“Something my father said. He was old, very old at the time. I went into his room, and he was sitting alone in the dark, crying. So I asked him what was wrong, and he said, “My shoes are too tight, but it doesn’t matter, because I have forgotten how to dance.” I never understood what that meant until now. My shoes are too tight, and I have forgotten how to dance.”
-Londo Mollari, Babylon 5
I have never been a dancer. I didn’t come from a family that danced (except for weddings, and the occasional funeral–just kidding on the funeral). I didn’t have friends that really danced. I never learned, except for the Electric Slide, Cha-Cha Slide, and Cupid Shuffle.
I regret that the church never learned, either. Maybe it could have taught me before I became too self-conscious to try.
I know what the early American church’s problem with dancing was. In its mind, dancing led to sex, and therefore all dancing had no part not only in worship, but had no part in the lives of real Christians, who were supposed to live absolutely upright and moral (by the church’s standard). It tightened its shoes so much that it killed its feet.
American Mainline Christianity never recovered from that overreaction. We should have found other ways in which to channel our deepest emotional energy, but I don’t think we have. The Contemporary Christian Music movement has tried to reintroduce us to dance, but in the process introduced a whole slew of other problems (like bad music and even worse theology). We’ve tried Special Music, Liturgical Dance, Praise Bands, but nothing has worked. Our shoes are too tight. We have forgotten how to dance.
A few months back I came across a video featuring Peter Hollens and Lindsey Stirling. I am a musician in the core of my being. I am both a vocalist and an instrumentalist, but I can’t imagine being able to channel my energy like they do. Or like The Backbeats, my favorite group from NBC’s “The Sing-Off”; or Alex and Twitch from FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance?”; or Quest Crew of MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew” and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” fame.
I have an enormous amount of respect for these people. They have discovered the secret to being truly and fully human. Their music and their dance is as much a part of them as breathing or eating. I get a glimpse of that when I play my tuba. It takes me to another place and I feel more like me than I ever do at other times–not even when I sing. It flows through me, and it is in those times I can see God most clearly.
When have I felt that in the church? Not often. A few times here and there, almost always music related–that’s what speaks to me most easily, after all. It is disheartening to try and get other people to move (or even clap) and be met instead with blank or scowling faces.
Last Thursday night, at our first summer Evening Prayer, we sang the “Canticle of the Turning”, which uses part of Mary’s Magnificat set to an Irish tune. A little girl, Sophia, liked the music so much that she decided to dance up and down the aisle. Watching this child, who is usually incredibly shy, let go so easily and dance moved me. She is an inspiration. The irony that I was receiving this revelation from a girl named Wisdom is not lost on me.
I want to learn how to do that, but my shoes are too tight. I want to take them off, but my inhibitions keep me from doing so. I got made fun of all the time as a kid for everything, so adding to the list is never a comfortable feeling.
What if I look like an idiot? What if I find I can’t do it? What if everyone stares at me? What if they judge me? What if their opinion of me changes, and they don’t want to be around me anymore? What if I embarrass not only myself, but others I care about (that’s the one I really struggle with).
The thing is, I know everyone else in church is thinking the exact same thing–except for those few who do still believe that bodily movement that isn’t kneeling or praying is from “the devil”.
How do we change it? How do we get people to stop being who they are and start being who they could be? How do we move them into what Richard Rohr calls the Second Half of Life (thank you Pastor Bill)? Especially with our shoes so tight?