Dance

A story is told about a western religious leader who visited the Far East to explore eastern spirituality more deeply.  He participated in numerous cultural events and celebrations of faith.  Hosted by many religious guides, he spoke with them about their beautiful liturgies and, at the end of his visit, when asked by a high priest what he thought of their religions, he said that he was especially impressed by the mystical element of their ritual dances.  Thinking that there must be some rich meaning or heavy symbolism in communicating with God through that mode, he asked: “What does it all mean?”  The response came back to him, “It doesn’t mean anything.  It’s dance!”

Some people contend that God put us on earth to experience the dance of life.  A church hymn by Sydney Carter, Lord of the Dance, tells the gospel story from Jesus’ perspective, portraying His life and mission through a dance image.  It begins with creation of light and darkness, earth and sky, from what was void of matter, followed by Jesus’ own creation in time and space.  The dance is, at times, whimsical and fast-paced; at other times, it is dark and somber.  From crucifixion to resurrection, from the hand of the Father to the grace of the Holy Spirit, it progresses through a gamut of rhythms and emotions.

As God’s people, our role is to respond to the Lord of the Dance as He calls the tunes, keeps the beat, directs the music, adjusts the tempo, invites us onto the dance floor, and connects us to various dance partners.  When we consider the abundant ditties we dance in the stages of a lifetime—tango to twist, be-bop to ballet, jitterbug to jazz, dirge to disco, salsa to swing, ballroom to bump, polka to pirouette, folk to flamingo, waltz to whirl—we might conclude that to say, “It doesn’t mean anything—It’s dance!” is actually another way of saying “It means absolutely everything—it’s life!”

When Don McLean sentimentally crooned about the day the music died in American Pie (1971), he put forth layers of reflective thought.  At the core is the sad reality of early February 1959 when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper were killed in a plane that crashed in the middle of America casting a pall upon music that, prior to that fateful time from his view, united people, generations, races, and cultures, motivating us to dance.  Soon thereafter music became more analytical and political, more divisive and somber; even “the three men we admire most, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, caught the last train to the coast” to lament the dampened and dreary shift in our world.  He notes that, in spite of several attempts to revive the dance, those efforts didn’t stand a chance.  It’s tough to share good news when headlines proclaim that God Is Dead.  

As Carter lays it out, “They buried my body and they thought I’d gone, but I am the dance and I still go on.  They cut me down and I lept up high for I am the life that’ll never, never die.  I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me—for I am the lord of the dance, said he.  Dance, then, wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.”  More than the Lord of the Dance, God is the divine dance—and we are blessed to share in the energy and movements of the Holy Trinity from infancy when we get held in the arms of dancing fools who love us for no reason other than that we’re connected with them to siblings and relatives who knew us before we could remember knowing, from classmates, teammates, and the throng that crowded our growing up years to particular friends with whom we shared intimate aspects of our being, from business casual to black tie formal, and from slowing down through aging to the final song of our earthly existence, we have the privilege of vast experiences on the dance floor of life and the grace that occurs when God dances just with us.  What does it all mean?  It’s life—it means everything!

4 thoughts on “Dance

  1. To me, this is one of your best blogs, Fr Don. You have such a gift. Thanks for sharing it!

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  2. Fr, Nice piece…. Reminds me of The Dance by Garth Brooks. Cheers, Tom

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  3. Very Well put Fr. Farnan!
    I’m still working on the music through the decades of my life.
    God’s peace to You-
    Trish Whitney

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  4. Dear Father Farnam, My sister forwarded this to me yesterday — it was especially poignant, as my dear bandmate and percussionist, Audrey Bookspan had passed away a few hours before I saw the email. She danced with Martha Graham, and spent her life teaching modern and tap dancing (with a sprinkling of circus arts thrown in!) to students of all ages. In her 80s she joined Saint Mad, and as the years went on and she couldn’t stand, she wore her ancient hoofer tap shoes and sat, playing percussion with her hands and feet for my band the next ten years. Her last gig with us was February 2020, the last time we all played together before the pandemic shut down everything. I found your article eloquent and comforting, and will read a bit of it tonight at an informal shiva with her husband and close friends. Thank you, thank you, for your beautiful reflection that came in my email like an answer to a prayer. Molly Mahoney in Philadelphia

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