Singing and Dancing through Great Lent

clogI grew up in a rural American Protestant culture. In many ways there was a level of piety that was beneficial. God’s name, particularly the name of Christ, was held in great reverence.  Stores closed on Sundays – and if many people used the afternoon for recreation – most used the morning to attend Church. The knowledge of Scripture, though somewhat superficial, was still widespread. The first psalms I memorized were in public school. But the culture had its limitations. Drinking alcohol was strongly discouraged though widespread in an almost criminal atmosphere reminiscent of the days of prohibition. Everybody smoked tobacco, even if we were told it was wrong. Dancing was not common – some held it to be sinful. I never learned to dance. Musical experience was limited. There was the choir at Church (boring and bad).  I took piano lessons and was quite unusual for doing this (girls took piano, not boys). Later I was introduced to band instruments, though I don’t recall any adults in my childhood who played musical instruments.

It may sound frivolous to some, but I think it is profoundly disturbing that there have been forms of modern culture that do not sing and dance. I have never read of a single example of a folk culture (pre-modern by definition) in which singing and dancing were absent. Their absence is a sure sign that an ideology foreign and essentially hostile to basic human instincts has settled in.

The rise of “Rock-n-Roll” in the 1950’s ran counter to this rural ideology. Inveighing against the evils of the “devil’s music” was quite common. There was, of course, a great deal of racism and fear in this reaction. But it was, in many ways, simply the rejection of a false ideology. People will eventually sing and dance. It is essential to human life.

I think about these things as I make the journey through Great Lent. For the same culture that did not sing and dance did not make the sign of the Cross. It rarely bent its knees (it was quite common  to sit while singing hymns in Church). It did not fast. It produced almost no art or beauty. Utility was its hallmark. The life of Great Lent comes from Classical Christian culture. That culture remembers and preserves what it is to be truly and fully human, created in the image of God. Lent is a journey that, rightly practiced, slowly restores our true humanity. A good Lent should sing and dance.

The song of Lent often has the sound of “bright sorrow.” It remembers our journey into bondage and grieves it. It remembers our deliverance from sin and death at Pascha and stretches toward that great prize. But the song must still be sung.

The dance of Lent may sound like a strange way to describe devotional actions, but making prostrations, bowing, allowing the body itself to enter into the ritual of humility is a necessary movement. We are not disembodied souls who are instructed only to “think” of God. Such diminished devotion becomes less than human in its efforts to divorce itself from physicality.

From the earliest times Christians have been instructed to stand in prayer, facing the East with eyes and hands uplifted, and to do this three times a day (or more). From this posture the dance proceeds with bows and prostrations as we humble ourselves before God and beg for His help. The fathers said that the body should be an “icon” of the soul, mirroring outwardly what the soul is doing inwardly. The latter is almost impossible without the former.

Perhaps the pre-eminent song of Lent in the Eastern Church speaks of music:

By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.
We hung our harps on the willows in the midst of it.
For there they that had taken us captive asked of us the words of a song;
and they that had carried us away asked a hymn, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How should we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cleave to my throat, if I do not remember thee;
if I do not prefer Jerusalem as the chief of my joy…

The songs of Zion represent more than religious tunes: they are equally the songs of our God-shaped-humanity. For God Himself sings! We are so created, however, that a song will arise and our bodies will dance. The culture of my childhood had turned its back on important parts of human nature and shamed music and dance in a most inhuman manner. But if we will not sing the Lord’s song, then another song will be sung. The descendants of those who would not sing now sing in praise of violence, promiscuity and empty, aching desire. They dance in a manner that mocks their past (and the new songs and the new dance are now to be found in their churches). The proper desires of our nature will not be denied (though they are easily perverted).

And so God calls us back home during this holy season – instructing us in the songs of Zion and the great dance of all creation.

“Come let us worship!” the psalm says, but the translation is faulty. “Come let us bend the knee!” would be more correct.

You have turned my mourning into dancing! You have put off my sackcloth… (Psalm 30:11).

Sing the song! Dance the dance!

