Chugging along on an old -fashioned train ride the through the desert mountains of Virginia City, Nevada, my grandfather’s childhood hometown, my imagination was captured by the history of the place. My great grandfather mined those hills, enduring excruciating conditions and dying young for the hope of the treasure that lay hidden there. While visiting, we toured the school that holds a picture of my grandfather as a child, went on a stage-coach ride, saw a wild west show, and had a fabulous day showing our children some of their family’s history. A few of the stories we heard that day captured my mind in such a way that I have continued to think about them and connect their images to other areas of my life, particularly my thoughts on dance. They have to do with 1) value that was not recognized at first and 2) the refining machine that was developed to process silver. In remarkable ways, they illustrate some of my thoughts on the significance and sanctification of dance for the glory of God.
Bouncing along on our train ride, with my children looking out the window, cowboy hats on, looking out the open air windows with wide eyed wonder, the conductor told of when prospectors had first come to these mountains looking for gold. They encountered a bluish gray rock that they did not recognize and thus discarded in their search for gold. Mounds of this rock piled up on the side of the mountains where the early miners dumped it. Some time later, Mexican immigrants, who were familiar with silver mines in Mexico, pointed out to the other miners that this rock they had been discarding, (and had already paved the streets with) was actually silver ore, containing valuable precious metal. As they were unfamiliar with silver’s appearance in the midst of the mucky ore, they were throwing away millions of dollars worth of value. As soon as it was called to their attention however, their indifference changed to frenzied excitement and stirrings were felt across the country as thousands flocked there desperate to have a share in the “Comstock Lode”.
The Value of Christ
As I’ve mulled over this story, I’ve wondered how many times I am apt to repeat the same mistake…. discarding something valuable because I do not recognize it. It is vital to have understanding of what I am seeing to be able to appreciate and desire it. In fact, apart from God’s mercy in opening up my eyes to see Jesus Christ for who he really is, I would surely discard him and his Gospel as foolish and worthless. (1 Cor 2:14) Yet he is infinitely valuable! He is the greatest treasure in the world!
Since Christ is of such great value, his gifts are valuable because they are from Him and for Him. There are many exceedingly great treasures that He gives His people to impart and reflect His great worth. Even if I wrote 10,000 pages listing them, it would not be exhaustive so great is His goodness and kindness towards us in the gifts he has given!
Yet there is one gift I have come to greatly appreciate that is often unrecognized among the church, surrounded as this gift so often is with muck and mess…the gift of expressive movement/dance. It is discarded not only by its outright rejection in all of its forms by many churches, but also by being given little or no attention. After fifteen years researching dance in the Bible and church history, I am still shocked at how little has been written or taught on it. This is the case even though it is, universally, one of the primary expressions of people’s hearts and cultures. I am convinced that when the church comes to see the value of this gift, it will be worth whatever refining process is necessary to see it received and given for the glory of God.
The Necessity of the Sanctification of Dance
2 Timothy 2:20-22 “Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
After our train ride, we visited the oldest working silver processing machine still working today. It filled an entire warehouse and was filled with belts, pulleys, presses, and all kinds of creative ingenuity that baffled by non-mechanical mind. Its purpose was to process the ore and extract the silver. This process was absolutely necessary. Though the ore contained value, it couldn’t be used or seen as valuable until it went through this purification process. Our tour guide, who looked like he stepped out of history himself, explained that this was an extremely loud and messy process. It was not the most fun job, in fact, like mining, it was often hazardous to one’s health, but that didn’t stop hundreds of processing centers from springing up around the town and running day and night. The prize was worth the process!
The verse mentioned above from 2 Timothy 2 speaks of another purification process that is of great value—one worth going through—the sanctification of our hearts and lives for the Lord and his great purposes. While this verse applies in the clear and obvious sense to the entirety of who we are and what we are about, I want to look at an implication regarding expressive movement. As our dances reveal the passions of our souls, our hearts must be the primary target for this sanctifying, cleansing work of the Lord. It must carry over into our actions, movements, and behaviors, but it begins and remains primarily a sanctification of the heart. This process is not neat and tidy; it is messy. It is not often quiet, if we are honest, but filled with many groans, shouts, and tears. When we dance, some of this is seen, and one can feel vulnerable. I believe one of the reasons many people are hesitant to be expressive in front of other people is because they fear their hearts being seen and judged by others. The wood and clay will be seen for what it is, along with the flecks of silver. We often would rather keep all of that hidden. For many leaders, the challenge of this seems overwhelming. People’s lives are often a mess…their hearts a mixture of honorable and dishonorable…and having that exposed publicly and needing to deal with it sounds too challenging and distracting. The underlying question in deciding to undergo such an intense process for anything is often, “Is it worth it?” My post, “Sanctifying Dance for the Glory of God” aims to provide an introductory attempt to answer that question with regard to expressive movement/dance. My prayer is that many would be inspired to take on this refining process, unto the gift of dance being restored to the people of God for the glory of God.