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.
Easter Sunday, the Christ Risen Day.
The first time I've set foot in a church in many many years. I am with loved ones and an aunt I have not seen in over 30 years. There are several hundred of us belting out the hymn in this Methodist church in Savannah, Georgia.
I am taken back through the years to the church I grew up in, when the liturgies and rituals and this song, Lord of the Dance, gave comfort and steadfastness in a rather chaotic childhood. The tune is the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts. It resonated in me even as a child.
The pastor, a former Broadway actor, leads the congregation through the old old story. First, I smile, laugh, want to dance in the aisles of the church. We are joyous.
I danced in the morning When the world was begun, And I danced in the moon And the stars and the sun, And I came down from heaven And I danced on the earth, At Bethlehem I had my birth.
Each verse tells the tale, the myth of Christ. The encounters with the pharisees, his work as a healer and miracle worker. The hymn tells the tale of his torture and crucifixion and resurrection, and the tears come.
I danced on the Sabbath And I cured the lame; The holy people Said it was a shame. They whipped and they stripped And they hung me on high, And they left me there On a Cross to die.
With each verse, the pastor assures that we feel these words, that we want to dance with joy and weep with sorrow.
The Holy Fool
I look at all of us gathered in this sacred place and know that we sing the story of the Holy Fool, the Wise Fool, the Christ Clown (there is even a clown sculpture in the narthex entryway of this church).
I feel the energy move through the congregation, and I understand that Dionysos was summoned this morning, the god of theatre, spectacle, and religious ecstasy. This is not sacrilegious or heretical. Far from it. Dionysos is one of the oldest Christ figures that we know of, the original Holy Dancing Fool. We are honored by the presence of this powerful vital archetype.
The song is mythopoetic. There are depths to this hymn far beyond the doctrines of the modern day Christian church. Sydney Carter wrote the lyrics in 1963, not all that long ago in the whole scheme of things. He says he was thinking of Jesus when he wrote the words but he was equally inspired by the Hindu God Shiva as the Cosmic Ecstatic Dancer.
Carter wrote, "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." (Wikipedia)
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
The Lord of the Dance is the Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the mysterious figure who protects the baby otter Portly in Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows. I highly recommend the book or, at the very least, this chapter. It is magic.
"This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me," whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. "Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!"
Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror—indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy—but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend, and saw him at his side, cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.
Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fullness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humorously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.
The Mythopoetic Christ
Mythopoesis connects us to each other, to timeless moments, to the multiverse, and to the Sacred and the Awe-ful. Our lives - and our religions - are deep, ancient, and communal in this way. We hear the dominant, imperious summons to awake, to be present to the Friend and Helper, to the Hope Merchant.
The mythopoetic Christ lies not in History but in Mystery.
And He was right there. On Easter Morning in a modest church in the Low Country, dancing right alongside us as we rejoiced, sorrowed, and rejoiced again.