To turn, turn…

To turn

We began our worship this morning with the loudest birdsong ever and sun breaking through (despite predicted rain) to Isaiah 45: 8-12, 18-24: (The Message). Do look it up in that version – it is brilliant – and perfect for Lent…

I found it on the basis of the words ‘So turn to me and be helped’, with ‘turn’ being an obvious word for a Lenten reflection, linking with ‘repentance’. However, that word ‘turn’ took me on an unexpected journey to somewhere quite different – so if you have time to follow my journey and what I shared today, here goes…

I found myself looking at the song

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right

While this song was written by a Shaker Christian and interpreted by some to be about repentance, that’s not the case – it is a Shaker dancing song and the words ‘turn’ are a set of dance instructions! Getting you back to the right place again in the dance.

And this in turn led Sydney Carter who wrote the Lord of the dance hymn which is of course set to the same tune. Many will know that the title the Lord of the dance is originally one attributed to the Hindu God Shiva – the destroyer. That in itself is often misunderstood by Christians – God as destroyer? But of course there are things that should be destroyed like evil – we may know lyrics about dancing on injustice (Hillsong’s ‘Did you hear the mountains tremble’ or Garth Hewitt’s ‘Dance on injustice’) Interestingly, Howard Carter had a statue of Shiva as Lord of the dance on his desk and reflecting on that image along with the Shaker faith that embraced dance, he wrote his hymn, saying later:

“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.

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.’

I found a website celebrating Christian artists from other cultures who have picked up on dance in their cultural expressions and painted Jesus as a dancer. That had me interested in the light of Philip Yancey’s ‘Vanishing Grace’ celebrating the way pilgrims, activists and artists communicate the Kingdom. So I printed off some that you might want to look up:

Nyoman Darsane (Bali) _ Jesus dancing everything into creation

Jyoti Sahi (India) – Prophetic dancer-drummer – dancing for Adivasis is the breath of life, and being made from the skin of dead animals, drumming central to the Dalit experience. Here the drum symbolizes the entire creation, everything around the drummer coming alive to its rhythms of the dance…

Heimo Christian Haikalia – Christ dancing on the Sea of Galilee

There is something so attractive and enticing at the thought of Jesus leading a dance! And I found myself asking what have we to learn from these artists & song-writers?

And then just as I was looking at all of this, Steve B sent through an email quoting Richard Rohr which spoke of the joining the Cosmic Dance! This comes from his book ‘The Divine Dance’ in which he uses the metaphor for the Trinity of the persons of God both dancing and being the dance, to which we are all invited. Rohr explains in one interview about the book that we live in increasingly tribal times – with walls and barriers and exclusions of others. He argues that dancing is not competitive but inclusive…

And that made me think back to the Youtube phenomenon ‘Where the hell is Matt?’ It began in 2006 when Matt Harding from Australia posted video of himself dancing in different locations to show his friends where he was on his travels. Initially it was him as a lone dancer. By 2008 others were joining in and in 2012 he filmed a new video where he learns local dances and has links to charities, inviting viewers to donate…

What is it about those videos that is so compelling? They seems to resonate – to strike a chord with something innate – something primal. It’s something about joy, inclusivity, a language that breaks down barriers, shouting equality and shared humanity. In the 2012 version, dancers join him in Syria, while for their own safety their faces are blanked out – I find that hugely moving…

And one final image, to led us into prayer: Harry was reminding us this week of what we leant from Kitty from her travels in Brazil about a non-contact dance called Capoeira. It originated with African slaves who, if I remember rightly, were forbidden from having physical contact and is a mixture of martial art and dance. It speaks of liberation, dignity and beauty defying an ugly context.
So… how about this as a Lenten message…. If we are reviewing our lives, how about seeing our calling to be to join the dance? Jesus the Lord of the dance calls us to turn, turn… Or, in the words of Lewis Carroll’s Mock Turtle, ‘ Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you , will you come and join the dance?’
Our prayers were to name people and situations where we needed the divine dance to break through, for those people to be swept up in the dance , or where others could not dance but we might dance for them… and we shared bread and wine, including them in the dance… We closed with this blessing:

In this season of Lent,
May we turn
May we dance…
Dance defiance on injustice
Dance inclusion on division
Dance life in all its fullness
Join the Divine dance
And model a better way to live
And may we live to dance on our own graves!

And if you’d like to join us in our homework (!) this is what was set for us…
Look out for the divine dance and join in – with forgiveness, generosity, acts of kindness, laughter, listening…
Choose a charity this week that we can give to so that we can dance on injustice and invite others to join the divine dance.

So will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you join the dance?