Sunday, January 22, 2017

Going with the Flow

Upon seeing that the Forward began with a poem authored by none other than William Paul Young (writer of The Shack), I knew that this book would be exceptional. That expectation was not disappointed. Richard Rohr's newest book, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation ("with" Mike Morrell, Whitaker House, 2016) makes a new case for embracing Trinitarian theology and its implications for the Christian life.

Following the tradition of seventeen hundred years of Trinitarian theology, The Divine Dance contemplates the grand mystery of one God, three persons, "blessed Trinity." Though not explicitly revealed until page 101, Rohr's book sets aside the promise of rational certitude. And with that mainstay of so much traditional theology, it also leaves reason herself on the sidelines. The book presents an unabashed meditation in mystery, often dancing from one opposite in one chapter (such as immanence) to the other in a later chapter (transcendence). Divine Dance leads the reader through a poetic exploration of Trinity's contours and potential for transforming one's experience of God.

The idea of "experiencing God" forms one of the rhythm-section baselines of the book. Mentioned lightly at points along the way--but ever present as an axiom--personal experience anchors Rohr's theology. He rails (as strongly as a Franciscan contemplative can) against theologies emerging from solely cerebral understandings of God. A Trinity performing a continuous dance of love, he asserts, necessitates a God who is present in and with our whole lives, even bodily, that interact with creation and each other. It is at this point that I found the book most appealing and most refreshing: It offers a hope that God can be not just a Something, but a Someone.

Rohr's view of God's presence in and presence with creation, however, flirts with panentheism. And consummate with the idea that God is present in and with all things is Rohr's articulation of the problem of sin. "Articulation" is a strong word in this case, as the only definition Rohr offers for the problem of sin is an image of "going against the flow." Since God's "Trinitarian flow" is in Rohr's view irresistible, however, "sin" (he often puts it in quotation marks) may not be a true problem, but instead an attempt only to delay the inevitable. The repeated use of the word "flow"--a thing as certain as water moving downhill--conjures for me the image of an old hippie telling the type-A personalities in a self-medicated drawl to "just go with the flow, man."

And the problems with the Church described by Rohr, the raisons d'etre for this book, reflect a generation of Christians who grew up with something quite different than I. Rohr's criticism of the Church resonates with what I have deduced from many anecdotes was the situation of the "mainline" churches in America through the 1960s, '70s, and '80s: rigidity, judgmentalism, legalism. But whether I'm right or wrong in that assessment, most of Rohr's (albeit mild, Franciscan, and contemplative) chastisement addresses problems different from what I see. If anything, Rohr's singular focus on an individual's "going with the Trinitarian flow" ignores the crucial matters of community ethics and the pursuit of justice in an evil--yes, sin-filled--world, and is therefore deficient.

It is difficult to say whether I would recommend this book to friends, except as a foil for discussion about the Trinity and discipleship to Jesus. Perhaps I am not mystic enough. Yet.

Thanks, Chris, for sending this gift which has given me occasion for much fruitful reflection.

~ emrys

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