The song “Lord of the dance” Is very popular in many modern churches. Here are the first three verses – the second verse is the chorus.
I danced in the morning when the world was young
I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun
I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth
Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the lord of the dance, said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance, said he
I danced for the scribes and the Pharisees
They wouldn’t dance, they wouldn’t follow me
I danced for the fishermen James and John
They came with me so the dance went on
Here is the verse on the crucifixion:
I danced on a Friday when the world turned black
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back
They buried my body, they thought I was gone
But I am the dance, and the dance goes on
The question I look at here is: Does dancing bring a Christian closer to God? I present several views on the dance from different movements – Protestant, Roman Catholic, Greek antiquity, Hindu and Atheist.
One Arminian (anti-Calvinist) view (See here for the definition of an “Arminian”)
In “Old debate, New day” Austin Fischer and Brian Zahnd, two anti-Calvinists opposed two “New Calvinists.” In Fischer and Zahnd’s opening statement, Fischer said that Christianity is like a beautiful dance.
In his “Dancing, Arson, and a Plain Reading of Scripture: Brian Zahnd and Austin Fischer Debate Two New Calvinists in Chicago,” the writer praises Zahnd’s “killer metaphor” of the dance:
“The second killer metaphor in this debate was utilized by Brian Zahnd. Zahnd is no novice at debate and as a veteran preacher his rhetorical skills are masterful. With one metaphor he shifted the imaginations of listeners and buried the New Calvinists beneath a conceptual mountain they could not uphold. In reference to the redemptive work of God, Zahnd compared God’s electing call to a dance. “Anything but dancing!!” cried the Baptists. But Zahnd wouldn’t let up. He compared the New Calvinists’ monergistic view to a sad image of God dancing “forlornly” with a mannequin. It will be difficult for anyone who watches this debate to remove that image from their imaginations. Here, Zahnd borrows from some excellent and ancient theology. The image of God dancing harkens to mind the doctrine of perichoresis: the inter-penetration of the Persons of the Godhead. This is pictured as a dance into which humanity is invited to join. But if the New Calvinists’ monergism is correct, then God has elected to dance with a mannequin: the inanimate figures who only resemble responsible persons. What a devastating picture! The New Calvinists never recovered.”
(Perichoresis – From Latin chorus “a dance in a circle, the persons singing and dancing, the chorus of a tragedy,” from Greek khoros “band of dancers or singers, dance, dancing ground,” perhaps from PIE *gher- “to grasp, enclose,” if the original sense of the Greek word is “enclosed dancing floor.” Extension from dance to voice is because Attic drama arose from tales inserted in the intervals of the dance. In Attic tragedy, the khoros (of 12 or 15 (tragic) or 24 (comedic) persons) gave expression, between the acts, to the moral and religious sentiments evoked by the actions of the play. When a Poet wished to bring out a piece, he asked a Chorus from the Archon, and the expenses, being great, were defrayed by some rich citizen (the khoregos): it was furnished by the Tribe and trained originally by the Poet himself” [Liddell & Scott]. Originally in English used in theatrical sense; meaning of “a choir” first attested 1650s. Meaning “the refrain of a song” (which the audience joins in singing). (Online etymological dictionary).
For Fischer and Zahnd, these New Calvinists were found not only out of touch and superceded but naked. The Newd Calvinists.
A second Arminian view
In his “Shall we dance,” Bruce Roffrey writes:
“Abram and Sarai, later to be called Abraham and Sarah, had that happen. One day God said, Shall we dance? And they said, “Yes”, and their lives were never the same. Their family was never the same because a new beginning happened, a new family was founded. And the world was never the same for through this family came blessing. It was a new creation for humanity. Shall we dance? … At creation the Spirit danced over the waters and brought forth life, and God invites us to become part of that cosmic dance. The dance is our journey, a journey of uncertain destination with incomplete directions, no map, only melody and movement, no marching bands, only the music of two lovers, you in God’s arms, heart to heart as God leads you in that dynamic, ever-changing movement of the dance of life.
