Worship is a dance. And so too is theology. From our perspective, both of them have Jesus in the middle. But the reality, if we could step back a bit further, is surprising.
I like to think of worship as something like Ring Around the Rosie, the kids’ dance/game where they hold hands as they sing and move in a circle before falling on the ground in a burst of laughter. But in my imagination, it’s the whole church singing and dancing and laughing with Jesus in the middle, everyone and everything oriented toward him.
That’s worship: joyful play centered on Jesus.
But what if Jesus is dancing and singing, too? And what if our little Ring Around the Rosie dance is actually taking place within a much bigger dance?
I imagine that as we dance around Jesus, focused on him, he is dancing with the Father and the Spirit around us. Our little circle dance as we gather for worship is swallowed up in a much larger dance of Father and Son and Spirit that has been going on from eternity past.
The early church fathers used the word perichoresis to describe the Trinity. It’s a combination of peri (“around,” from which we get words like “perimeter”) and chorein (“dance,” from which we get “choreography”): dance around. The idea is that the members of the Trinity are in constant motion and constant relationship and that we make a mistake of trying to understand them by stopping them and saying things like, “The Father creates, the Son saves, and the Spirit sanctifies.” Doing that is like taking a snapshot of dance which basically kills the dance.
(I love waterfalls. And I was recently on a hike with my family and passed by a waterfall. But I’ve learned to forget taking pictures of waterfalls and to simply enjoy them. Every picture I’ve taken of one has only disappointed me, because it lacks the life and motion and power of all that moving water. The same is true of a dance. Taking a picture robs it of its grace and rhythm and exuberant joy. The same is true of our theological snapshots of the Trinity for all the same reasons.)
There is movement within God, a joyful dance where each member of the Trinity bows toward and dances with the others.
But what’s so amazing about this dance is that it’s invitational. Our three-personed God dances us right into the middle of this eternal relationship. Our Lord wants us to join the dance. In fact, the entire Bible is the story of our God going to extreme lengths to get us in on the dance. He longs for this. His mind is bent toward this. Every action of our God recorded in the Scriptures moves toward this end.
This should shock us.
We’re the homely wallflower kid at the school dance who is approached by the loveliest one there and told, “I’ve been watching you all night. You and none else. Will you dance with me?”
If the Scriptures are any kind of reflection of reality, our God is devoted to us. The dance of the Trinity surprisingly centers on us. But we have the choice of either dancing along or not. And even more surprisingly, we so often opt out.
About six years ago, my family and I went to see what turned out to be an incredible performance combining dancers with a string ensemble. Each of their performances was excellent until we got to one which jarred us.
One of the dancers walked out onto the stage, staring down at her cellphone. Meanwhile, two other dancers took to the stage with grace and danced around the first dancer, who acted as if nothing was going on around her. The two dancers coaxed and danced, but the woman with the phone continued on obliviously. And soon the stage was a wild mixture of dancers and phone-obsessed zombie-dancers.
It was one of the best critiques I’ve ever seen of our phone-dazed culture, and not a word of criticism was ever spoken. We saw it unfold before our eyes and we knew it to be true of us. And it made me think about God.
There is this incredible dance of the Trinity going on all around us, and we miss out on it so easily by looking down, preoccupied by self and trivialities.
Similarly, the biblical prophet Hosea wrote about how God’s people have often opted for hired lovers instead of God, our devoted husband.
Worship turns this around. It lifts up our eyes from ourselves. It points us to God. It shows us the dance and draws us into it. And as we focus on Jesus, we lock eyes with the God who has been patiently watching us and waiting for us to see him. He extends a hand and says, “Will you dance with me?”