Dancing With God

By Leonard Sweet –

Leonard Sweet

Leonard Sweet

The Bible is filled with stories of dancing. These dances are not planned, scripted ballets but improvised songs of freedom and hope. They aren’t performed by trained and seasoned professionals but are initiated in the joyful celebrations of the common people of God.

The dances of God are edgy and innovative. They are the dances of the margins, the seeds of raw potential, born not out of the exactness of ritual but in the spontaneity of the Spirit.

The Greek noun perichoresis was the early church’s favorite word to describe the interrelationship of the holy Trinity. When the prefix peri (around) is linked with the root of the verb choreuein (to dance), a compelling metaphor is formed or “choreographed” to describe the “one nature in three persons” of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Literally they “dance around.” The choreia or dance of God is the choreography of the cosmos, the interrelationship of Creator, creation, and life itself, the holy creativity of the All in All.

The dancing metaphor of the holy Trinity is envisioned and embodied as a circle dance. The perichoresis, though a noun in term, is built upon a verb. The dance of the triune divine is moving, active, eternally both transcendent and immanent, and flowing together in a joyful and harmonious, rhythmic and resonant celebration of life. The great Artist of eternal life dances with the incarnate Christ and the Holy Spirit. Each dwells in the other, outside of and within the created world.

Jesus, the Lord of the Dance, is the physical embodiment of the sacred dance of life, the incarnated vision and rhythm of the artistry of God. Whereas the Trinity is the music and the composer, Jesus is the one who calls to us to “come and dance” and promises that we need never lose the rhythm of the dance.

It is God’s dance, and Jesus is the Dancer who summons us to join in the music of the spheres. We don’t take Jesus into the world. We discern where he’s dancing and join in the dance. God takes the initiative. Heaven is entering into the triune life of God, the circle dance of creation.

The Lord of the Dance takes the lead. But the most important human role is that of the “first follower,” the dancing partner who has the courage to get up from the safety of sitting and violate the unwritten 11th commandment: “Never be the first to do anything.” The longest distance in the universe is the distance from zero to one. In joining the dance, the first follower breaks some kind of social membrane and gives others the courage to
follow their hearts.

As we join the Lord of the Dance in the art of pilgriming (being on the way), we form a community of followers, each relationally on the move and invested in each other’s life. The body of Jesus becomes a whirling life force, wherein each member of the growing body becomes aligned with Christ and at one with God. The implication of the dance of the Trinity is that all persons dance a dance of mutual love, breathe together the breath of life, and pour out to one another in mutual giving.

John of Damascus saw this giving as a “cleaving together,” a fellowship of oneness and intimacy so close that only one nature is evident. In a followership community, all are “cleaved together” in relationship with Christ and with each other, a living temple of the body of Jesus. Followers have their own unique identities but also embrace and pour themselves into the identity of Christ.

Creative dance requires both discipline and grace. When we dance along with Jesus, we become disciples within his incarnated body and baptized in the Spirit with the grace of his resurrection life.

The choreographer of the dance creates for us a liturgy of life, a his(story) within the context of the embodied Christ. When we join in Jesus’ dance, we join in his story, and his story becomes our story as we move in eternal pilgrimage with him.

Jesus invites us all to dance, though not all follow: “We piped to you, and you did not dance.” But look what happens when we do. As followers fall into sync with Jesus, we enjoy not just synergy with him but a syncopated and synchronous movement together. The rhythms of the Jesus life echo within the movements of the Spirit’s music until all are singing and dancing together in a beautiful and diverse harmony. The dance of Christ is a world dance. The Holy Spirit is starting new dances in every part of the world. When we dance the dance of God, we follow the Spirit’s lead.

The time is now, and the dance is eternal. Don’t sit this dance out. Life is a speedy season. Buds burst in smelly spring; fruits delight in fertile summer. Leaves change colors in inflamed autumn. Trees fall in whitened winter. Dance while you can. The world doesn’t need more conversations so much as it needs more dancing. When “heart speaks unto heart,” what comes next is less a conversation than a cha-cha-cha or a tarantella, with all its unexpected twists and turns.

Christ’s dance occurs both in the earthly here and now and in the heavenly beyond. The celebration of resurrection beauty and hope surrounds and permeates the Jesus dance of life. In Jesus the sin of Adam is overcome by the “syn” of the resurrection, and the vision of accord and harmony prevails in every step we take with him and with each other. Jesus leads us in a new dance of human connection under divine direction.

Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra exclaimed that he “could believe only in a God who would know how to dance.” The perichoresis of God is a dance of love that moves and flows through the ins and outs, ups and downs of all of life’s joys and travails. The circle of our dancing is a powerful movement of shared com(passion).

Too often in our churches, we want to give dance lessons, to be the judges for dance competitions. But the Lord of the Dance can never be directed or contained. To join the dance of the spirit, we need to break out of our square lines and ballroom boxes and let the spirit draw us in. The dance of the perichoresis is a unity of sound and sight, a unity of followers in Jesus, and a unity of God and world.

Leonard Sweet is the E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Drew University, a Distinguished Visiting Professor at George Fox University, and a weekly contributor to sermons.com and podcast “Napkin Scribbles.” He has authored nearly fifty books. Adapted from I Am A Follower: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus by Leonard Sweet (2012 Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee). Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

 

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