Much ink has been used in trying to better understand relationships and beauty and meaning. I am using more digital ink as well, and by no means am I claiming to have anything that is totally different nor better than what I’ve already read. But I do want to add to what I’ve gleaned from others and possibly help others begin to reframe what it means to experience the beauty of relationships, something that I long to experience more myself in this journey of life’s ups and downs relationally.
Over the last few years I keep coming back to this Greek word “perichoresis” (perikhōrēsis). This is a term that many theologians have used to describe the relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (the Trinity). From a psychological understanding, one could define this relationship as differentiated-selves, yet one; or in other words, unified, yet unique. Differentiation for humans is the process of becoming free from your family’s (or any other social group’s) definition of yourself, whether positive or negative. This means you are able to have different opinions and values than your family members (or social groups), without feeling shame or losing a sense of worth; and at the same time you are also able to stay emotionally connected to them.
A healthy view of a differentiated self is found in the relationship of the Godhead, where each person is separate from the other with distinct roles, yet are in a beautiful unity, a “dance of love” as many writers have put it, that honors and respects the other (mutual submission). Perichoresis comes from two separate Greek words, “peri” which means “around,” and “chorein” which means “to make way/space”. It could be translated as “rotation” or “a going around.” I likened it to professional dancers filling the floor yet each have made space for the others to fill the floor with them in symmetry and uniqueness.
Alister McGrath writes this about what the word perichoresis which has some of the same overtones of a healthy, differentiated human: “[Perichoresis] allows the individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that each person shares in the life of the other two. An image often used to express this idea is that of a ‘community of being,’ in which each person, while maintaining its distinctive identity, penetrates the others and is penetrated by them.” Christian Theology: An Introduction, 325
In the New Testament it is clear that God glorifies himself which to some may sound weird. If it does, bear with me for a moment. In Scripture, the book of John’s is important in understanding how Jesus and the Father connect with one another. An important passage in John is John 17:1, where Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” When this passage is put next to John 16:14, where Jesus says that the Holy Spirit “will glorify me”, we begin to see a perichoretic (big word that I made up!) understanding of God’s glory. In other words, we are seeing the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) reciprocating love and glory and intimacy.
Perichoresis is the fellowship of three co-equal beings (a unique unity) perfectly embraced in a symphony of love and harmony, expressing an intimacy that is beyond human comprehension. The Father sent the Son (John 3:16), the Spirit came from the Father as the Son submitted to the Father’s wishes to leave earth and sit next to him until the final hour comes (John 15:26; John 16:5-7; Rev. 3:10)—another example of perichoresis, with the result that God’s people are blessed and are able to be caught up into this dance of love, by God creating ‘generous space’ (grace) for us to join him, and to be formed into a ‘community of beings’.
This perichoretic (differentiated) relationship can be imagined as a Venn diagram as others have stated, showing three circles intersecting in the center with each circle intersecting the others perfectly and multi-dimensionally, as they go around and around, like beautiful dancer moving harmoniously across a dance floor, not stepping on each other’s toes and moving to be beat of the music, a yin and yang of sorts. Such an understanding of glory (which also means ‘beauty’) displays the love expressed within the Godhead by Father, Son and Spirit as they display the beauty and worth of one another.
So on the journey of a study of beauty (which I have personally been on) I believe this is a great place to start. This perichoresis, being differentiated humans, unified and unique, is at the heart of us, as a community of beings, knowing who we are and in time, being consumed by true beauty, and not getting caught up into all the other false displays of beauty. There are many false (fraudulent) beauties that steal and twist our desires and affections, making us impotent and unable to reflect the beauty and worth of Jesus to a humanity in desperate need of finding and experiencing beauty again without consuming it. These fraudulent beauties are displayed to us in ways that teach us to consume them, and any beauty this is being consumed has in that moment, become tainted or twisted. This is the beginning of my attempt at a type of resistance to that which is destroying life.