I Am the Dance and the Dance Goes On

Shiva, Lord of the Dance

Shiva, Lord of the Dance

Spiritual Sunday

Yesterday was the 16th anniversary of the death of my son Justin, who died in a freak drowning accident when he was 21. Justin was, among other things, a joyous dancer, so one of the hymns we sang at his funeral service was the hymn “The Lord of the Dance.”

Whenever I hear the hymn, I see Justin dancing. Justin was passionate about dance and would lose himself in the movement. In fact, once in a Slovenian night club he sustained a serious knee injury when someone lurched against him. In the end-of-semester performance of an African dance class, he threw himself around the stage with reckless abandon. On the day of his death, he danced up to the cross at Church Point on the St. Mary’s River and threw himself into the water, not knowing that a freak current was awaiting him. (The spot is almost always a safe place, and he used to swim there as a child.)

In my heart of hearts I know that somewhere, in some state, Justin is dancing.

I looked up the Wikipedia entry on “Lord of the Dance” and discovered several interesting things. It was written in 1963 by Sydney Carter, who was inspired by both the English carol “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day” (“To call my true love to the dance”) and the Shaker hymn “Tis a Gift to Be Simple,” which provides the music (“To turn, turn, shall be our delight/’Til by turning, turning we come round right.”)

Since I’ve always sensed a Hindu aspect to the hymn, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Carter also drew on the Hindu god Shiva, who “performs his divine dance (called Tandavam) to destroy a weary universe and prepare for its renewal, by the god Brahma who starts the process of creation.”

 In Carter’s view of Jesus, he is

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.

Carter adds,

Whether Jesus ever leaped in Galilee to the rhythm of a pipe or drum I do not know. We are told that David danced (and as an act of worship too), so it is not impossible. The fact that many Christians have regarded dancing as a bit ungodly (in a church, at any rate) does not mean that Jesus did.

As Christianity has loosened up, the idea of a dancing Christ and of dancing in church has become more acceptable. At any rate, “The Lord of the Dance” is regularly sung by many congregations.

The Lord of the Dance

By Sydney Carter

I danced in the morning when the world was young
I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun
I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth

Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the lord of the dance, said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance, said he

I danced for the scribes and the Pharisees
They wouldn’t dance, they wouldn’t follow me
I danced for the fishermen James and John
They came with me so the dance went on

Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the lord of the dance, said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance, said he

I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame
The holy people said it was a shame
They ripped, they stripped, they hung me high
Left me there on the cross to die

Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the lord of the dance, said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance, said he

I danced on a Friday when the world turned black
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back
They buried my body, they thought I was gone
But I am the dance, and the dance goes on

Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the lord of the dance, said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance, said he

They cut me down and I leapt up high
I am the life that will never, never die
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me
I am the Lord of the dance, said he

Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the lord of the dance, said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance, said he

 

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