“I would only believe in a god who could dance.” That’s a line from Friedrich Nietzsche. He couldn’t believe in the kind of God who looks like a bearded man, ancient, sitting in a throne above, aloof, far away from our lives, distant from our world, safe from our chaos, uncontaminated by our sin. A serious God, an omnipresent judge, evaluating our every activity, policing every thought that flashes through our minds, preparing to make a verdict on our morality at our court date at the end of the ages, a decision regarding our worthiness of heaven—whether we’ve renounced enough of this earthly life to deserve eternal life. A God who only makes demands, and the one thing this God demands from us is sacrifice, self-denial.
And Nietzsche responds, “I would only believe in a god who could dance.” Think about it—an image of God as a dancer. What if, when we closed our eyes and thought about God, the picture that would come into our minds would be a video of someone dancing, twisting and spinning, jumping and swaying, watching God whip and nae nae, for example. If you don’t know what that looks like, ask a middle schooler, or Lars. I’ve seen him do it. He taught me, actually.
This is an ancient way of thinking about God: a dancing God, full of ecstasy—God in motion, “encircling, encompassing, permeating, enveloping, outstretching.” Perichoresis is the Greek word, first used in the fourth century—the God who is an unceasing movement of joy. “Reciprocal delight,” Athanasius said. “The divine dance,” wrote the Roman Catholic theologian Catherine LaCugna, “of reciprocal giving and receiving, [always] giving again and receiving again.”[i] God is the sheer delight of dancing—always moving, always in relationship, always in love.
Yesterday I was in Raleigh at a protest. We had gathered across the street from various white supremacist groups, all seventy of them in front of the state capitol building, in the same square as a monument to the confederacy, a statue honoring “Our Confederate Dead,” the inscription says.
On their side of the street, men wearing military camouflage, one of them standing there—a member of the Oath Keepers militia, he stood with a megaphone in one hand and a huge, red Bible in the other, as he preached his lies about Islam.
And on our side of the street, I found myself beside a group of Arab women—in their twenties—black and white keffiyehs covering their heads, wrapping around their shoulders, they were playing blue and pink recorders, plastic flutes with pictures of Disney princesses on them. Nearby were young girls, three sisters, two of them wearing hijabs—and they were dancing to the flute music, dancing with such enthusiasm that the women playing their recorders noticed them and shifted in the crowd, to join the sisters in dancing while all the rest of us were chanting. Soon the children were given the flutes and they played them while jumping and twirling.
There’s a playfulness to God—that’s what the Trinity names: that God is a movement of joy, of delight. God is not static, not stagnant, not dormant. Instead, God is a dance—like those three sisters with their flutes. And if God is like those girls, then we are in the crowd, watching and listening, being drawn into the music, drawn into the dance. God invites us into divine life, into God’s joy, into God’s life in the world.
That’s what the apostle Paul is getting at in the passage we heard—2 Corinthians 13:13, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” We know this God through the overflow of grace in Christ, the grace-filled life of Jesus, the one who shows us the love of God, Paul says—this love that draws us into God’s life on earth, God’s work of love, the communion of the Holy Spirit.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” And the point of all of this is the last few words: be with all of you—that God is with you, that God is for you, that God is a communion of love, a dance of grace, reaching out to you, to us, drawing us into that love, into that grace, into the joy of life together.
Today, as I’m thinking about God dancing, I can’t help but remember this week last year. This week is the anniversary of the shooting in Orlando, at the Pulse nightclub. Before the shooting, that place was full of joy, a refuge, a sanctuary where, as Justin Torres put it, “a sense of safety transforms the body, transforms the spirit… where you walk through the door and it’s a salsa beat, and brown bodies, queer bodies, all writhing in some fake smoke and strobing lights [and] you can’t help but smile, this is for you, for us.”
God is at work re-making us into that kind of sanctuary—to become a people, filled with Christ’s grace, filled with God’s love, and overflowing with the Spirit’s communion. To bear witness to God’s desire for people to be who they are, without the threat of violence. That’s what it means to be a peace church: we give our lives for the sake of communities of peace, where little girls in hijabs and women with keffiyahs can dance without fear, for sanctuaries of joy in this world of violence.
The Trinity at its best is language that brings us to the end of our words, the edge of our imagination, into a mystery where all we can do is respond with our lives, to let our lives become a sanctuary for God’s grace and love.
We know God as we reveal God with our hands and feet—our lives proclaiming divine truths, the truth that God delights in our lives, that God communes in our love, and that God can’t help but join when children dance to the music of Disney princess flutes. Out of the mouths of children, the Psalmist says, God will silence the enemies; and in their dancing, a fortress of God’s majesty.
[i] Catherine LaCugna, God For Us: The Trinity and the Christian Life (1993), p. 272.