Review of Richard Rohr's "The Divine Dance" - by Alex Rayment
This review is approached with fear and trembling. Fr. Richard Rohr is a writer who almost needs no introduction and his latest work, The Divine Dance, he describes as the ‘most important book [he has] written’. Even with a very limited knowledge of Rohr’s previous work, The Divine Dance is like reading a pilgrim’s journal at the peak of a very long and arduous journey. With extensive engagement of Christianity’s finest scholars, Rohr is taking the book entitled the Trinity of the bookshelf of the Church, dusting it off and reminding us of its essentiality.
The Divine Dance’s major project is to present both the sheer beauty and urgent centrality of the doctrine of the Trinity. Tracing the doctrine from Genesis to Revelation, from Early Church to contemporary writings, Rohr argues that whilst we talk about a Triune God, what Christians actually do is worship a patriarchal God that had an interesting Son and occasionally does things by his Spirit. Rohr implores us to re-cast all that we think about who God is and uses countless images of relationship as a way of refreshing this ancient doctrine. If one, as Rohr describes, ‘lives in the flow’, then this relationship language is the perfect language for describing a living relationship with God. As the title suggests, the perichoresis (circular motion) of the Trinity is not a movement happening in the abstract cosmos but is a very real invitation from God to His creation, asking us to join that dance. This ‘flow’ allows humanity to be truly human and enables us to be attentive and aware of the Spirit’s guiding. Here is a prayer that Rohr draws on that sums up what he describes as The Divine Dance:
God for us, we call you Father.
God alongside us, we call you Jesus.
God within us, we call you Holy Spirit.
You are the eternal mystery that enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
Even us and even me.
The use of terms such as ‘mystery’ may be uncomfortable for some, so it is important to know where Rohr is writing from. Being a Franciscan Priest of the Perennial Tradition, Rohr also states Karl Rahner as being his favourite European modern theologian. Rahner (1904 - 1984) was an incredibly profound Catholic Theologian who lived through both world wars and was an advisor to the Second Vatican Council. Also writing to a backdrop of the dawn of post-modernism, Rahner specialised in the realm of Christian mystery and Richard Rohr in this latest book, certainly takes up that mantle. However, not all questions are answered. Where Rohr focusses on the eternal nature of Jesus, he loses the profundity of the Trinity in the historic life of the Rabbi-Carpenter of Nazareth. As Rohr attempts to focus our gaze on the Trinity he runs the risk of making it an abstract idea where the notions of ‘love’ or ‘relationship’ become God. ‘God is love’ is not the same as saying ‘love is God’ and here we meet the supreme challenge of a work like Rohr’s. God, in his freedom, defines the bounds of what may we say about Him in the life of Jesus. Could He be other than that? Of course He could. And Rohr is probably closer than most in explaining the Trinity, however if Jesus is not the starting point of how we talk about God we are on a razor’s edge between idolising subjective human attributes (like love) or fallen notions of who God should be (like a fighter for my cause).
However, the absolute accessibility of this work despite the engagement of oft dismissed ‘heavier’ works of Christian literature, is a noble feat in itself. The need for this kind of work is essential. If only every Christian writer drew from wells as deep as Rohr’s, or even exposed themselves to a similar breadth of authorship, the Church would be much better at talking across denominational lines. Rohr’s ability to present such a doctrine with the tone of a friend on a long walk is a very special gift. As a pastor, Fr. Richard has the Church’s spiritual life as his heart and this is witnessed throughout especially with the final section of the book which includes way of applying all that has been read into the daily life of a reader; again a strange and wonderful talent for a writer concerned with such a doctrine. This book is not only a thought-provoking read but it is an invitation to go on a journey in the Divine Dance and never, ever leave.