“But why would God want to dance with me?” you might ask. What would lead God to that invitation? Hasn’t God got bigger and better things to do? Why would God want such an intimate, close relationship?… “When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what are we that you are mindful of us and that you care for us?” (Psalm 8:3-4). Who am I that God is not just mindful of me, but approaches me and asks, “Shall we dance?” The scriptural story moving from the grand, large, all-encompassing primeval myths of creation to the smaller, individual, focused story of Abram and Sarai tells us that this is the way life is and the way God is. God has bigger things to do, but nothing better. There is nothing better that overrides God’s focus on you, nothing that overrides God’s desire to dance with you.”
“Why God chose Abram and Sarai to begin with we don’t know. Why did, why does God choose you? We celebrate. It’s awesome. Perhaps it is as God told Moses, I chose Israel because you were the least. There is a soft spot in God’s heart for the wallflower. It keeps us aware of who asks and who responds, who leads and who follows. God sings, Dance with me, I want to be your partner Can’t you see the music is just starting, Night is falling, and I am calling Dance with me. Shall we dance?”
Roffrey is quoting “Dance With Me,” the title of a 1975 hit single by American soft rock band Orleans. Written by group member John Hall and lyricist Johanna Hall (then a married couple), The single was introduced on the album Let There Be Music from which it was issued as the second single on July 19, 1975. “Dance With Me” became the first single by Orleans to reach the Top 40 rising as high as #6 on Billboard’s Hot 100. (Wikipedia).
The Roman Catholic view
I describe two views. I say The Roman Catholic view because I believe that the descriptions of the following two Roman Catholics are not only very similar to each other, but also represent the general Roman Catholic “mystical” view.
Roman Catholic view 1 – Louis-Albert Lassus (Order of Preachers – Dominican priest)
In “In search of French past (7): the hermit, the poet and the clown,” I wrote about my travels with my Dominican priest friend, Louis-Albert Lassus, who wrote about a dozen books, most of them on the hermitic life. The frontispiece of Louis-Albert’s “La prière est une fête “Prayer is a celebration” contains these words: “I only believe in a God who knows how to dance.” The author of these words is Friedrich Nietzsche; from his “Thus spake Zarathustra.” Here is Zarathustra in his Second Dance with Life. Both Life and Zarathustra were free of the prison of good and evil; they had risen above good and evil.”Oh, see me lying, thou arrogant one, and imploring grace; Gladly would I walk with thee-in some lovelier place! -In the paths O love, through bushes variegated, quiet, trim! Or there along the lake, where gold-fishes dance and swim! … Then did Life answer me thus, and kept thereby her fine ears closed: “O Zarathustra! Crack not so terribly with thy whip! Thou knowest surely that noise killeth thought, and just now there came to me such delicate thoughts. We are both of us genuine ne’er-do-wells and ne’er-do-ills. Beyond good and evil found we our island and our green meadow-we two alone! Therefore must we be friendly to each other!”
(Zarathustra “The second dance song”).
Nietzsche dances to the glory of the Beyond – beyond good and evil. Nietzsche’s dance is not the all good “God-Dance” of Louis-Albert, who is (as Plato said) the Good itself.
In the introduction to his “Prayer is a celebration,” Louis-Albert takes King David’s wife to task for mocking David for dancing half naked in the street: “As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart” (2 Samuel 6:16).
Michal ticked David off for his lack of decorum. She was acting like Protestant prude; a party-pooper. Here is Alexander Balmain Bruce, in “The Training of the Twelve,” (1877).
“He (David) had loved God in a manner which exposed him to the charge of extravagance. He had danced before the Lord, for example, when the ark was brought up from the house of Obededom to Jerusalem, forgetful of his dignity, exceeding the bounds of decorum, and, as it might seem, without excuse, as a much less hearty demonstration would have served the purpose of a religious solemnity.”
