joining the dance
The 14th century German mystic Johannes Tauler once wrote that there are many wonderful things that could be said on the subject of the Trinity, even though it is impossible to explain “how the essential and transcendent unity can issue in distinctions.” (I’m glad he said that, because if he can’t figure it out I don’t know how I’m going to!) At any rate, he taught, “it is much better to have experience of the Trinity than to talk about it.” How do we do that, experience the Trinity? We should learn to “find the Trinity in ourselves,” he said; and we should
realize how we are in a real way formed according to its image. [And] If we want to experience this we must turn inward, away from the activities of our faculties, both exterior and interior, away from all imaginations and all the notions we have acquired from outside ourselves, and sink and lose ourselves in the depths.” [i]
Our Fr. Bruno had this marvelous teaching about the four movements or poles within Christianity. He called these four movements the Silence, the Word, the Music, and the Dance. The first three of them correspond to the first three persons of the Trinity: the 1st Person, who we normally think of exclusively with the inspired metaphor as “Father,” is first of all the Silence; the 2nd person who we know as Jesus is first and foremost, even scripturally, the Word; and the 3rd Person of course is the Spirit, but Bruno calls this pole the Music. One of the reasons I find this very helpful is that people who are not Christian––and some people who are Christian too––have a hard time accessing the images of Father and Son, especially. (I think Spirit is a little easier.) But also Christians may get stuck in the most obvious meanings as well and never understand these Persons at their root, let alone the energies that they represent because they never turn away from all the imaginations and all the notions they have acquired from outside themselves.
For example, there are people who have experienced the 1st Person of the Trinity who don’t use the word “Father,” Jesus’ name for his God, the 1st Person of the Trinity. But Bruno says this first Person is equally well represented by the Silence, the fathomless abyss of the godhead. It’s not the aspect we speak about the most in mainstream Christianity, but of course this is the aspect dear to the heart of contemplatives––the silence of God. John of the Cross’ famous saying for instance: “The Father spoke one word, which was his son, and this word he always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence it must be heard by the soul.” Of course it doesn’t end there: we also know that that Silence is Being itself, and therefore the ground of being, the font of creation. Paul Tillich says that every other word we use to describe or name God is symbolic––even “Father”––except for this one word: Being itself. That’s the 1st Person of the Trinity. Robert Barron makes such a big point of this so often: that God is not a being among other beings, in competition with other beings; God is Being itself. That’s our understanding of the great tetragrammaton of the burning bush that Moses saw––I AM WHO AM. And one could say that because of this our first real experience of God is more maternal than paternal, because this is the dark womb of creativity from which we come forth. This is a new way of understanding the 1st Person of the Trinity.
Most people experience the 2nd Person of the Trinity, too, even if they don’t recognize and confess that Jesus is that 2nd Person made flesh, because the 2nd Person of the Trinity is the Word, even before Jesus is born of Mary. This is the Word that was spoken over chaos–yehi, yehi!––Let there be! Let there be! This is hokmah, the Wisdom that Proverbs tells us was already there when God stretched out the heavens and marked out a vault on the face of the abyss.[ii] The Word is first and foremost God self-manifesting, God’s creating the Universe. The Word is beauty, truth, and goodness (as I have said so many times), and wherever I see beauty truth or goodness manifesting there is the Word manifesting, and there is the 2nd Person of the Trinity. In Barron’s segment on St. Thomas Aquinas he says this is one of the reasons Thomas Aquinas “beautifully exemplified a truly catholic mind,” because his was “a mind open to every and any influence, willing to embrace the truth wherever he found it,” recognizing the seeds of the Word wherever it manifested. “Thomas was influenced of course by the Bible and the great Christian theological tradition, but he also read … the pagan philosophers Plato, Aristotle and Cicero, the Jewish rabbi Moses Maimonides, the Muslim scholars Averroes, Avicenna and [the Jewish philosopher] Avicebron,” and cited them with enthusiasm.[iii] So, many people are experiencing the 2nd Person of the Trinity even if they don’t recognize and confess, as we do, that Jesus is that Person made flesh.
My impression is that many people have an easier time accessing the idea of the Holy Spirit. Maybe that’s why some folks say that we are now in the Age of the Spirit. As a UCC minister wrote recently, “… the Great Emergence is indeed upon us, … the Spirit is again brooding over the face of the muddy waters of a church that has forgotten where it came from, where it is going, and to Whom it belongs.”[iv] Bruno is almost breathless when he wrote about the Spirit and the Age of the Spirit. He wrote that this is…
… the dimension of dynamism, of energy, of movement, relationship, communion, personal experience, human freedom and creativity, the world of psyche and of the feminine. It is the principle of development, whether within the individual person, in human history, or in the evolution of the cosmos. We are always on the threshold of a great renaissance, an “Age of the Spirit,” … we experience the dawn of this new age in a hundred ways––related to the Spirit, to psyche, to the emerging feminine, to poetry, art, and music.[v]
And we experience the Spirit working in many places even outside of the visible church, among people who have perhaps also forgotten where it comes from and who the Spirit really is.
One of the things that Raimundo Panikkar adds to this is that he says what is unique is that in Christianity these three––the Silence, the Word and the Music––are in relation to each other, you might say dancing with each other, in a way that is found in no other religion. That’s what Christian theology calls the perichoresis, circumincession, rotation, what Bruno called the Dance! Other religions might be keen on one or the other aspect of the Divine––the Silence for example is so precious to the Asian mystical traditions, the Word is so important to the other revealed traditions as it is to philosophical traditions, the Spirit perhaps to primal peoples. But in Christianity, properly understood, all these aspects are at play and in relationship to each other.
The other reason I find this notion of the energies or poles of Christianity helpful is because it really does bring Tauler’s teaching about finding the Trinity in ourselves home, in what Bruno calls the fourth movement––the Dance. This last (fourth) movement is all-important, because the Trinity is not a closed system. When we find this perichoresis, this rotation, this circumincession of the Silence, the Word, and the Music within ourselves, then we find the Trinity within ourselves, and we join the Dance. As Tauler says:
Then the power of the Father will come and call the soul into himself through his only-begotten Son, and as the Son is born of the Father and returns to the Father, so we are born of the Father in the Son and flow back into the Father through the Son, becoming one with him. When this happens, the Holy Spirit pours himself out in unspeakable and overflowing love and joy, flooding and saturating the depths of our soul with his precious gifts.
Let me say it again using Bruno’s poles. If we were to turn inward, away from the activities of our faculties, away from all imaginations and all the notions we have acquired from outside ourselves, and sink and lose ourselves in the depths…
Then the power of the Silence will come and call the soul into Itself through the Word, and as the Word is born of the Silence and returns to the Silence, so we are born of the Silence in the Word, and flow back into the Silence through the Word, becoming one with the Word. When this happens, the Music pours itself out in unspeakable and overflowing love and joy, flooding and saturating the depths of our soul with precious gifts.
In other words, that’s when we join the Dance, and enter into the love life of the Trinity.
cyprian, 27 may 18
[i] From the Spiritual Conferences, quoted in Word in Season, vol. III, 132.
[ii] Prov 8.
[iii] From the script of the video “Saint Thomas Aquinas the Theologian.”
[iv] Rev. Dr. Robin R. Meyers, senior minister of Mayflower Congregational UCC, Oklahoma City; Distinguished Professor of Social Justice at Oklahoma City University; and author of The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus.
[v] Second Simplicity, 6.