be a mirror of God’s life – that of an ever widening circle of grace inviting us to join in the love of God for all.
So, shall we dance?
Antoinette Gutzler, MM
Antoinette Gutzler, a Maryknoll Sister from Queens, New York, holds a doctorate in systematic theology from Fordham University. She has served in mission both in Tanzania, East Africa where she worked in religious education and young students work, and in Taiwan, where she directed a center for factory workers. After completing her theology studies, she returned to Taiwan in 2001 and was associate professor of theology at Fu Jen University’s St. Robert Bellarmine School of Theology in Taipei until her election to the Leadership Team of the Maryknoll Sisters in 2014. During her time in Taiwan she was consultant to the Ecclesia of Women in Asia (EWA), a standing committee member of the Association of Major Religious Superiors and a member of the Taiwan JPIC committee. Her recent publications include Ecclesia of Women in Asia: Gathering the Voices of the Silenced (edited with Evelyn Monteiro, SC), “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: ‘Women Matters’ as an Asian Theological Concern,” “Coming Out of the Shadows: A Feminist Vision of a Participatory Church,” “Am I my Sister’s Keeper?” The “Internalization” and “Globalization” of Women’s Homelessness: A Taiwan Perspective,” “Navigating the Tradition: A Christian Feminist Perspective on the Power of Creedal Language to Shape the Lives of Women,” and “Shadow Lives/Public Faces: Women, Marriage and Family Life in Taiwan.”
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