I was so happy when in the local news I saw pictures of the Youth for Christ practicing their dancing which they do in a regular way as part of their worship. I have tried with the not so young, some in Port Hope, some in Colborne and Grafton, and some back in Leaside, Toronto, to introduce dancing into the worship of staid burghers who normally sit mutely in ranks of pews which have been riveted to the floors of our churches.
In September of the year 2000, the Millennial year, the congregation at the mid morning service at St Mark’s, Port Hope, poured out into the sunshine, singing their final hymn, and wound their way past the graves of Port Hope’s grandees, Smiths and Masseys, to the open churchyard. There in the grass had been marked out with a mower the eleven concentric and interconnected circles of the Labyrinth from Chartres Cathedral.
The congregation stood around a vast circle, the choir and clergy in their flashing gold and red, and ten barefoot dancers came into the paths, dancing to flute and song, and enacted a praise of the earth and the sky, and of human paths to the One Who gave heaven and earth and the four quarters of the wind. At least three of us were using nitro puffers, but we survived.
In the life of a religious community, the creeds are a crystallized version of the faith, but worship, with song and dance, is the acting out of faith that opens earth to heaven, and matter into Spirit. There is a stage between crystal and liquid, quasi-crystal, which is identified as superconductivity, through which electric currents will pass without resistance, and that can be a metaphor for what worship, song and dance will do with the Spirit of God, working within us.
Before 1980 the New Age folk at Esalen, strange as New Age folk may be, often saw things the rest of us have been blind to. Thus Gary Zukav, listening to a T’ai Chi master from Japan, heard him describe physics as the Dance of the Patterns of Organic Energy (“The Dance of the Wu-Li Masters” Toronto, Bantam Books, 1979). That indeed is what physics is, from the behaviour of the hypothetical jitterbugs of String theory, through the many particles of quantum physics, to the molecules and mitochondria and cells which make up our organs, all these are in a dance within us and around us, and when the great melody of the Shakers, their dance of “turning”, becomes the “Lord of the Dance,” we give praise to the Creator and Saviour whose presence we see in our lives, and celebrate in our worship.
Charles Williams, the friend and colleague of C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, wrote in a novel the story of a magic dance of the symbols of life, and the chief of the dancers was the Fool:
“It’s moving so quickly, I can hardly see it.
Surely that’s it, dancing with the rest:
it seem as if it were always arranging itself
in some place that was empty for it.”
Now that metaphor can describe the behaviour of a quantum particle as it takes on a new form of reality. Or it can describe the path of the Holy Spirit working in an individual or a group.
(THAT WILLIAMS HAD HEARD AND SEEN A PRODUCTION IN WHICH A DISABLED MAN HAD SUNG THE SONG MY DANCING DAY, AND THEN GONE ON TO SEE CHRIST’S PRESENCE IN THE DANCER.)
MY DANCING DAY BY ROWAN WILLIAMS
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing O, my love, my love, my love –
This have I done for my true love.
He dances so that you will dance.
He shows you what beauty is, his body awakens yours.
He’s there to be your partner and everyone’s; sometimes you’ll see him opposite you, sometimes not ( beside you, behind you holding someone else’s hands).
But he’s there, in and out of your dance, always affirming your beauty, fusing together your mind and your imagination and your flesh, so that none of it will be lost.
He gives you the fusion of his mind and imagination and flesh - his glorious body. The signs of his life, the patterns he makes, the presence of his beauty - all this is his body, signing to us, inviting us, making us alive.
He repeats over and over his central gesture - arms flung wide, then palms carried upward as he stands on he earth
carrying us, embracing us.
As we watch. we know; our roots grow deeper downward.
We can afford to dance, dance the useless dance of love for its own sake, beauty for its own sake: the dance of *Mother Teresa*, of Charles deFoucald, of all who work with the hopeless, the incurable, the dying, the wretched. The dance of a hospice for the terminally ill: work done gratuitously, to celebrate the glory of the human face, even in its last agonies, Dancing on coals or nails in that case, but how can you not do it?
Our life now is not for usefulness but for beauty: we can have no other.
Dancing is natural to him; bit by bit it becomes natural for us.
He can’t help himself, and, in due course, neither shall we be able to help ourselves.
From: A RAY OF DARKNESS , Sermons and Reflections, Cowley, Boston ,1995
JUST DANCE WITH GOD
**I SUBSTITUTED HENRI NOUWEN,