I begin with a hypothetical question: What if Christian discipleship and our relationship with God is not like enlisting in an army, but rather a personal invitation to dance? ‘Onward Christian soldiers’ being replaced with ’I danced in the morning’.
The act of dancing has ancient communal, cultural and religious roots and is recorded in murals, cave drawings and ancient scripts. The Dictionary of the Bible and Religion quotes ‘the dance was accepted and welcomed in biblical times as a natural and distinctive expression of feeling and enthusiasm, whether secular or religious’. Miriam, David and the house of Israel danced. The psalmist says; ’Let them praise his name with dancing’, however dancing was never incorporated into the Christian style of worship. So why then did I pose the question?
I am using the metaphor of ‘dance’ for discipleship and relationship in preference to that of ‘soldier’, or ‘journey’. I know the dance, especially the tango, is sensual (but so is the Song of Songs), however, the dance can also be elegant and graceful as in the waltz, or joyful as in the two step – which is grace! Dance may be used to give expression to a wide variety of emotions and feelings without using words. It is a useful metaphor for the mystery of the divine human relationship in which movement and response are integral. Dancing is something we have to learn with practice. It involves partnership, co-ordination, alignment, closeness, intimacy, harmony, and mobility. There is no element of force; it is a partnership requiring balance, trust, response, understanding, sensitivity, consideration, gentleness and appreciation; with due respect given to the other dancers and their space. The dance itself is a co-operation between two persons, but dancing involves social respect for others. Are these not all qualities which would enhance the Christian’s lifestyle while simultaneously extending the Christian influence in society?
Richard Rohr entitled his book on the Trinity ‘The Divine Dance’. He sees the circle dance of the Trinity as God engaged in a mysterious cosmic dance. Sydney Carter described Christ as ‘Lord of the Dance’, singing, ‘I danced in the morning when the world was begun, and I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun and I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth’. In the past science and religion were seen as antagonistic, but today they are being seen by scientist and theologian as partners who must learn to dance together. The mystic element in metaphysics and the new cosmology is revealing something of the mystery in God’s cosmic dance bringing the elements of the universe together in one meaningful whole. Everything is moving in relationship. We have within us a deep desire to be in harmony with one another and our life environment. Jesus the cosmic Christ seeks to bring us back into a harmonious relationship with all things. Our present world climate is dramatically portraying our need to respect our interdependence and interconnectedness. When learning to dance with God we learn to dance in community respecting the sacredness, the space, place and movement of the other and the world which is really the dance hall.
In the secular mind the church has created the reputation of being inflexible, immovable, stiff, ‘out of step’ with modern thinking suffering from pulpit incoherence, pew weary muscles and liturgical irrelevance. However, there are churches, biblical scholars and theologians seriously engaged in designing a new choreography for a life well lived; synchronizing theology and poetry, science and mysticism, religion and life, reason and mystery, action and contemplation.
If we can intelligently accept the metaphors of God, who is Love, embracing, speaking, touching and walking with us with all our ineptness and clumsiness why can’t we think of God in all his gentleness inviting us to dance with him in a partnership of creative movement, grace, purposefulness and beauty? Michael Mayne, Dean of Westminster, in his book, ‘Learning to Dance’ says ‘My theme is the dance: the dance of life; of the cosmos, of the natural world and the tiniest particles of matter; of music and paint and words; of those cruel times which feels like dancing in the dark; the dance of relationships, of forgiveness and love; the dance of faith; and finally, that hidden dance that some call heaven.’ As the music of life plays around us we can learn to move to its changing rhythms in company with Christ.
Regardless of our age, or colour, or attire, or inability, Christ comes, inviting us to be his partner, he takes us by the hand saying, “Come, and dance with me. I will hold you. I will lead you. I will teach you”. ‘Dance, then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the dance, said he’….I’ll live in you, if you’ll live in me: I am the Lord of the dance, said he’ (Sydney Carter).