Silver Under Your Feet

IMG_0008Chugging 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.

Unrecognized Treasure

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.

The Stolen Key of Dance (Pt. 1)

From the beginning of creation there has been a war over the worship of humankind.  This is no surprise as the affection of our hearts and thus control of our lives are given to whomever we worship.  In the garden, Satan convinced Adam and Eve (Genesis 3) that their was another way than God’s way–a way to the knowledge of God (you will be like God-knowing good and evil) apart from intimacy with and obedience to God.  This war over human hearts has raged ever since and will continue to intensify until the return of Jesus to the earth.   At the center of this battle is the glory of God.  We were created to brilliantly reflect His glory for all of eternity.  Thus there is nothing the enemy of our souls desires more than to mar, pervert, and steal the glory of God for himself.

Because dance is a key of praise and worship given to us to encounter the presence and power of God in accordance with His Word *(see earlier posts), Satan has perverted it and used it as a key to draw the nations into communion with evil spirits. His purpose is that the kingdom of darkness would be gain power and be advanced in the earth.  As I began to research the history of dance in the world, I was looking for some small glimmer, however faint and corrupted, of the role, purpose, and significance of dance in the earth.  I believed that what I would find would serve to confirm God’s Word and deepen my understanding of the cultural context of the Biblical passages referring to dance.   As I studied, I was shocked to learn that the primary purpose of dance in every culture for the majority of human history has been to connect with the spiritual realm!   In almost every ancient people group, this purpose was served by inviting demonic presence and possession through music and dancing.  This was not an occasional occurrence but a primary means of religious expression.  Music, dance, and spiritual reality were inseparable in their minds.

Dance is one of the premier ways  the “medicine men” or religious leaders of each native tribe sought  both spiritual counsel and power.   In fact, according to Curt Sachs World History of the Dance, “In ancient and primitive peoples, scarcely anything approaches the dance in its importance.”  “On no occasion of the life of primitive peoples could it be dispensed with”.*  It was thought of as a sacred act and priestly office–the premier way to bridge the gap between the physical and spiritual realm.  Today in our Western culture, dance has for the most part been relegated to the entertainment and artistic realm of society.  Yet its power to influence the hearts and minds of people is seen everywhere from the television dance shows that top the charts to the thousands of commercials that use dance in attempt to sell products.  Dancers beckon to us constantly from such venues without us even stepping foot or setting eyes in such places as nightclubs, raves, or the dark corners of the internet.

There is much more to say about the war over our worship and the role of dance in this battle, but for now, I want to leave you with a question.  How should we as believers in Jesus think about dance?  Should we love it or hate it, welcome or fear it?  There are complexities to the answer that will take time to develop, but to begin with, we surely should not take it lightly or flippantly. Dance can be “fun”, but it is not merely fun.  It is spiritually powerful unto life or destruction.   There should be a tremble in our souls in an awe filled fear of the Lord as we view this gift of expression he has given us.  Where dance draws peoples hearts to Jesus and releases pure and holy delight in one another, it is to be welcomed and celebrated. (Ps 149, 150)  Where dance leads people into idolatry, sensuality, pride, and other such expressions of darkness and wickedness it should be detested and and turned away from.  A Biblical example of this is found in Exodus 32 when Moses comes back from receiving the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel worshipping a golden calf.  Verse 19 says, “And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’s anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.”  In the context of the chapter and book of Exodus, it was not the dancing itself that was the problem.  It was the fact that their dancing was at that time an act of idolatrous worship.  It led to thousands of them being destroyed immediately following.  When they had danced unto the Lord at the crossing of the sea described in Exodus 15, it was right and honoring to God.  They appropriately celebrated the Lord’s gifts of freedom, victory, and salvation.  As I look at these examples in God’s Word and many throughout history as well, one conclusion is that I do not love dance for its own sake.  I love Jesus, and I love to worship Him with all that I am through dance.  This is an extremely important distinction to make at the beginning of pursuing understanding regarding the purpose of God for dance. Dance was created to be an expression of the heart…thus the fundamental significance of it can not be found in the mere movements themselves but in the reality of the affections they reveal.