Comments

  1. says

    You have described my childhood (in Germany, born in 62) exactly. Except we didn’t smoke,but drank ( which is better for you anyway).Both my older brothers were musicians, but could never play in our ‘no instruments’ Brethren Home church. So they landed at Sony (they sung ‘another song’). I never learned how to dance either, nor were we allowed to lift our hands (to Pentecostal).
    So what I have to learn this year new during Lent, is to open my ‘closed’ hands. We do that through reading ‘With open Hands’ by Henri Nouwen. Maybe I should learn to go from clenched fist to raising my hands on Easter Sunday. That would be a huge ‘success’ in my spiritual walk on ‘The Way’.
    Anyway, thank you for your encouraging words! Susi Hukari

  2. says

    Thank you once more for your teaching, Father

    It is so good to read of the significance of the embodiment of faith. Although some argue that we have moved beyond the age of word to that of image, which perhaps offers some hope, for too many faith seems to be largely mental engagement through books? I have heard Discipleship expressed as a study programme, as if one was engaged in a purely academic exercise.

    I was interested in your comment about these modern songs and dances being found in the churches of those who once spurned song and dance. I read that as a negative comment? Is this a comment on contemporary Protestant worship songs?

    Bless you Father
    Forgive me

    Eric

    • fatherstephen says

      Yes, Eric. I was being disparaging of the contemporary invasion. But the vacuum was so vast, that it was bound to be filled by something.

  3. says

    Fr Stephen, thank you for this article. I believe that dancing is important. The psalms frequently speak of dancing; it seems to me that the some of the psalmists saw it as a form of worship, and perhaps could not even imagine worship without it.

    But I remember a conversation I had with an Orthodox priest some time ago in which he pretty much said any form of dancing that relates to worship is immoral. There are supposedly even church canons that prohibit clergy from dancing.

    I don’t expect us to incorporate dancing into the Byzantine liturgy, but do you know of references that mention any dancing in Byzantium culture? I’ve not found such a reference myself, but I haven’t really looked nor am I as well read as you are.

    • fatherstephen says

      The liturgy is part of the “great dance” as we follow the movement of our salvation. Any other “dance” would distract from that. The Liturgy “moves” circling counter-clockwise, just like the Sun and the planets. And we enter and we exit, God comes into our world and carries us up. “Let our entrance be accompanied by the holy angels” the priest prays as he makes the little entrance. It is solemn – stately – but always in motion.

      All Orthodox cultures (Byzantium included) dance -

  4. Karen says

    It’s interesting to me also that Orthodox Jews dance and also have processions in their worship. The bowing in prayer, kissing of Torah scrolls, and processions I’ve seen in Jewish worship are very reminiscent of Orthodox Christian worship. Also, Jewish folks definitely do a lot of traditional celebratory dancing outside of the worship context as well (similar to Greek and Armenian folk dancing).

    This post also reminds me of the quip of an elderly member of my former Evangelical congregation who was from a very conservative and restrictive Baptist upbringing. When asked if she missed the old hymns now that her congregation had adopted drums and contemporary music in their worship in a more “seeker friendly” format, she admitted she did at first, but after a while she found she was “tapping her Methodist foot” along with the rhythm of the music! :-)

  5. mary benton says

    The liturgy is part of the “great dance” as we follow the movement of our salvation. Any other “dance” would distract from that.

    As a RC, I know next to nothing about Orthodox Liturgy other than what I have read here. However, I am interested in learning more. How is it that any other dance would “distract”? Definitely not arguing for any “polka Masses” (God forbid) but some dance can be very reverent and spiritually moving, a physical expression of prayer so to speak.

    I have similar question about music. Again, not advocating filling sacred Liturgy with “Christian rock”, but there are many beautiful hymns, both ancient and contemporary, in my RC tradition. My impression is that the Orthodox liturgical music is all or mostly chant – correct me if I’m wrong. I do not dislike chant – quite the opposite – but I also love many of the other hymns we use.

    I am not making any arguments here but would like to know more about how the Orthodox experience and understanding of liturgical music/dance expression.

    • fatherstephen says

      Mary,
      Most Orthodox would not be familiar with my term of the “Great Dance.” However, the circular movement (counterclockwise) happens a lot in the “choreography” of the liturgy. Priest or deacon (sometimes both) circle the altar as they cense, etc. When a couple is married, they are led three times around a table (sort of an altar) in what is indeed known as the “Dance of Isaiah” (named this because one of the 3 hymns sung refers to Isaiah and his prophecy of the Virgin). The same 3 hymns are sung when a priest or deacon is ordained – they are led 3 times around the altar.

