In his book, A Spiritual Evolution, John McMurray describes the time when he and his wife taught their son how to ride a bicycle. This beautiful description of what happens when the child finds the “sweet spot” and experiences the joy and freedom that most of us know. Reading this depiction brought back all kinds of memories with my children: when they first walked—when they first spoke coherently—when they learned to drive—when they learned to read—when I walked my daughters down the aisle—when they gave birth to their own children—when they articulated their beliefs and passions—I could go on.
All these experiences were group experiences. The entire family was involved. We were near each other, intently interested in what the other was doing. We were all cheering for the other in the relationship, inviting them in some ways to experience what we already knew. We call it a “team” but it is more than that—the relationship is deeper than a sports team or work group. The relationship my family periodically experienced is a lot like what I am coming to understand about the Trinity—the Father, Son and Spirit. This “divine dance” of self-giving, other-centered love is what Baxter Krueger so eloquently describes in his book, Across All Worlds: Jesus Inside Our Darkness.
Within the being of God there is relationship – three persons united in mutual love and communion without the loss of personal distinctness. The relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit is a rich and unclouded fellowship that is so deep and true, so open and close, and fired by such pure love, that we are driven with historic Christianity to say they are one. Anything less than “one” betrays the very closeness of their relationship. Yet the Father does not become the Son or the Spirit and the Son and the Spirit do not become one another or the Father. This is a relationship of oneness, yet not absorption. This is a relationship of thorough ongoing communion in mutual self-giving love, in which the Father, Son and Spirit have such a profound freedom to know and be known that they share things together without losing themselves in enmeshment.
We were created from relationship and created for relationship. The Father, Son and Spirit were not lonely or needy when they created man—they were already in a relationship. We are invited to experience this other-centered, self-giving love not only with them but also with others. There are times in our lives when this seems very real and other times when it doesn’t. Many of the times I feel this the strongest is when I am with my family. Being with my family in their experiences nurture the feeling of genuine love and relationship. One of the normal by-products of relationship is celebration. It was totally natural to celebrate with my children when they reached these milestones. It was pure love—it seemed like what life should be like! But let me back up a little.
When I was studying spiritual leadership coaching, a peer of mine asked me a simple question. She said, “Karl, how do you celebrate?” That question stunned me. I didn’t have an answer. I started to tear up because I was sensing what the answer might be, and I didn’t like it. I was a pastor at the time and should have had a better answer, but all I could say was, “I’m not sure if I know how.” That wasn’t totally true, but it was true enough. Sure, several times in my life I sort of celebrated with my family; but for the most part my ability to celebrate had become mired down in too many things.
Celebration was stifled by the transactional nature of pop Christianity. Even though I talked about my faith as a relationship, it often resembled more of a contract or transaction. I was focused on my calling and what I did for Jesus more than the relationship I had with Him. I preached about joy and peace but had little of either. Why? Because I was focused on my duty and what I believed more than my relationship with the one I believed in.
Notice what we didn’t do when our kids took the first step or finally rode the bicycle or spoke their first words. I didn’t tell them, “Now that you can talk, your primary purpose is to tell me how grateful you are for teaching you this new skill and giving you the opportunity.” Don’t get me wrong, thankfulness is a good thing, but it’s not the primary thing you do in a relationship. I also didn’t say, “Now that you can ride a bicycle, you should be busy going to all the other kids in the neighborhood to tell them about your parents or even to teach them how to ride a bicycle.” Sharing what we know is a good thing, but is it the primary reason we learned to ride the bicycle? This is a big one for me—my friend calls me a crusader—I think he’s right. If you have been involved in modern evangelical Christianity, you know what I’m getting at. These thoughts hit me hard! Often, we miss the point of relationships. We don’t experience the fellowship and love of the Trinity because we’re too busy doing what we understand to be our mission or duty to the Kingdom. Often, it’s very simply that fear drives us to do the unusual things we do. And, our desire to please people often makes us slaves to what we think they want.
This reality is probably why I had a hard time celebrating. Because I saw God more as a distant, transactional God that saved me, commissioned me and was expecting great things of me, I didn’t really have time or the inclination to experience joy or peace—I didn’t feel right celebrating! It just seemed excessive and unnecessary and embarrassing. But, in a true relationship, when there is other-centered self-giving love—when we are for each other—when we are encouraging each other—when we have nothing but hope and love and understanding and patience—then joy and celebration flows directly from that relationship.
This celebration of our love is probably the main ingredient in worship. It feels like the “spirit and truth” thing that Jesus talked about.
I am learning to celebrate! Actually, I didn’t have to learn it, it was a natural outpouring of the relationship. In the way I naturally celebrated with my children, I realized the Father, Son and Spirit were celebrating with me—I simply joined in the dance!
I hope your you will join me! Happy New Year!
*Image is of Perichoresis (from Greek: περιχώρησις perikhōrēsis, “rotation”) is a term referring to the relationship of the three persons of the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to one another (referred to by some as “the divine dance”).
 John MacMurray, A Spiritual Evolution: Rediscovering the Greatest Story Ever Told, (Eagle Creek, Oregon: Open Table Press, 2018), Kindle version
 Dr. C. Baxter Kruger, Across All Worlds: Jesus Inside Our Darkness (Jackson, Mississippi: Perichoresis Press, 2007), 31.