Dance With the Three Who Brung Ya: a book review

 

556775I had three reasons for picking up The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation. First, it is about the Trinity and how belief in the triune Godhead is¬†a game changer.¬†¬†There are few topics which¬†make me this giddy. My reading of Zizioulas, Volf, Moltmann and Barth in grad school made me¬†a passionately Trinitarian. ¬†Secondly,I read this book because its author is Richard Rohr. I mean who doesn’t love Rohr? He is the reigning guru on all things enneagram, contemplative prayer in the perennial tradition, Franciscan spirituality and the masculine journey. So what if his mystic speak is a little fuzzy and he pushes things in ¬†more of a progressive direction that many of us are comfortable with? His progressive bent is not characterized¬†by a demythologizing, deconstructive tendency, but a desire to squeeze every generous ounce out of God’s grace. ¬†I don’t agree with everything Rohr says, I don’t even understand everything Rohr says (he’s deeper than I am); yet I am always challenged by reading his books and walk away believing and trusting God just a little more.

My third reason was Rohr’s co-author Mike Morrell. Morrell is best known as the organizer of the Wild Goose Festival. One of his seven or eight other day jobs is curating¬†SpeakEasy,a blog review program which has introduced me to some great books the past few years.¬†This book came into fruition when Morrell got his hands on material that Rohr had delivered at two conferences and offered to help Rohr translate them from conference to book form.So the Triune God, Rohr and Morrell conspired.¬†The Divine Dance was born. Um. . .the book, not the dance. The Divine dance has been happening for a little while now.

The book is based on Rohr’s lectures, but the concept came to Rohr during a Lenten retreat. While on retreat, he picked up Catherine LaCugna’s book, God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life¬†and read it.¬† Rohr describes the reading of her book as being brought into conversation with the “big tradition.” For him the Trinity was no longer a “dusty doctrine” to be shelved, but “almost a phenomenology of my own‚ÄĒand others’‚ÄĒinner experience of God” (40-41).

Organizationally this is different from¬†Rohr’s other books (mostly through Morrell’s influence). There is an introduction and three parts. In lieu of chapters there are sub-headings in each section‚ÄĒseventy headings in all. This makes it an ideal book for daily devotional reading; however¬†I wouldn’t say that there is a linear argument running through each¬†section. Instead Rohr steps, sways, and sashays his way across the floor, circling back to aspects of the Trinity, embellish his dance moves with creative flourishes.

Rohr’s introduction¬† describes how despite¬†Western Christians’ affirmation of the Trinity, it has made little practical impact on our¬†lives. The invitation, Rohr has for us, is not just to see the triune relationship at the heart of God, but to enter into communion with Father, Son and Spirit. Rohr illustrates this by describing Rublev’s Trinity which depicts the Godhood sitting at Abraham’s table. Rohr posits that a mirror originally hung in front of the icon, to help the observer take up her¬†space at the table (29-31). This takes¬†Trinity¬†out of the world of abstraction and invites us into Divine relationship.

Part 1, Wanted: a Trinitarian Revolution¬†is conceptual and philosophically rich. Rohr attempts to answer¬† how entering into Triune reality changes everything‚ÄĒbreaking all our dualisms (including political dualisms), and opens the way for new paradigms and connection with the world. Part II, Why the Trinity? Why Now?, delves deeper into the nature of God and how commitment to the Trinity dismantles our divine caricatures, and showcases a God more loving, welcoming and present to us. Part III, the Holy Spirit, concludes the book with some thoughts on how the Spirit brings helps us engage deeper with God and the world.¬†An appendix describes seven practices for experiencing the Trinity, notably a litany of seventy evocative names for the Holy Spirit (210-212).

Rohr avoids the practical modalism of Western Christianity by looking East to the Social Trinity of the Cappadocians. He¬†writes, “Don’t start with the One and try to make it into Three, but start with the Three and see that this is the deepest nature of the One” (43). Rohr makes the case that the relationship in the Godhead between its members, is the basis of all reality, and understanding and embracing the Divine Dance opens us up to new realities which effect politics and community.