Louis-Albert writes that after the Fall (of Adam), blindness descended on humanity. When Christ came (I quote Louis-Albert), “the God-man (Dieu-homme), the God-Dance (Dieu-Dance) invited men and women to recover their sight, to tear off their ridiculous loincloths to tear off those opaque veils, which since Eden has hidden the light of things.” Tear off their loincloths? Like a biblical Zorba ripping off his frontispiece (ephod), letting it all hang – spiritly – out?
I initially found it odd that Louis-Albert chose Nietzsche, the most virulent Christ-hater of them all, to grace the frontispiece of his La prière est une fête “Prayer is a celebration. I thought that Louis-Albert, like all educated Frenchmen, was aware of Nietzsche’s hatred of Christianity. So, why does Louis-Albert give Nietzsche the limelight, never mind the light of day, in the frontispiece of his book about the celebration of prayer. Because he does believe in God, but only if he dances.
Here is more of Nietzsche’s passionate genius (in his “Birth of Tragedy”).
“Lift up your hearts, my brothers, high, higher! And for my sake don’t forget your legs as well! Raise up your legs, you fine dancers, and better yet, stand on your heads!”… “This crown of the man who laughs, this crown wreathed with roses — I have placed this crown upon myself. I myself declare my laughter holy. Today I found no one else strong enough for that”… “Zarathustra the dancer, Zarathustra the light hearted, who beckons with his wings, a man ready to fly, hailing all birds, prepared and ready, a careless and blessed man.”… If someone were to transform Beethoven’s Ode to Joy into a painting and not restrain his imagination when millions of people sink dramatically into the dust, then we could come close to the Dionysian. Now the slave a free man; now all the stiff, hostile barriers break apart, those things which necessity and arbitrary power or “saucy fashion” have established between men. Now, with the gospel of world harmony, every man feels himself not only united with his neighbour, reconciled and fused together, but also as one with him, as if the veil of Maja had been ripped apart, with only scraps fluttering around in the face of the mysterious primordial unity. Singing and dancing, man expresses himself as a member of a higher community: he has forgotten how to walk and talk and is on the verge of flying up into the air as he dances. The enchantment speaks out in his gestures. Just as the animals now speak and the earth gives milk and honey, so something supernatural also echoes out of him: he feels himself a god; he himself now moves in as lofty and ecstatic a way as he saw the gods move in his dream. The man is no longer an artist; he has become a work of art: the artistic power of all of nature, to the highest rhapsodic satisfaction of the primordial unity, reveals itself here in the transports of intoxication. The finest clay, the most expensive marble — man — is here worked and chiseled, and the cry of the Eleusinian mysteries rings out to the chisel blows of the Dionysian world artist: “Do you fall down, you millions? World, do you have a sense of your creator?”
“In the Dionysian dithyramb man is aroused to the highest intensity of all his symbolic capabilities; something never felt forces itself into expression, the destruction of the veil of Maja, the sense of oneness as the presiding genius of form, in fact, of nature itself. Now the essence of nature is to express itself symbolically; a new world of symbols is necessary, the entire symbolism of the body, not just the symbolism of the mouth, of the face, and of the words, but the full gestures of the dance, all the limbs moving to the rhythm. And then the other symbolic powers grow, those of the music, in rhythm, dynamics, and harmony — with sudden violence… We must always remind ourselves that the public for Attic tragedy rediscovered itself in the chorus of the orchestra, that basically there was no opposition between the public and the chorus: for everything is only a huge sublime chorus of dancing and singing satyrs or of those people who permit themselves to be represented by these satyrs.”
Nietzsche said above, “I only believe in a God who knows how to dance.” Recall Louis-Albert’s “When Christ came, “the God-man (Dieu-homme), the God-Dance (Dieu-Dance) invited men and women to recover their sight. Louis-Albert believes in the God-Dance and Nietzsche believes in a god who can dance. The theological problem is that Louis-Albert’s God-Dance is Christ whereas Nietzsche’s God-Dance transcends Christ, abhors Christ; transcends good and evil – a very gnostic/buddhist notion. It seems that for Louis-Albert the unifying principle of humanity is a belief in the God of the Dance. Actually what unifies man is sin; the only thing that can save him is not the God of the dance, but the Man of sorrows. But who will believe this message?
Isaiah 53 – 1. Who has believed our message? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? 2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he has no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Roman Catholic view 2 – “The Trinity, communion and dance” (Keith A. Fournier).
[My comments in square brackets].
“Coming to understand the Trinity is an eternal invitation, but beginning to comprehend the implications of this truth of revelation leads us on the road to coming to understand another vital theological truth, the meaning of the word communion. This deep theological concept called Communion also lies at the heart of coming to grasp the mystery of the Church. In fact, it is the path to understanding the very meaning of human existence itself. We are invited, through Jesus Christ, to live in the Trinity and the Trinity in us this is the theology of communion. It begins with the profound insight that within God there is a community, a family of Divine Persons whose perfect love is perfect unity! Understandably, such a concept is not easily expressed with the limitations of our language. In reflecting on this intra-Trinitarian (within the Trinity) relationship of perfect love and perfect unity between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the great writers of Eastern Christianity referred to the dynamic nature of this relationship with a Greek word perichoresis. This word has no literal English translation. Perhaps the best colloquial or popular rendering would be dance. (Peri around; Chorea dance; Perichorea – To dance around….) Perichoresis is the Divine Dance of perfect love occurring eternally between the Persons of the Trinity!”
“This concept is also hard for many Westerners to grasp. This is particularly true or those who have been influenced by what I call disincarnated views of the human person that all too often present living a life of faith as though it means having no fun, celebration or enjoyment in life. In this kind of narrow understanding of Christianity, dance or many other human joys that are experienced bodily, are considered carnal and therefore evil. How sad. In fact, it is worse than sad. It misses another profound claim of Christian faith that the body is more than a carrying case. We are our bodies. The Christian faith proclaims boldly that we who believe in Jesus Christ and are baptized into new life in Him will be resurrected, bodily! Nothing could be further from the revelation of relationship found in the great spiritual writers and mystics of the Christian tradition than a kind of disincarnated bodiless Christianity. Dance is a dynamic way of expressing a relationship between persons. The spiritual life is like a dance! In fact, this dance of self giving love is already underway within the inner life of God. This is the Trinity. We are invited to the celebration!”
To follow Fournier’s thread: communion – the Trinity – dynamic relationship – Greek idea of perichoresis (divine dance of perfect love) – antithesis of Western idea [Western Christian, I assume], which is disincarnated, body is evil, no fun, no celebration, no enjoyment, narrow. The body is key [as Mr Bean said: “My bodeee is my tooooool].
By “Western (Christian) idea,” Fournier can’t mean the Roman Catholic church, which is heavily into the heavenly blessings of sensual enjoyment. Raise our glasses:
“Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
there’s dancing, laughter & good red wine;
at least I have always found it so,
Fournier is probably alluding to the Church’s “separated brethren” (Rome’s moniker for Protestants).
Most Roman Catholics would not go so far as to say – as does the Jesuit evolutionist, Teilhard de Chardin – that matter, the clay of creation, is divine, is spirit in progress:
“Blessed be you, universal matter, immeasurable time, boundless ether, triple abyss of stars and atoms and generations: you who by overflowing and dissolving our narrow standards or measurement reveal to us the dimensions of God… I acclaim you as the divine milieu, charged with creative power, as the ocean stirred by the Spirit, as the clay molded and infused with life by the incarnate Word.”
