Dance as a form of Praise

The psalmist under divine inspiration has continually cried out as he does in Psalm 67:4, ‘Let all the peoples praise you, O God, Let all the peoples praise you’. I call to mind also the prayer of praise of the three young men Shedrach, Meshach and Abednego while they were in the flames of the furnace. These three still had the courage to say, ‘All you works of the Lord, bless the Lord, Praise and exalt him above all forever’ (Daniel 3:57). Indeed the praise of God has rang out since the very foundations of the earth by all creatures and in so many ways. In fact, the need to praise God seems to be engraved in the very heart of creation itself. It is the psalmist also who, very clearly, gives us a picture of the possibility of even non-living creatures giving praise to the Lord their maker; the psalmist cries out in Psalm 148:3, ‘Praise Him O sun and Moon, Praise you Stars and Light’, and for what reason? ‘For he spoke, and they were made, he commanded and they were created’ (Psalm 148:6). The three young men also did cry out to the sun and moon, the stars of heaven and every shower and dew, nights and days, light and darkness, lightning and clouds, mountains and hills to praise and exalt Him. (Daniel 3:62-75).

 

Praise of God therefore involves an internal awareness of God’s excellence, of his awesomeness and of his eternal superiority and Fatherhood, for he is the uncaused cause, the ‘summum punctum’ of existence itself in whom we live, move and hold our being (cf. Acts 17:28). But it doesn’t just stop there, it also involves a manifestation of that internal approbation by the various aspects of our very existence, not only because He is the very author of them all but more so because that internal awareness and surrender is that of both our souls and our bodies- our entire being itself. In fact, it is as it were, a response of our very existence to the awesomeness of God. The Three young men also cried out in the flames, ‘O you Sons of men, bless the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever’ (Daniel 3:82), for if non-living creatures can give praise to God, how much more should the Sons of Men, the epitomes of God’s creative work. The Bible tells us that the stars indeed praise God their creator, not by words or songs, but in the movements that are a very feature of their evolution (cf. Baruch 3:34). That ‘movement’ of praise is not only unique to the stars but is also something man can do, and since Man takes up so prominent a position in the economy of creation, the ‘movement’ of man in praise of his creator takes on a deeper meaning; no longer is it just an awareness, but an expression of joy in the knowledge, love and service of his creator.

 

Thus, among the mystics of the Christian Faith such as Theresa of Avila, Philip Neri and Gerard Majella, we find intervals of dancing as an expression of the fullness of their love of God. Also, when the Angelic Doctor, Thomas Aquinas wished to represent paradise, he represented it as a dance executed by Angels and Saints. The Scriptures themselves reveal to us the life and experiences of King David, especially in his relationship with the God of Israel. In 2 Samuel 6:14-16, we are told of how this famous King leaped and danced before the Lord with the rest of his Kingdom when the Ark of God’s presence was brought back from the house of Obededom the Gethite into Judah. And so it was that David’s prayer and praise of God made him to move beyond all composure in order to dance to the Lord ‘with all his might’ (2 Samuel 6:14). It is indeed not a coincidence that as the Old Covenant foreshadows the New Covenant, the baby John the Baptist leaps for Joy before Mary pregnant with Christ-the ultimate manifestation of God’s presence, when Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant comes in to Judah to see Elizabeth (cf. Luke 1:39-44). The scriptures tell us that after the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, Miriam took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing (Exodus 15:19-21). At the festival of the Lord in Shiloh, the Bible tells us that dancing was done by the girls of Shiloh (Judges 21:19-21, 23). The Psalmist also gives testimony to the fact that God is praised in the ‘dance’ of his creatures when he sings in Psalm 149:3, ‘Let them praise his name with dancing’ and again in Psalm 150:4, ‘Praise Him with… Dance’.

 

It follows therefore that God himself who ‘delights in the praises of his people’ (Psalm 22:3-4), indeed takes delight when that Praise prompted by the heart is so great as to cause the body to dance unto him. It should be recalled how Sarah, the wife of Abraham, exclaimed that ‘the Lord made me dance with Joy’ after the birth of her son Isaac (Genesis 21:6). Also, in the Song of Songs, the book which prophesies of the relationship between Christ the bridegroom and we the Church-his bride, we hear his friends say to us, ‘Dance, Dance, dear Shulamite, let us see you dance’ (Song of Songs 6:13). The question therefore should rather be, ‘why should we not dance’ in praise of our creator, our redeemer and friend? We leap for Joy and dance when our favorite team scores, when we are successful in our endeavors, in fact, when we are indeed joyful. How much more is this also proper unto the very source of our Joy, God himself?

 

But it is true that in praise, some forms of dance are frowned at, precisely because the authenticity of the ‘praise’ behind the dance is questioned. It is true that certain forms of dance have originated in association with certain events and ceremonies that do not give God praise. It is also true that the joy that springs from our dancing has the tendency to cease from being a dance of praise unto God, but one whose source of joy or impetus is that of the sound of the beats and combination of instruments. We read in Exodus 32:19 of the rebellion of the Israelites in the Worship of the god Apis-the Golden Calf, that dance was used in the cult of idolatry. This is also clearly seen in the wrestle between the Prophet Elijah and those of the pagan god Baal, where we are told that the prophets of Baal, when they had called their god and there was no response, danced around the altar they had made (cf. 1 Kings 18:26). Also, in as much as dancing is a very vital part of many cultures and serve even to create deeper impressions in the worship of Jewish and certain Christian cultures of the East. Dance in the West, on the contrary, is often times tied with love, with diversion, with profaneness, and with unbridling of the senses: such dancing, in general is not pure.

 

It is therefore necessary to differentiate the ‘dance’ from the ‘spirit of the dance’. The dance that is indeed a form of praise to God should be specified or rather, it should be stated that dance is indeed a form of praise but then praise to who or what should be questioned. Is it to another god, a god which can take the form of the beauty of beats and combination of instruments or the frenzy of the dance step? It is to be noted that the environment where such combination of beats and dance steps are made does not determine the spirit behind the dance. Such impure dances which are not unto the praise of God can be done even in religious settings and in the same way, dances unto the praise of God is not limited to religious environments. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that Paul and Silas did praise God in prison (cf. Acts 16:25-34) and such was enough to break open the gates and chains.

 

So it is that when the faithful are moved to dance to the one true God, they are moved not just by the sound of music or instruments but by an inner approbation and joy in the Lord. This deeper joy therefore makes their feet light and their bodies move in praise of the one true God. It is this dance of praise that God takes delight in, this dance of surrender to the owner of my being, to the Lord of my days.

 

 

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Author: Chibuzor F. Ogamba

Chibuzor F. Ogamba is a Nigerian Medical Student, Writer, Poet, Blogger, Public Speaker and Catholic Apologist

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