      There is no room for “innovation” in an Orthodox liturgy – the whole structure is a single whole, a movement, a pattern of word, music and action that reflects and reveals the nature and character and reality of our salvation. It is doubtless the very heart of our life.

      My experience of so-called “liturgical dance” is largely that of just one more entertainment element thrust into the Mass. There is room and need for dance in our lives – deep need – but there is (in Orthodoxy) a preserved dance (the liturgy, etc.) that doesn’t need to be altered – it needs to be done! with care and attention. It is a “form” that “informs” us when done with care and attention. And the “in-forming” is the shape, character and salvation of Christ.

      Many people comment when they visit an Orthodox liturgy on the “almost constant” making of the sign of the Cross (it’s not constant but it’s frequent). There are many bows (poklon) and prostrations (on weekdays). There is also much standing still and paying attention. But the attention in the liturgy differs from the attention of “watchers” of those being entertained. It is, properly, an inner attention. We know what is happening next (no surprises in the liturgy), so we are not watching in that sense. Indeed, knowing what’s happening next sets us free to engage in the deeper watching.

      It is an activity unlike anything today in the modern world – modernity has altered everything and moved the center away from the heart and to the emotions and the ego.

      I must go now. It is time to begin the liturgy!

  6. says

    Spent about five months in Aruba last year. Found a Christ adoring obedient Church to join. It was a Papiamento speaking Church and I was as an alien much of the time. If the universal symbol of surrender is truly hands uplifted, if the universal language of joy is truly the dance, if the universal expression of spiritual communion is truly song then I hope this qualifies their worship as genuine in the high councils of the Church. With joy I remember the worship of this people with deep affection. Often the services swept me from my tiny spec of God conciousness to a vast deep swaying of the currents of His Spirit. I, like my fellow blades of seagrass, reflected both shadow and ray from our turning before Him who is constant and in Whom is no shadow of turning. This Lenten season may vary the step but the dance goes on.

  7. Michael Bauman says

    A culture that does not dance does not know how to pray and is greatly tempted by bachannal and passion driven frenzy as ersatz substitutes.

    Dance is a primal expression of the link of life between the earth, us and heaven; the created and the uncreated; between we creatures and each other. It combines word, song, rythmn, touch, and (at least in the liturgical Native American dances) scent.

    The movement of the Mediterranean line dances (Greek, Arabic and their Slavic cousins) can be seen in the Liturgy.

    Dance stands alone as a complete expression of that most heavenly of all gifts: joy

    Charles Schultz had it right: To live is to Dance. To Dance is to live!

  8. Lou. says

    Father Stephen:

    Coming from similar (Southern) roots, I am puzzled by your comment that the culture produced no art or beauty. The land of Faulkner produced so much of the literature — the words — of the first half of 20th-century America. The most readable — if not the best — histories of the time tended to be dominated by writers from this region. While we both know that dancing was thin on the ground, the art of story-telling was certainly not.

    Now it feels as though much telling of stories has been degenerated into political combat. (Hopefully not a reaction of racism or fear).

    To quote an early mis-translation (felix culpa): “O come, let us worship and fall down/And kneel before the Lord our Maker!”

    • fatherstephen says

      Faulkner and some other great writers are certainly important (though he was not part of my culture). But they were largely anomalies. Books written by men surrounded by men who did not read them. I grew up around lower middle class whites, largely without college, but removed from many elements of older culture. I would paint my childhood quite beige. I currently live next to a city that was once described as the “ugliest city in America.” It’s not really ugly, but it’s bland and unremarkable. But with some notable exceptions, American cities are exceedingly bland – our nature is magnificent where we haven’t destroyed it. I’ve written on the ugliness of modernity before. It’s the result of mass culture (or something lower than that).

  9. Lynne says

    Have you heard of the Silent Serbian dances? The story shows the importance of a dance as heritage.
    I used to do a lot of folk dancing. At one weekend camp, we lost power, so we were without music. One of the leaders said, “We’ll dance the ‘Silent kolos,'” (traditional Serbian line dances). When the areas were under Turkish domination, and the Turks forbade dancing, with Turkish soldiers on hillsides with guns to enforce the policy, the people would dance without music, but with the beat of their feet keeping them in unity of movement. They preserved many dances with different patterns of steps. It’s an amazing experience to dance in this manner, and to be part of preserving a tradition.

    • fatherstephen says

      Lynne,
      I love that! Imagine risking your life to dance! The singing revolution in Estonia is also an interesting phenomenon.

  10. mary benton says

    Thanks, Fr. Stephen, for your response above.

    I certainly agree that liturgy should NEVER take on a flavor of entertainment. And that the liturgy itself needs no innovation. One of the beauties of the Catholic Mass (like Orthodox liturgy) is being able to go into any Catholic church anywhere in the world and know what is going to happen. And what is going to happen is far more important to my life than the architecture of the building, specific hymns sung, style of vestments worn or even language spoken.

    On the other hand, each of those elements is interwoven in the human experience of liturgy. I read of Fr. George Calciu celebrating liturgy in a prison cell with two murderers – and contrast that with liturgy celebrated in a beautiful cathedral with a faithful congregation. The liturgy is the same – and the experience of it is both different and the same (I would assume, though fortunately I have never experienced the former situation).

    A tension is created whenever we consciously open the door to even the most minute change (rather than being driven by circumstance). We sing this hymn instead of that hymn. The tension occurs because that new hymn may draw some more deeply into prayer while for others it may be a distraction.

    To never change anything maintains constancy – but may also increase the risk of habituation (i.e. monotony or boredom). Minor changes, such as in hymns or other spiritual expressions may lessen the human tendency to habituate but often creates opportunity for poor judgment or worse.

    I sense that neither is a problem to the heart properly disposed – and both are a problem for the heart not disposed to pray. (Or to my heart in whichever state it happens to be.) Just as repeating the Jesus prayer may bring great peace or great restlessness…

    • fatherstephen says

      Mary Benton,
      There are no “hymns” in the Western sense in Orthodoxy. There are small “songs” of sorts, Troparia and Kontakia, etc., that have great poetic expressions of doctrine and history. They are either chanted or sung according to the system of the 8 tones. There is no “picking” of hymns. They are appointed according to the rules of the Typicon.

      When I first became Orthodox I was concerned about all this, fearing that I would miss the rich hymnody of the West. I don’t. Someone else might, but I don’t.

      I served 18 years as an Episcopal priest, helping pick the hymns every week, etc. The variations in the liturgy (which was pretty much identical to the Roman mass) were always a source of anxiety (and pleasure). The “dance” of demands from some in the congregation who wanted this and that, and the response of the priest to placate, please, or persuade was, frankly, a little bit of hell. Every moment of joy was accompanied with the dread of waiting for the “reviews.” My last parish had 3 services on Sundays, each with distinct liturgical styles. And the 3 communities were highly critical of each other.

      In Orthodoxy there is very, very little choice or variation. The variety comes in the rich interplay of the various cycles that take place in the combinations of the hymns (far more complex than I can explain here). I will say that the texts and their theological poetry easily transport the worshipper to places of contemplation. A simple example – next Sunday one of the hymns for Vespers (sung on Saturday):

      In the Red Sea of old,
      a type of the Virgin Bride was prefigured.
      There Moses divided the waters;
      here Gabriel assisted in the miracle.
      There Israel crossed the sea without getting wet,
      here the Virgin gave birth to Christ without seed.
      After Israel’s passage, the sea remained impassable;
      after Emmanuel’s birth, the Virgin remained a Virgin.
      O ever-existing God, Who appeared as Man,//
      O Lord, have mercy on us!

      You are correct that the disposition of the heart is everything.

  11. PJ says

    Interestingly, I’ve detected ambivalence, or even suspicion, toward towards music and dance in the early Church. Instrumental music was particularly despised, due to its associations with Judaism and paganism. These suspicions are evident in the writing of major fathers like Augustine, Jerome, Origen, Chrysostom, and lesser fathers like Theodoret and Niceta of Remesiana. Niceta relates that some in the east even objected to psalm singing on the basis of St. Paul’s command to “sing and make melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19). Basil has to defend the practice of antiphonal singing. Worth considering.

    • fatherstephen says

      PJ,
      Yes. But I see in these concerns the expression of monastic asceticism. But even evidence outside the NT (Pliny’s letter to Trajan) bear witness to singing as part of the primitive Church’s experience. And, of course, since neither of us are Protestants, we do not need to cite the opinions of early fathers as an ideal touchstone that would serve as fodder for reformers. The Tradition took care of these concerns long ago. We sing.

      As for dance – it is a cultural necessity (I believe). The dance of the liturgy, again, is a settled matter. Some would probably not like my use of the term “dance” to describe its motions, but I would stand firm. In particular the understanding of our motions reflecting the “Great Dance” which the stars, etc. follow as well.

      On a purely scientific level, of course, the stars don’t move. That’s the problem with literalism :) For it is obvious that the stars do move and in a circular motion. This motion (independent of the movements as seen from off-planet) has been seen as reflective of all things movement around God as the center. It is an icon of heaven.

      Western liturgy does not have the motion and movement of liturgy in the East. It long ago settled into a more linear movement, directed either at the altar (which had been moved against the Eastern Wall) or now toward the people.

      In the East the altar is free-standing to enable movement around it. Prayer is always East-facing, but the liturgy moves – slowly – in a circular direction – counter-clockwise which is the direction that the skies appear to move (in the Northern hemisphere). There is, because of the position of the iconostasis, a “going forth and a coming in” that is an element of this movement, reflecting God’s coming into our world and ascending into the heavens. It is also the movement of salvation and the movement of offering (God gives, we return, etc.).

      These, of course, are reflections somewhat removed from the liturgy itself. During the liturgy we’re often too close to the action to draw back and “see” the movement in these terms, though not always. But, like all iconography, you don’t always immediately see what is there.

      I think this “dance” extends into life itself, though we have to draw back a little to see it.

      The concerns of the ascetics with song and dance was largely their awareness that both could be and were abused. Of course, the pathway of avoiding all things that can be abused is the pathway to a very narrow and harsh existence, ultimately not human, which is why the Tradition overruled their concerns.

      Within Orthodoxy today, there are some who think that the music of rich harmony (used in the Russian practice) is inferior to the more sober chant of the East. But my experience is that chant, if well done, soars to the same emotional heights. But it is really a moot point, the Tradition having settled the matter. I think the ascetics will always voice these concerns, which is why their voice is important.

      • jrj1701 says

        Father Bless,
        In my life I have experienced the various forms used in the worship of God and I firmly agree with your description of Eastern Orthodox Liturgy, it is indeed a proper, holy dance and since experiencing it I have difficulties attending heterodox services, it just doesn’t “feel” right. Heterodox services just do not reach the level of wholeness that I experience while attending Orthodox Liturgy. And it doesn’t matter which culture, I have attended Greek, OCA, Syrian, Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Liturgies, under various situations and although there were differences, the same Dance and Song came through and I felt that I was in the right place to worship God. Thank you for your post.

  12. says

    I was always under the impression that traditional Southern/Appalachian culture was very musical and “danceable”. What I think happened was that under the pressure of revivalistic religion all human behavior got sorted and assigned to the “Saved” bin or the “Sinner” bin. Unfortunately, most music and all dancing got assigned to the “Sinner” bin, and its been downhill ever since.

    An Orthodox priest in Wales reported the same problem with the decayed Calvinism of Wales. People either go to the Chapel or the Public House. If you go to the chapel, which few of them ever do even on Easter or Christmas, you never go to the pub. If you go to the pub you’d never darken the door of the chapel. The good father has trouble convincing the young men of his Welsh city that he is a “real” Christian because he drops in for a pint now and again.

    My brother-in-law’s Catholic parish in Mexico City attracts a lot of young people. The priest is young, orthodox, and approachable. I remember attending and there was a young woman there serving as an Eucharistic minister, attending at the chalice. She was very beautiful. After the service, the priest pushed the tables apart in the parish hall and allowed the young people to dance to some of the current popular music. The young woman who was in attendance at the Eucharist was right in the middle, dancing not altogether chastely with several young men.

    At the time I was at my most Calvinistic. ‘Ah, yes’, I remarked. ‘Catholicism is Christianity for the unconverted.’ My brother-in-law took great umbrage at this. ‘It’s your religion that’s unnatural. Why shouldn’t a pretty young girl enjoy dancing with young men? ‘

  13. says

    Father, the Church participates in the divine and the temple, Liturgy, prayers, etc are a reflection of the worship in Heaven, with the Trinity at center (and periphery). So, would the Great Dance (the movement of our salvation, as you described it) reflect, albeit not perfectly, the divine perichoresis? Since, also, theology itself has been described as a “dance with the Trinity” – all of what we do is grounded in, and all that we say is in response to, the Holy Trinity – and should, therefore, penetrate to the very core of our being affecting all Church activity: cycles, rhythms, patterns. The article, if I understand it correctly, is not about dance per se, viz. the jitter bug, but how a culture where dance is absent is symptomatic of a more severe illness. This illness is, essentially, the gnostic view of creation, the misconception as the body (matter) as a source of evil, and the raising of cognition as the means to salvation: ascribing to certain tenets, communion as a mental exercise, the study of, and extraction of propositions from Scripture. One of the things that attracted me to Orthodoxy was the whole man was saved and renewed, the whole body participates in worship; I think this is what you meant as the Great Dance. From a spectator’s perspective, Liturgy seems like a well-rehearsed ballet. Hopefully,I’m understanding this correctly…

    • fatherstephen says

      M.
      Well said. You indeed understand.

      And I’ve been pushing the understanding (rather than describing it as gnosticism) that what we see in these modernist cultures is a denial of the truly human. Orthodox, classical Christianity, is perhaps the only true form of Christian humanism, the true humanism.

  14. says

    The last few weeks I’ve been able to serve at the altar (Kyrie eleison). I’ve been able to witness this “going forth, coming in” movement from another perspective, so I’m getting more of glimpse of this Great Dance. Sometimes the Orthodox (and Catholics, as well) get blamed for being boring, static, mechanistic; however, the Liturgy is anything but. There’s a striking beauty to the fluidity of these grace-full movements — truly is a dance! I’m reminded of Lindbeck’s performative truth: doctrines are not abstract propostitions that one must hold in their mind but truth to be engaged and performed.

    I also find it ironic that the humanist philosophy that shaped much of the (post)modern era denies what makes us truly human.

    Father, thank you!

    • Michael Bauman says

      M. Cannaverde, the contemporary philosophy that calls itself humanism tends to deny God and therefore is but another version of nilihism which desires to destroy that which is human

  15. Lynne says

    M Cannaverde’s comment about dance–the jitterbug–made me realize that most current Westerners think of participatory dance as a collection of people moving independently. You and I will stand near one another and move around just as we want to.
    However, most of the dance of older cultures includes the element of “the joy of shared movement.” The line dances of Greece, Serbia, and Turkey, sometimes with hand-holds and sometimes with shoulder-holds. The square dances of the earlier times in America. The English country dances, dancing in lines, and traveling up and down, meeting and greeting everyone. The waltz, which requires standing very close to someone of the opposite sex, was once considered scandalous. Although some religious groups forbade dancing, the Appalachians had their “singing games,” which were circle dances/trade partner dances.
    In all of these, the dance included moving when others did, acknowledging them, and learning patterns, timing, and steps.
    The movements during Orthodox services also include the element of shared movement–the Priest and the altar servers, the crossing and bowing at certain times in the service.
    We rightly dance in community.

    • Michael Bauman says

      Indeed. If we are to have an authentic “American” Orthodox Church we need to look two places: the indigenous Amerindian cultures and the slave expression if Christianity which is deeply martryic.

      Both cultures have dance and music at their heart.

      • fatherstephen says

        Michael,
        Amerindian and slave cultures would be appropriate to Amerindians and slaves but rather false for others. A difficulty in Orthodox evangelization in the New World (modernity) is the lack of authentic human culture. Orthodoxy always seeks to be indigenous (thus it’s little wonder that ethnic groups moving here maintained their own ethnic emphasis – they had a choice between that and becoming less than human). But we face an entirely bizarre situation in America – the primary indigenous culture actually be an anti-culture. We cannot help but borrow from other authentic human elements as we seek to incarnate the Gospel here.

        Alaskan Orthodoxy is quite authentically human (and Native).

  16. Michael Bauman says

    That’s the point, not that the cultures are somehow “Orthodox”, they are not, but there are aspects in each that are unique to this land that can be baptized and healed and brought into the Church in important ways. Fr. Moses Berry’s work in Ash Grove, MO is one such work. But you have to go there and experience the reality of what he is doing.

    Academics will never get it. Those who have not experienced the particular vibrancy of connection to the land will not get it. Although Albert Raboteau of Princeton has written extensively on the slave aspect.

    So far the Church in this hemisphere has remained largely an import with insufficient connection to the actual land or any real penetration of the culture as she has elsewhere through centuries of sweat, prayer and the blood of martyrs. The only place where anything approaching an assumption and interpretation of the culture and the land is in Alaska. Unfortunately, the US government did all that it could to rip that apart when it bought Alaska from the Russians and the Church has done little to rebuild it.

  17. says

    I see Alaska is getting mentioned in this thread. I am a novice Reader at an Antiochian mission in Homer, Alaska (250 miles SW of Anchorage), one of 3 Antiochian churches in Alaska. I have struggled for 3 years to learn Byzantine chant, and I am now making passable sounds on some of the more predictable chants; we also do some Slavic style music. This past Saturday, I , along with others from our church, went to a baptism at a native Aleut OCA church in Kenai, Alaska (80 miles to the north of us) that is over 150 years old. Our churches have done joint services and retreats in the past, and it is always a blessed time when we get together. After the service, the priest, Fr Tom (a native Aleut) said to me, “I love you Antiochians, but that Byzantine music of yours makes my head hurt”. We laughed. The native Orthodox churches here in Alaska, use the Obikod style of chant, and they are deeply connected to Orthodoxy. The churches are struggling, but with a new Bishop, hopefully some needed healing will occur. If it is to fulfill its purpose, sacred music, no matter what style or form, must bring us to Christ, and I think it will be a difficult though rewarding challenge to find a musical expression(s) that works for America.

  18. EPG says

    Veering away from the threads, but towards the thrust of the original article (I think) — Fr. Stephen’s description of the “dance” reminded me of my days in various Episcopal church choirs: I finally started to be able to “get” J.S. Bach when I discerned the relationship to dance imbedded in most of his music.

  19. says

    The idea will be to cultivate local (or regional) theologies, of course these can not contradict Church dogma. What is unique to a specific culture can be, do use Michael’s words,”baptized and healed and brought into the Church in important ways”. I would love to see this happen in America, but we’re so diversified, and we have no connection to the land. And to compound the problem, we have the proliferation of techology. As Marshall McLuhan predicted, we’ve become a “global village”; whereas, through much of Church history, local parishes were often isolated. We can easily go online to see what’s happeneing all around the world. Is it actually possible to develop these more localized theologies and encourage authentically human activities (like dance, music, art) when we are so interconnected with people 2000 miles away?

  20. drewster2000 says

    Very interesting article. I very much resonate with this:

    “I have never read of a single example of a folk culture (pre-modern by definition) in which singing and dancing were absent. Their absence is a sure sign that an ideology foreign and essentially hostile to basic human instincts has settled in.”

    I think the reason song and dance are either absent or very controlled in our cultural situation is that it’s dangerous. When people sing and dance, they share of their heart and soul. This can lead to the possibility of something happening or being shared that wasn’t prescribed or choreographed. To allow song and dance is to play with things like fire and lightning: lots of potential there – but for ill as well as good.

    If you’ve gotten the impression that I’m against song and dance, this simply isn’t true. I think Fr. Stephen is very much on target: they are vital to the flow of lifeblood in a community. But Aslan isn’t a tame lion. You can’t have the passion without the risk. This is why some of the Church Fathers warned against it. So caution is advised, but along with caution must come some faith, some ability to allow doing it poorly in order to learn how to do it well.

    I also believe that most people have a hard time seeing “the Great Dance” of the liturgy – if they’ve never actually learned to dance (and I don’t mean at the disco). We are physical people and must learn to be truly human; this isn’t fulfilled solely through books.

    I bemoan the lack of good dancing outlets in the North American culture. Maybe I’ll get my wife to go square-dancing with me when the kids get a bit older…