There is a song that keeps playing in my mind as I try to write my latest article regarding how To-Be. I try to ignore it, but it persists. So while it plays, I think I might as well write about it.
This may not be in my writing niche, I don’t know. Frankly, I still have a vague idea of my writing niche. But I digress.
Also, I have not checked if this particular topic is being searched online or if it meets SEO or whatever the search terms are.
But since it is in my head, I will go ahead and write about it. There may be something here yet.
It is a song I learned in school for our church hymns. I will share the chorus (I know by heart) and second stanza (I googled), which goes:
Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he
I danced for the scribe
And the pharisee,
But they would not dance
And they wouldn’t follow me.
I danced for the fishermen,
For James and John
They came with me
And the Dance went on.
It was just a hymn back then for me. Something to be sung while inside the church. I never really questioned the words.
Now that I took time to care, it seems confusing to say the least. Why is the Lord’s work likened to a dance? No idea.
Mission portrayed as a dance
Since I have given in to curiosity, however, a quick search on google revealed
“Lord of the Dance” is a hymn with words written by English songwriter Sydney Carter in 1963. It follows the idea of a traditional English carol, “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day” which tells the gospel story in the first-person voice of Jesus of Nazareth with the device of portraying Jesus’ life and mission as a dance.
Hmmm… interesting. I am not a dancer but I do love watching people dance. It’s admirable how graceful and passionate they are about their dance. In that sense, I can relate to the statement of portraying Jesus’ mission as a dance.
Further research of how a mission can be fulfilled through dance led me to the website of a dance center. Their mission and vision discuss the origins of their ballet training company:
… a prism (to) represent(s) a dancer’s heart and body as she/he worships and glorifies the Lord. For a prism (dancer) to fulfill its intended purpose, it must be pure and transparent before the Lord – a right heart before God. A prism by itself is nothing, but when pure white light, representing the Holy Spirit, penetrates and illuminates the prism, the prism reflects the glory of its creator. White light, the Holy Spirit, uses a prism as a vehicle to reveal its splendor through a radiant spectrum of colors – each serving its own purpose in worshipping and magnifying Him. Being a prism and reflecting the glory of the Lord is the heart and purpose of Prisma Ballet.
Their story brilliantly answers my question regarding the dance part. Their background confirms the statement that a vocation or goal can be compared to a dance.
As I delved deeper to satisfy my curiosity about the hymn, I next checked on the composer. Perhaps something can be gleaned as to why the song was written. I was not disappointed.
The song was written by Sydney Carter. He was born in 1915 and was educated at Oxford. He taught high school in the 1940s and served with the Society of Friends during World War II.
He began writing songs in the 1950s and the 1960s. He wrote the song Lord of the Dance in 1963.
When Carter wrote the song, it is said that he was inspired partly by Jesus, partly by the Hindu god Shiva as Nataraja, and partly as a tribute to Shaker music.
Carter is known as an iconoclast and he may not be the best person to go to for theological perspective.
Carter however makes the following observation about Jesus:
“I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.”
Shiva As Nataraja
As for the other inspirations, the Shiva as Nataraja sculpture is said to be sitting at the composer’s desk during his composition. The dancing sculpture depicts the Hindu god as the source of all movement within the cosmos. In that pose, the dance is meant to free men from their idea of “self” and the physical world.
The Shakers are a millenarian nontrinitarian restorationist Christian sect founded in 1747 in England. Later on, they organized in the United States in the 1780s. They are officially known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. However, they were dubbed as the “Shaking Quakers” due to their unusual practice of dancing during their worship.
Aside from these, the Shakers also composed many songs for dancing during their worship ritual.
It is rather intriguing to read that aside from Jesus, the Hindu god and the Shakers are part of the inspiration for the hymn. And in a statement by Carter himself, he said:
“I did not think the churches would like it at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far-flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact, people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord … Anyway, it’s the sort of Christianity I believe in.”
So then maybe there is something to be learned after all from all this searching. Aside from satisfying curiosity over the last song syndrome.
The song is not so much about religion. It is about faith. In his own words, Carter believes that “Faith is more basic than language or theology.” The composer further states that “Scriptures and creeds may come to seem incredible, but faith will still go dancing on.”
Song of protest
It is no wonder that when Carter died on March 13, 2004, at the age of 88, his song “Lord of the Dance” was credited as “the most celebrated religious song of the 20th century.”
In that era of demonstrations against the government, the song brought the sound and spirit of protest into the church. Especially in services designed to reach young people.
So to circle back, my mind is now free of the song. Most likely because it was already written on this white space. The nagging chorus had already found its way out. In its release, I learned something new.