Re-post from 2011
Seemingly unrelated to theology is my recent obsession with the song Interlude by Attack Attack. Somebody keyed me into the awesome University of Northern Iowa dance setting to the song, and my kids and I jam to it when no one is looking.
I love to dance though I am, as my kids would say, a “fail” when it comes to dancing that should be seen in public. I ask you to imagine me cranking this song up early in the morning at home, my feet meeting the floor in graceless thuds. But mine is the joy of the fool.
And it’s good aerobics.
One of the reasons I love dance is its uselessness. Yes, I realize it has psycho-somatic benefits and can be good for marriage. But, just like liturgy, it courts the spontaneity and “just because-ness” of unproductive play. So I think, what is play? It is a rehearsal of real life in the spirit of near-limitless freedom and creativity; a purposeless celebration of existence; an imaginative shrine for unfettered, choreographed creativity and exploration within the vast expanses of the true, the good and the beautiful. In play the dramatic nature of existence is performed with playful abandon. Play, and dance, affirm that our dignity need not be justified by anything other than itself.
Play is also recreation (meaning re-creation), as it participates in the creative act of the God who made all things spring into being as καλὰ, kala,“good/beautiful” (cf. Genesis 1:31).
The barely dressed King David celebrated the liturgical aspect of dance as he whirled around the Ark of the Covenant.
David danced before the Lord with all his might (2 Samuel 6:14).
Jesus, the Son of David, who stripped himself of glory as he entered the womb of Mary, the Virgin Ark, was greeted by the dance of John the Baptist in his mother’s womb.
Why don’t we dance at Mass? Well we do, but the dance is not free and spontaneous but ritualized and unified to accord with the greatness of the celebrated Mysteries around which the Mystical Body of Jesus dances. Liturgy evokes the gravity of play, as Romano Guardini reminds us:
Liturgy is not work, but play. To be at play, or to fashion a work of art in God’s sight — such is the essence of the liturgy. From this is derived its sublime mingling of profound earnestness and divine joyfulness. The fact that the liturgy gives a thousand strict and careful directions on the quality of the language, gestures, colors, garments and instruments which it employs, can only be understood by those who are able to take art and play seriously. Have you ever noticed how gravely children draw up the rules of their games, on the form of the melody, the position of the hands, the meaning of this stick and that tree? It is for the sake of the silly people who may not grasp their meaning and who will persist in seeing the justification of an action or object only in its obvious purpose. Have you ever read of or even experienced the deadly earnestness with which the artist-vassal labors for art, his lord? Of his sufferings on the score of language? Or of what an overweening mistress form is? And all this for something that has no aim or purpose! No, art does not bother about aims. Does anyone honestly believe that the artist would take upon himself the thousand anxieties and feverish perplexities incident to creation if he intended to do nothing with his work but to teach the spectator a lesson, which he could just as well express in a couple of facile phrases, or one or two historical examples, or a few well-taken photographs? The only answer to this can be an emphatic negative. Being an artist means wrestling with the expression of the hidden life of man, in order that that inner life may be given existence. Nothing more. It is the image of the Divine creation, of which it is said that it has made things “to be.”
The liturgy does the same thing. It too, with endless care, with all the seriousness of the child and the strict conscientiousness of the great artist, has toiled to express in a thousand forms the sacred, God-given life of the soul to no other purpose than that the soul may therein have its existence and live its life. 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).
The Eritrean Orthodox in Africa really understand this. They have gravely-playful and graceful rubrics that make clerics poetry-in-motion. See here:
The Eastern liturgical Dance of Isaiah, done at weddings and baptisms, is also beautiful:
Can you believe it took all that to simply introduce you to the dance-music video of the Interlude? Watch and dance: