The Lord Of The Dance

Once upon a time, Bill Moyers interviewed Joseph Campbell for a wonderful series, The Power Of Myth, which aired on PBS.

I remember being very stirred up by many of Mr. Campbell’s observations.

One of them was the idea that plants grow back — sometimes more vibrantly — after being pruned/cut down and how this biological event might relate to the idea of a g-d such as Jesus, who was killed yet rose from the dead.

I think this concept stuck with me because of a song, “The Lord of the Dance,” which I first learned from a friend of my older sister when we were singing in my grandmother’s kitchen.

I had always assumed that “The Lord Of The Dance” was a traditional folk song, but a fellow blogger recently told me that the words were written by an English songwriter, Sydney Carter.

According to Wikipedia, Mr. Carter was inspired partly by Jesus, but also partly by a statue of the Hindu God Shiva as Nataraja which sat on his desk.

He later stated, “I did not think the churches would like [“The Lord Of The Dance”] at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord … Anyway, it’s the sort of Christianity I believe in.”

Many years ago I recorded a version of “The Lord Of The Dance + Simple Gifts” with help from Jere Faison (producer), Patty Barkas (back up vocals), Jonathan Keezing (guitar), and Robert M. (bass).

With Easter on the horizon, I thought this might be an appropriate time to share it.

Just click the player at the beginning of this post.

May we all be able to rise up again after we have been knocked down by one of life’s many challenges.

I will close with more thoughts from Sydney Carter.

I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.

Whether Jesus ever leaped in Galilee to the rhythm of a pipe or drum I do not know. We are told that David danced (and as an act of worship too), so it is not impossible. The fact that many Christians have regarded dancing as a bit ungodly (in a church, at any rate) does not mean that Jesus did.

The Shakers didn’t. This sect flourished in the United States in the nineteenth century, but the first Shakers came from Manchester in England, where they were sometimes called the “Shaking Quakers.”

They hived off to America in 1774, under the leadership of Mother Anne and established celibate communities – men at one end, women at the other; though they met for work and worship.

Dancing, for them, was a spiritual activity. They also made furniture of a functional, lyrical simplicity. Even the cloaks and bonnets that the women wore were distinctly stylish, in a sober and forbidding way.

Their hymns were odd, but sometimes of great beauty: from one of these (Simple Gifts) I adapted this melody. Sometimes, for a change I sing the whole song in the present tense. ‘I dance in the morning when the world is begun…’. It’s worth a try.”

12 thoughts on “The Lord Of The Dance

  1. What a great post – there is such power in music – sad when “religion” controls that. David danced himself undignified.
    Great song and music. This song has such an emotional pull to it no matter how it is done.
    😀 Thank you.

  2. I love that song. I’m certain that God is a dancer. I’m reminded of another hymn about Jesus dancing, by John Bell & Graham Maule of the Iona community. Verse 4 goes: “Jesus Christ is dancing, / dancing in the streets, / where each sign of hatred / he, with love defeats. / Listen, Lord Jesus, / I should triumph too: / on suspicion’s graveyard / let me dance with you.” Dancing with Jesus on the graveyard of hatred, suspicion, etc (or any graveyard, I guess) seems like another appropriate thought for Easter.

  3. Inspiring, beautifully written post! “Simple Gifts” and all of Joseph Campbell’s writing (I was an English teacher) were well woven with the “Lord of the Dance” and the connection with Jesus.
    This is a powerful, detailed post. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Marylin! I am surprised at how much I am enjoying writing on my blog. I started it as a way to share my music-making, but I am finding that writing words (which are not lyrics) is also fun. Hurrah for the English — and other language — teachers of the world.

    • Glad to learn from one of your blog posts that you were once an upstate NY person. My dad’s side of the family is from the Ithaca/Trumansburg area, and I love the Finger Lakes region.

      • My husband and I often went to Ithaca, a beautiful community, to eat at L’Auberge – a wonderful French restaurant. Then we’d walk around the back to Buttermilk Falls (I think that was its name) and just savor the view. We also ate at the Moosewood Restaurant. We moved from Central New York in 1999 to Florida to be near family, but I still really miss our old haunts.

  4. My sister lives on a farm just a little bit further down route 13 (right before Treman State Park) from Buttermilk Falls. Hurrah for places like the Moosewood, which have existed for decades, and all the different waterfalls, which have existed for millennia!

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