Are cross-gender friends invited to mirror the divine dance? Are we invited to the wild, exuberant, spontaneous, tender, vulnerable, fiery divine dance? No holding back?
I want to highlight the new book, The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell and the wonderful implications for unguarded friendship between men and women. You’re not going to see specific reflection focused on cross-gender friendship in the book. But, by the time you end the book, the inescapable freedom for cross-sex friends to know God as “absolute friendship” and in that divine dance we will know the dance of unguarded friendship.
“God is not just a dancer;
God is the dance itself.'
Now, I don’t know if Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell (from now on, RR and MM) had this in mind when they collaborated from this book, but two facts helped me to see unguarded cross-gender friendship as I read this book. First, I know Mike’s interest in cross-gender friendship. We spoke on the issue at the 2015 Wild Goose Festival; in our eight-year-old friendship, I know we are pretty much of one spirit regarding cross-sex friendship. Second, RR wrote this book as a committed sixty-something celibate. Third, everyone is invited. Including cross-gender friends.
Pardon my enthusiasm for this book as I am not a formal theologian. I don’t doubt that evangelical theologians are going to scrutinize the contents and offer various critical comments. I will refrain from my quibbles with the book in order to shine the light on the connection between the Trinity and cross-gender friendship. This book gives us an unabashed boldness for cross-gender friends to know one another as dance partners as we mirror divine friendship.
Between 2007 and 2009, I was so excited in connecting the dots between perichoresis and cross-gender friendship. I was an avid reader of Scot McKnight’s blog and I’m pretty sure my first introduction into the richness of perichoresis was reading either his blog or one of his recent books.
That led to such disappointment for me when I saw that Scot wasn’t free to lead us into a joyful, robust participation of Trinitarian spirituality and cross-gender friendship. Even though Scot was gracious in drawing attention to my self-published book back in 2010, he has never fully guided us into cross-gender friendship and the divine dance. I was baffled as to why Scot couldn’t make the rich connections between oneness and cross-sex friendship.
Espousing a classic limitation grounded in the gendered dichotomy between reason and passion, it seemed that Scot’s perichoresis could not go any farther or deeper than his own limited experience and imagination. Six years later, Scot resists giving a thumbs up on his blog or his books for cross-gender friends knowing the divine dance. That's okay. I still respect him as an evangelical theologian.
But I do remember getting inspired as I came across what others said about a Trinitarian spirituality and friendship. I remember reading theologian Catherine Mowry LaCugna's, God for Us which delved into the perichoresis and gave us a little tease about what it meant for friendship and sexuality. She made an impact on Richard Rohr, too. He fondly mentions her at the beginning of the book.
The Divine Dance
Let me tell you, this is not the final answer about the Trinity and the implications for cross-gender friendship. They'll be others, too. But boy, oh boy, this book will definitely make my top five books published in 2016 and what it means for the cross-gender friendship.
This is one of those books that pulls the curtain back on the Trinity with childlike innocence and enthusiasm accompanied with mature reflection. What happens when you pull the curtain back? You get a glimpse of what it means for the Psalmist to exclaim that in God's presence there are pleasures forever more. You get a glimpse of what it means for the Trinity to be the giver of immortal gladness. You get a glimpse of this joyful, exuberant, wild, fiery, divine dance that summons men and women to know an unprecedented togetherness between one another. You get something that rejoices in sex but is greater than sex: the mystery of the Three-in-One-and-the-One-in-Three.
Now, you might already know that many progressives find a lot of good stuff in Richard Rohr. To be honest, when I first heard about this book I was excited and skeptical at the same time. Could two people that progressives really like write a book on the Trinity without sexualizing the Trinity?
“Whatever is going on in God,” they write, “is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three—a circle dance of love.” What was striking to me was that while they did not sexualize the Trinity they made the case for us to know the fullness of the divine dance—for us to participate in this eternal flowing of unguarded friendship. They add, “God can only be loved and enjoyed, which ironically ends up being its own new kind of knowing. This is absolutely central and pivotal.”
The whole book is an extended reflection of those two quotes as Rohr and Morrell invite us into the circle of divine dance. After researching the theology of cross-gender friendship with a passion I am quite sure twenty-first century Christianity gives us a wide range of sacred doors to Jesus-centered friendships between men and women. No question about it. The divine dance is one of them.
A New Kind of Knowing
I could describe this book as a new epistemology for cross-gender friendship! That’s right. Rohr and Morrell invite men and women into a new kind of knowing—knowing the divine dance of eternal friendship and a shared knowing of one another.
This divine dance delightfully summons men and women into the sacred knowing of unguarded friendship. Rohr and Morrell do this incredible job of inviting us into what could be called unguarded divine friendship. This is pretty radical.
You see, for many of us Christians this sense of “unguarded knowing”—the closest experience that resembles this is what Christians have experienced in sexual knowing. It doesn’t take long to see this kind of hunger, this kind of resilient openness, this kind of fiery connection, this kind of dogged pursuit of vulnerability for a sexual knowing.
What evangelicals have promoted as a sexual knowing in the last twenty or so years is closely akin to the new kind of knowing Rohr and Morrell write about. In fact, their language of portraying this knowing divine friendship almost reads like how progressives describe sexual knowing!
Among other things, the popular narrative of this deep sexual knowing for many Christians precludes many singles, divorced, physically disabled, widowed, poor, those of us who are not hot by cultural standards, and so on.
It also precludes men and women from a deep knowing each other as friends. In the popular narrative of sexual knowing, sex is nirvana. It is heaven on earth. It is the deepest connection man and woman experience this side of heaven.
Rohr and Morrell take us into a spiritual knowing within the divine dance. The radical approach they take toward divine friendship is that they do not sexualize unguarded friendship. This is good news for all kinds of friendship—but unbelievably great news for cross-sex friends.
This spiritual knowing that they reflect on begins and ends in the divine dance. For men and women to share this unguarded friendship with one another means we intentionally get to participate in all the knowing of divine freedom, divine enjoyment, divine fidelity, divine, pleasure, divine presence—all that comes in the eternal dance of divine friendship.
That’s right. Cross-sex friends, according to Rohr and Morrell, get to mirror this circle of intimate love. We get to share the infinite flow of divine exuberance. We get to participate in a mystery of unfathomable love. We get to receive a mirroring of divine presence between each other. We get to give to one another wholeheartedly, lavishly with no strings attached. We get to know this wild and beautiful God and share Her with one another.
Let me share with you four quotes from this book that powerfully steers cross-sex friendship into the joy of unguarded friendship between men and women unheard of among evangelicals:
God is completely unavailable for any manipulation or cajoling, but God is always and immediately available to the sincere seeker of love and union.
It all comes to this: do you allow the free-flow or do you stop it by endless forms of resistance, judgment, negativity, and fear?
Any staying in relationship, any insistence on connection, is always the work of the Spirit, who warms, softens, mends, and renews all the broken, cold places in and between things.
Fire both melts and dissolves the boundaries between relationships so we can stop hiding behind our names, our labels, our definitions and descriptions. Another word for this consuming fire is, of course, love.