Although the following quotation on “the dance” between matter and spirit is not from Chardin, it sings from the same hymnal, indeed, it reminds me of Fournier and the mystical view in general, whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Church or Eastern religions (Buddhism and Hinduism):
[M]athematical functions model the way energy flows between two dimensions, how energy is transformed between the timeless frequency domain of psyche and the material universe of space-time. The classical school of Indian philosophy, Samkhya, is founded upon the same hypothesis, that all reality consists of the dance and relationship between the two domains of prakrtti and purusha, Sanskrit for what have been translated as “matter” and “spirit”, but could likely be more accurately translated to correspond with the time domain (td) and the frequency domain (fd).
Many attribute the line “Learn to dance, so when you get to heaven the angels know what to do with you.” (Type the line into a search engine). The beastly thing; I can’t find the source anywhere. Such words seem highly inappropriate for Augustine. Surely it is at best trivial, at worst, drivel.
“Not having grasped his understanding of “Incarnation”, but based on the reasoning exhibited in this book, I do not see how he can do justice to the idea that God became Flesh and dwelt amongst us. Such deficiencies are all the more incredible in the light of other of his insights. In his beautiful “In praise of the Dance” he states: ‘I praise the dance, for it frees people from the heaviness of matter and binds the isolated to community. I praise the dance, which demands everything: health and a clear spirit and a buoyant soul. Dance is a transformation of space, of time, of people, who are in constant danger of becoming all brain, will, or feeling.’ Even in this beauty, we see a deep suspicion of the material realm. But we would hope that he takes his own words to heart, about the dangers of being all brain and will.”
The first line of Augustine’s (?) poem: “I praise the dance, for it frees people from the heaviness of matter…” So many cares and worries would vanish; if only I could shuck off this mortal coil. Best of all, there would be no more death – and no more dying, which is worse. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Paul in Romans 7:24). Best of all, that is, if you don’t end up in hell.
The purported extract of a poem of Augustine is definitely not in the City of God, or anywhere else in Augustine that I can find. What is more, how can I believe anything this person says about Augustine when he describes Augustine’s view of Grace – coupling him, unwittingly, with Pelagius, Augustine’s bugbear. To wit: “The key question that hangs over Augustine’s view of salvation is that of Grace. When it is mentioned, it is usually seen as a reward for those who believe correctly. Grace is for the regenerate, effective at some future date, and punishment for all others.” No, no. Here is Augustine on grace that Pelagius despised: “Grant what you command and command what you desire.”
Here is more on “Augustine’s” poem above. An enquirer on “Yahoo Answers” asks: “Help please with a poem/quote – Augustine or Goetsch? I found the following poem on-line and unattributed, which I found matched my own sentiment and the last line made me smile:
‘I praise the dance, for it frees people from the heaviness of matter and binds the isolated to community. I praise the dance, which demands everything: health and a clear spirit and a buoyant soul. Dance is a transformation of space, of time, of people, who are in constant danger of becoming all brain, will, or feeling. Dancing demands a whole person, one who is firmly anchored in the centre of his life, who is not obsessed by lust for people and things and the demon of isolation in his own ego. Dancing demands a freed person, one who vibrates with the equipoise of all his powers. I praise the dance. O man, learn to dance, or else the angels in heaven will not know what to do with you.’
“Presumably, continues the enquirer, written by a spiritual new-age type, I did a google search and kept getting the answer – St. Augustine of Hippo (d.430 AD). Now this surprised me, as the words and sentiments hardly sound contemporary to 5th Century Christianity. I also found it suspicious that despite the constant attribution to St. Augustine, nobody ever referenced which piece of his works the poem appeared in. also found out that St. Augustine, in a known work of his, wrote that dance was a waste of time, and good Christians were better employed in using their energy to work – a sentiment that later church officials often repeated. In addition, the whole known works of St. Augustine’s have been placed on computer, and neither the poem, nor any separate sentence from it, has been found within them. Eventually I found variants of the lines, written in German, attributed to George Goetsch, apparently appearing in a book “Alte Kontra-tanze” (Old Contra-dances) which he co-authored with Rolf Gardiner in 1928. I have been unable to source the original book, so I do not know if the words are the author’s own creation, or whether they are quotes from someone else.”
