Re-post from 2011
I love to dance, but I am so bad at it that I rarely get the chance to do so without extreme self-consciousness. Only when I am with my wife, who loves to dance, or when I am alone do feel free enough to allow myself permission to dance. One day, we will take dance lessons.
One of the reasons I love dance is its uselessness and its sheer act of expressiveness. When I dance with my wife, I am able to say with my body: you are a joy to be with. After we dance the night away, I always feel like we celebrated our wedding all over again.
Just like liturgy, dance is a form of play. Play amplifies freedom and creativity and a purposeless celebration of existence. Speaking philosophically, it is an imaginative shrine for choreographed spontaneity that sets you out into an exploration of the vast expanses of the true, the good and the beautiful. How wonderful! In play the dramatic nature of existence is performed with abandon. While there are rules that govern play, the rules are capacious, giving ample space to risk all for the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.
Jews know how to dance, always have, always will (Psalm 149:3). The barely dressed King David famously celebrated his liturgical whirl around the Ark of the Covenant, much to his wife Mychal’s chagrin: “And David danced before the Lord with all his might” (2 Sam. 6:14).
Romano Guardini famously expressed this playful aspect of liturgy in his book Spirit of the Liturgy:
The liturgy has laid down the serious rules of the sacred game which the soul plays before God. And, if we are desirous of touching bottom in this mystery, it is the Spirit of fire and of holy discipline “who has knowledge of the world”– the Holy Spirit — who has ordained the game which the Eternal Wisdom plays before the Heavenly Father in the Church, God’s kingdom on earth. And “Wisdom’s delight is to be with the children of men” (cf. Proverbs 8:31).
Dance incarnates the play of music in the body, transforming the body into the shape of its rhythms and harmonies. And as we believe the baptized body is a temple of the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), and the body is itself to become in all things a liturgical action glorifying God (Rom 12:1; Col. 3:17), I have always believed that when I dance — alone or with my bride — I am enacting, in a singular way, a lived liturgy of praise to God for the beauty and goodness of the world and the world to come.
An African American priest friend of mine once texted me something remarkable. It was the morning after my wife and I had attended our parish festival and had danced for around two hours to live music of a band called Bag of Donuts. It was a blast! He wrote me, “I was praying last night for you and got this crazy sense that Jesus wanted me to tell you to not be afraid to dance like a white boy. That when you get to heaven He wants you to dance. So dance.”
So during my recent silent retreat, I did something new. The retreat house was absolutely empty and so one night I decided to try it out. So I put my headphones on, set my iPhone playlist to songs I like, and danced in the dining room for the next hour. Soaked with sweat and full of joy. It. Was. Awesome.
Likely the first person to ever do such a thing there, but who knows?
If I make it to the Kingdom, though, I want to be taught by Jews to dance. Like this: