With Trinity Sunday just past, I came across a word which I first saw and learnt about in my second year of university – Perichoresis. It’s a rather long word but I like it and if you don’t know what it means at the moment, I hope that by the end of this blog post, you will not only understand the definition but also grow to like the word and what it stands for.
My favourite definition of the word comes from Jonathan Marlowe. It’s long but well worth reading:
‘The theologians in the early church tried to describe this wonderful reality that we call Trinity. If any of you have ever been to a Greek wedding, you may have seen their distinctive way of dancing . . . It’s called perichoresis. There are not two dancers, but at least three. They start to go in circles, weaving in and out in this very beautiful pattern of motion. They start to go faster and faster and faster, all the while staying in perfect rhythm and in sync with each other. Eventually, they are dancing so quickly (yet so effortlessly) that as you look at them, it just becomes a blur. Their individual identities are part of a larger dance. The early church fathers and mothers looked at that dance (perichoresis) and said, “That’s what the Trinity is like.” It’s a harmonious set of relationship in which there is mutual giving and receiving. This relationship is called love, and it’s what the Trinity is all about. The perichoresis is the dance of love.’
The dance of love. How beautiful a vision that creates inside my mind. The Bishop of Huntingdon, Dr. Thomson, spent a lot of his life working with people with disabilities and he was quoted in the ChurchTimes in August 2018 ( https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2018/17-august/features/features/once-we-connect-on-to-something-that-s-it ) saying of the connection between the Church and perichoresis, “It’s the dance of the Trinity, in which each person of the Trinity is going round the other one, so that the actual DNA of God is always to be in community. It’s a lovely model of the Church. I know we have a history of viewing people with differences in a very negative way, and feeling threatened by them. It’s good for us to be paving the way for building a God-shaped community here.”
The shape of the Trinity, the group dancing together, in time and to the same beat, yet with different styles, shapes and appearances, is so relevant and applicable to the Church. We also should be dancing together, completely in unity, but different, yet not being held back by those differences but instead enabling one another to use those differences to improve the dance and not judging others because their dance style is different to our own.
So as we reflect on Trinity Sunday, and the power of each element, unique yet also working as one Triune God, let us not forget how this metaphor is applicable to our own lives and that of the Church as a whole. May we work with one another, including those who are different to ourselves in mind, body or spirit, to move as one in the dance of love.