Rooted in the Dance
Updated: Jul 8, 2019
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: John 16:12-15
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is. But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where the past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards. Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
From Burnt Norton by T.S. Eliot.
This verse kept coming to me as I prepared for today’s sermon. At the still point, there the dance is. Neither arrest nor movement. Neither movement from nor towards. It all feels like a contradiction, an impossibility. It doesn’t make sense.
Well, it’s Trinity Sunday, and I think a lot of us feel the this same way about the Trinity. Sure, we might nod our heads at the mention of the Spirit, and we’re all about Jesus. And God the Father is fine as a concept, I guess. They make sense separately, for the most part, or at least I think they do. But how can three be one and one be three? Especially for a faith that claims so adamantly to be monotheistic. One God, now and forever. Amen.
I think this is why I kept turning to poetry this week. And music. I’ve listened to a lot of music these past few days. I love music.
Are there any other music lovers here? Whatever kind—jazz, classical, pop. Who loves it?
When I was writing this sermon, I was listening to this Tori Amos song over and over, because there’s a chord change that just brings me to tears every single time. And then I wanted to know what the chord was, so I looked up the sheet music and found someone who had done an instrumental cover which absolutely tore me apartin the best way, so I went to his twitter page and found that he’s done instrumental covers of so many of her songs, and fell down that rabbit hole. So anyway, that’s an inside peek into my sermon-writing.
But back to that gorgeous, heart-breaking chord change. It does something to me that I can’t quite put my finger on. Yes, it’s the notes she strikes, and yes, it’s her voice and the lyrics she layers on top of the piano, but all of that together…it opens something in me that I can’t put into words.
I’m sure that each of you has that song or that piece of music that melts you, that makes you close your eyes. And maybe you can pick out a note or the way the guitar hits it, or maybe it’s just the texture of the cello, or maybe it’s the how the singer unrolls a certain word, but it’s never just one of those things. All of it together, emerging and living, is the still point where the dance is.
The Trinity is the music of our faith. It calls us away from particulars, from needing to understanding cognitively, and pulls us into the dance.
Like music, our lives cannot be captured by our eye color or one particular day or by the job we have. Our lives can only be captured—and incompletely—by our relationships. Our relationships to the people we love—and the people who drive us crazy. To the parents who created us and the grandparents who created them, and all the ancestors before. To the places that feel like home. To the animals who love us so well. To the art, the music, the poetry that captivates us.
What we call life is just a vast, beautiful tangle of relationships connecting us across time and space.
If our lives cannot be easily captured, how could our God, the Alpha and Omega, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, possibly be anything but a mysterious dance?
But we try to capture God, because we have to try. We look for familiar ways of relating to and naming our God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These get us closer. The Father is the Creator who brought this world into being and who continues to hold this creation. The Son became part of this Creation, bringing God to us in flesh in a particular place at a particular time. And the Spirit remains with us, our advocate, our counselor. God moving across time and creation.
But even these names are insufficient. Someone who suffered abuse by their father or watched him abuse their mother may have a hard time relating to God the Father. And God the Father can reinforce the idea that power is inherently male.
But this is where we trust God the Spirit. Jesus tells us, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he—or she, or they—will guide you into all the truth.” Or as our siblings in the United Church of Christ say, God is still speaking.
One of my theology teachers, Jay Johnson, wrote:
Theology is not the music itself. Even in its most complex formulations, theology is simply a response to the mystery of the Divine Reality. And when the theological invitation no longer inspires us to dance, we seek fresh ways to describe divine music with the hope of hearing it more clearly. From Dancing With God by Jay Emerson Johnson
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is theology, and it inspires some of us some of the time, but maybe there are fresh ways to describe the divine music. As you’ll see in the front of your new worship booklets, Martin Luther described the Trinity as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Way back in the fourth century, Augustine described the Trinity as Love, Lover, and Beloved. Feminist theologian Sallie McFague uses Mother, Lover, and Friend.
Some of us need different words to get us closer to the same truth, to hear the divine music more clearly.
The Trinity calls us away from our certainty. It pushes us out of our comfort zone and into the dance.
There’s gonna be a lot of dancing in Portland today. Today is Portland Pride, when folks who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual—and many others, including allies—come together to be who they are out loud. They gather to celebrate the courage and beauty of their community. They gather to remember those who came before them: those who could not come out for fear of their safety, those who suffered and died for who they were or how they loved, and those who fought for the rights LGBTQ folks have today.
Pride invites us all to imagine beyond our narrow conceptions of love, just as the Trinity invites us to imagine beyond our narrow conceptions of God. The Trinity keeps our faith nimble, keeps us from getting too stuck in the way we’ve always done it, the ways we’ve always believed, and keeps us rooted in the mystery, in the dance.