Wednesday, September 22, 2021

A Reflection by Rev Douglas Galbraith for Sunday 11th July 2021

July 11, 2021 by  
Filed under Weekly Reflection

Square Dance in Heaven.

I am swapping studies with my wife, Daphne. She is to continue working from home and we would like our dining table back so that we don’t have to remove piles of reports when we need to pass the salt. The thing is that her room (where she irons and sews) is about half the area of mine. It means downsizing, no bad thing since I have accumulated, and recycled, enough paper to save the planet.One was a little book I wrote when I was still a student. I kept finding copies in different places, so I assume that it wasn’t exactly a sell-out. I find that the print is so small that I can no longer read it with ease. Its title was Square Dance in Heaven and it addressed the furore going on at the time (the 1960s) about the ‘disgraceful’ invasion of the church by pop music. I didn’t think of the title; that was Martin Luther, and that is the way he described the church’s music.

Sunday’s Old Testament reading is about King David dancing round the Ark of God as it is moved to a new site in his new capital, and about Michal, his wife, who was shocked and appalled by his contortions (2 Samuel 6: 1-5, 12b-19) – and him a king! It comes as a surprise to learn that our hymn book has no fewer than 7 hymns about dance. When Sydney Carter’s ‘Lord of the Dance’ first came out (it is no. 404), people were just as shocked. Then someone reminded everyone of the medieval carol ‘Tomorrow shall be my dancing day’. There, dance was used as a metaphor for the engaging and compelling relationship Christian people have with Christ.

I won’t be urging the congregations on Sunday to bring their dancing shoes next week. I once attended a church in San Francisco which used dance in their services, not by gracious dancers that you looked at but the whole congregation, in a line, kicking this way and that, swaying all together, and going forward to the communion table. We had a rehearsal first and I was only one of those who were embarrassed and discomfited by seeming to have two left feet. I learned then that you need to learn a new ‘vocabulary’ to do this successfully, and – as I think David was doing – reverently.
One of the hymns we shall sing (by American Presbyterian Ruth Duck) says:

Let weavers form from broken strands
a tapestry of prayer.
Let artists paint with skilful hands
their joy, lament, and care.
Then mime the story: Christ has come.
With reverence dance the word.
With flute and organ, gong and drum
God’s praise be ever heard.

She’s right to say ‘with reverence’ since dancing can be of many different kinds. She is right too to have a whole list of creative things people do, since the message is not so much ‘Get dancing’ as ‘Open up your lives and your worship, you dour Presbyterians, to many different forms of expression, and not just words, words, and more words’.

A Prayer
Lord of the dance,
you welcome us into the circle
as we move with you
through each step of human life;
give us your grace
to lighten our steps,
and make us more able
to keep in time with your beat;
this is our prayer.

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