“Does anyone know this poem, and whether Goetsch wrote it? Goetsch and Gardiner were both into spirituality, but were also early supporters of social nationalism. If written by Goetsch I can imagine someone liking the poem but not the politics of the writer, and so detached the author from it, and either then falsely attributed it to a Christian Saint, or someone did so later. Any information on Goetsch and Gardiner would also be appreciated, but I’m really after tracking down the original poem.”
Pindar, the Greek poet, wrote that these goddesses were created to fill the world with pleasantness and goodwill. The Graces attended Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of Beauty, and her lover Eros. The Graces, together with the Nymphs and the Muses, danced in a circle to Apollo’s divine music.
“The significance of the Nataraja (Nataraj) sculpture is said to be that Shiva is shown as the source of all movement with the Lord of the cosmos, represented by the arch of flames. The purpose of the dance is to release men from illusion of the idea of the “self” and of the physical world. The cosmic dance was performed in Chidambaram in South India, called the center of the universe by some Hindus. The gestures of the dance represent Shiva’s five activities, creation (symbolized by the
drum), protection (by the “fear not” hand gesture), destruction (by the fire), embodiment (by the foot planted on the ground), and release (by the foot held aloft). As Nataraja (Sanskrit: Lord of Dance) Shiva represents apocalypse and creation as he dances away the illusory world of Maya transforming it into power and enlightenment. The symbolism of Siva Nataraja is religion, art and science merged as one. In God’s endless dance of creation, preservation, destruction, and paired graces is hidden a deep understanding of our universe.”
Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, said “I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.” Buddhism is a Hindu heresy. Not, however, when it comes to the dance, for there seems to be much in the above description that sits well with Buddhism.
James White (Dividing line, October 23, 2014) in his critique of the “God of the dance” idea among some Calvinists is that they bought into this “God invites us to the dance” garbage. I call it garbage, I know what it’s meant to say, but the only way this topic is ever going to be meaningfully addressed is when we stay within the realm of sola scriptura. Once we start dancing around outside painting pretty sunsets, the chances of it actually answering these questions pretty much disappears.” I am reminded of someone telling me of a sermon she heard at her church where the preacher said that every word in the Bible is from God – tota scriptura. That’s nice. And sola scriptura – scripture alone? I know the preacher very well, and he does not believe in sola scriptura; he is a “Word of Faith” person (Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland), who believes in extra-biblical revelation.
Sola scriptura, yes, that’s good.. But what would James White make of Psalm 150:4 “Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.” John Pulsford writes about this verse:”Man, the last in creation, but the first in song, knows not how to contain himself. He dances, he sings, he commands all the heavens, with all their angels, to help him, “beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying fowl” must do likewise, even “dragons” must not be silent, and “all deeps” must yield contributions. He presses even dead things into his service, timbrels, trumpets, harps, organs, cymbals, high sounding cymbals, if by any means, and by all means, he may give utterance to his love and joy” (Charles’ Spurgeon’s “Treasury of David”).
Then, alas, this damp squib – from a Protestant, naturally:
“The dance was in early times one of the modes of expressing religious joy (Ex 15:20 6:16). When from any cause men’s ideas shall undergo such a revolution as to lead them to do the same thing for the same purpose, it will be time enough to discuss that matter. In our time, dancing has no such use, and cannot, therefore, in any wise be justified by pleading the practice of pious Jews of old.” (William Swan Plumer on Psalm 150 in Spurgeon’s “Treasury of David.”
So then, to answer my question: Does dancing bring a Christian closer to God? Dance with your body, if you want, but most of all, if you want to dance – do so in your soul. What should matter more to the believer in Christ is: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) and “somebody who worships in the Spirit of God, rejoices in Christ Jesus and puts no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:3)” (John MacArthur).