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

 

This entry was posted in Carter (Sydney) and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
  • Carl

    A lovely synthesis across many traditions — thank you for a characteristically revealing musing. Michael Flatley is impressive in his own way, but I’m very pleased to be able to replace him with you, Carter, and Justin when I hear the phrase “lord of the dance”!

  • Susan Schmidt

    I love thinking about dance in the ways you’ve mentioned, Robin. First, as an opportunity to join in the ecstatic union of the universe. Here’s a quote by Michael Jackson, which I think helps to explain his unique giftedness.

    “Consciousness expresses itself through creation. This world we live in is the dance of the creator. Dancers come and go in the twinkling of an eye but the dance lives on. On many an occasion when I am dancing, I have felt touched by something sacred. In those moments, I felt my spirit soar and become one with everything that exists.

    I become the stars and the moon. I become the lover and the beloved. I become the victor and the vanquished. I become the master and the slave. I become the singer and the song. I become the knower and the known. I keep on dancing, then it is the eternal
    dance or creation. The creator and creation merge into one wholeness of joy. I keep on dancing…and dancing…and dancing. Until there is only…the dance.”

    And here is a poem by Rumi, who was intoxicated by the Divine his whole life…

    Rumi –
    The Dancing Cry Of The Soul

    “Love is the dancing cry of the soul, calling the body to worship
    Like a shining whirlpool, or a spinning mayfly
    So is love among the skies.
    I leap across the mountaintops, madly singing the song of all songs
    I float through the ether, intoxicated, thrilled
    I think only of your love, your calling to me
    And I dance the thousand dances of love, all returning to you.

    It is not the play of children, nor the detached unity of wise sages
    Unreal! Unnecessary!
    Where is the beauty?

    When I, like a glowing comet, may flash around your sun
    Laughing, singing, with the joy of loving you!

    Wine makes drunk the mind and body
    But it is love which thrills the soul
    When I approach you, I feel the mad pounding of love
    The singing wonder
    The joy which opens blossoms on the trees of the world.

    Come to me, and I shall dance with you
    In the temples, on the beaches, through the crowded streets
    Be you man or woman, plant or animal, slave or free
    I shall show you the brilliant crystal fires, shining within
    I shall show you the beauty deep within your soul
    I shall show the path beyond Heaven.

    Only dance, and your illusions will blow in the wind
    Dance, and make joyous the love around you
    Dance, and your veils which hide the Light
    Shall swirl in a heap at your feet.”

    I also love Carter’s quote about dancing patterns:

    “(Jesus) dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality.”

    In John’s prologue, (Chaper 1 of the Gospel of John), he calls Jesus “the Logos” or the “shaping principle” of the universe. One way to look at Jesus’ life is to see how he re-enforced the patterns of love and unity which form the foundation of our world. Our challenge, I think, is to follow his lead (in his footsteps) and keep choosing this dance, even when the “devil is on our back.”

    Thanks for a lovely post.

  • Robin

    This response is a real gift, Sue. Thank you! You and Justin would have liked each other very much.

  • Robin

    Thank you, Carl.

  • Danielle Hersey da Silva

    I remember Justin’s African dance recital–it inspired me to take the class a few semesters after, and I’m glad I did! I also remember him singing and swaying wildly in the Gospel choir–the tallest and most animated member, with blond hair flopping together with the graceful movements of the blue choir robes. I’ve always loved this hymn, and am pretty sure I danced to it in Montgomery Hall at some point in my time at St. Mary’s College. I take great comfort in the idea of a weary universe being renewed through a dance.

  • Robin

    It’s wonderful to have someone else who remembers his dancing, Danielle.


  • AVAILABLE NOW!

  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

  • Sign up for weekly newsletter

    Your email will not be shared or sold.
    * = required field

    powered by MailChimp!
  • Twitter Authentication data is incomplete