Richard Rohr¬†and I have different starting points He’s a Franciscan friar and ¬†a priest, I’m a low, roving Protestant. But I appreciate the way Rohr urges a recovery of the Trinity and has traced out its implications. I highly recommend this book for several reasons. First, Rohr is all about the great tradition. He cites Protestants, Patristic, medieval theologians and a healthy helping of notable Franciscans. Secondly, Rohr is both gracious and thoughtful in his analysis. Third, there are lots of theology books about the Trinity, but there have been few books that help us imagine what the practical implications are for our spiritual life. ¬†This one delivers. Fourth, even where we may disagree with Rohr,(i.e. his critical ¬†and selective reading of some Bible passages), he asks hard questions which we ought to press into. For example, he writes as a Franciscan priest who doesn’t believe in forensic models of the atonement (131). If we are to affirm penal substitution, how does God’s wrath against the Son on the cross fit into our Trinitarian theology? What impact does our belief about God impact how we live? Our politics? These are great questions. I happily recommend this book and give it four stars.

One final plea, get the hard cover edition instead of the Kindle edition. Reading this as e-book is okay, but because this is a book with no chapters and so many headings. I prefer the orientation and spacial awareness provided by a physical binding. Also, the inside of the front and back covers¬†have¬†a full-color reproduction of Rublev’s icon of the Trinity (the same image in copper hue embossed in copper tone¬†across the dust jacket). Divine Dance is published by Whitaker House.¬†Many of their books¬†reflect¬† a charismatic aesthetic. They are best known, to me, for publishing Smith Wiggleworth and a slough of deliverance ministers. This may be the most beautiful book they’ve ever¬†published.

Note: I received this book from SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review. I wasn’t asked to write a positive review. I just can’t help myself.

God is For Us: a Lent Review

The season of Lent starts in a week. If you are hoping to find a good Lent devotional, one of the best on the market is¬†God For Us¬†(Paraclete: 2013). ¬†I used it as my primary devotional¬†a couple of years ago¬†and referred to it throughout the Lenten season last year. The book has a poet or spiritual writer give a week’s worth of daily devotions. Contributers include: Scott Cairns, Kathleen Norris, Richard Rohr, Luci Shaw, James Schaap and Lauren Winner. Beth Bevis’s historical articles on the celebration of Lent and various feast days punctuate the text Ronald Rolheiser, OMI writes the introduction and all of this was assembled under Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe’s editorial eyes (both of Image Journal).

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God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter (Paraclete 2016)

For this Lenten season, Paraclete has just released the readers God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter – Reader’s Edition.¬†The book’s text is the same as the previous edition; however the earlier edition was sort of a coffee table book, with glossy pages full of art. The¬†Reader’s Edition¬†is a simple paperback with french flaps. While I absolutely loved the beauty of the previous edition, this is somewhat more practical and user friendly. I felt guilty about underlining and making notes in the original edition (I still did it) because it was such a pretty book. The¬†Reader’s Edition¬†doesn’t contain the art or the glossy pages and is more portable.

However, I did notice one small error unique to this edition. Page 35 of my copy, mistakenly attributes the entry to the late Richard John Neuhaus (I have a review copy, so I may be looking at a proof copy). My guess is that this a typographical error. Neuhaus contributed to the companion volume¬†God With Us: Readings For Advent and Christmas¬†which Paraclete also published a reader’s edition of, late last year. I checked that page of the devotional because I remembered that the lectionary readings for that day (First Sunday of Lent) didn’t correlate to the passages that Richard Rohr discussed in his devotion. They still don’t.

This doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the overall text. This devotional stands apart for its ecumenical spirit–bringing together an impressive list of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox (Cairns) spiritual writers. the devotions vary, but they are all quality. ¬†If you are looking for a devotional that will deepen your experience and appreciation of the practice of Lent, this is perhaps the best one out there. Bevis’s contributions give this a historical rootedness often missing from devotional literature. ¬†I give this edition 4.5 stars.

Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

P.S.–This devotional is also available from Paraclete with a companion CD of Easter themed Gregorian chant. I have not listened to the CD, but I have been impressed with Paraclete’s collection of sacred music and see how popping this CD in as you read the book will help mark sacred time.