Friday, October 5, 2007

A Hymn for Father Tim

There is only ONE hymn I've ever truly hated --

Lord of the Dance.
Every time the children's choir (and for some reason it was mostly reserved for our younguns to sing this) would start belting this one out, my skin would crawl. I have to admit that it's rousing and made me want to do a Martin Short kinda dance down the aisle towards the altar, following some invisible and diabolical Pied Piper of bad liturgical making. For the longest time, I didn't confide my hatred of this song with others because I couldn't quite put my finger on the why of it.

Lord of the Dance
I danced in the morning when the world was begun
I danced in the Moon & the Stars & the Sun
I came down from Heaven & I danced on Earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth:

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said He!

I danced for the scribe & the pharisee

But they would not dance & they wouldn't follow me
I danced for fishermen, for James & John
They came with me & the Dance went on.
I danced on the Sabbath & I cured the lame

The holy people said it was a shame!
They whipped & they stripped & they hung me high
And they left me there on a cross to die!

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black
It's hard to dance with the devil on your back
They buried my body & they thought I'd gone
But I am the Dance & I still go on!
They cut me down and I leapt up high

I am the Life that'll never, never die!
I'll live in you if you'll live in Me
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!

Could it have been that I just couldn't (and didn't want to) imagine Our Lord crazily dancing around during His ministry and Passion? Or was it just that I'd always associated the Devil (or at least naughty leprechauns) with this sort of frenzy (you know, went down to Georgia, made deals with musicians at crossroads, and was always trying to keep his magically delicious Lucky Charms to himself)?
Then one day, I decided to look this song up and try to find out it's history. It turns out it was written by Sydney Carter in 1963. Here's a little taste of what this guy was thinking when he wrote this song:
'Partly inspired by Jesus, and partly by a statue of Shiva as Nataraja... as an adaptation of Joseph Brackett's "Simple Gifts", and a tribute to Shaker music. He later stated, "I did not think the churches would like it 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... 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."'
Okley dokley. I think I've heard enough, Mr. Carter. I say you pack your bags and take your heretical and creepy song and move on over to Fr. Tim's place. We just don't need your many gods on many planets kinda thing. Thank you very much.


Annie said...

That song was fun to sing though! But I had no idea what it meant. And the sad thing was that the choir sang it right before recieving the Holy Eucharist.

Father Tim said...

Hey! Thanks for dedicating the hymn to me. That's one of my all time faves! You should be in the worship space when you've got a good liturgical dance going, and it hits that chorus: "Dance, Dance, wherever you may be!" Indeed!

That was also some super background material on the fine ecumenist and comparitive theologian Mr. Carter.

But don't think dedicating hymns to me is going to get you un-banned!

lauranndonahue said...

I have ALWAYS hated this song. I would NEVER call it a hymn. I cannot stomach the picture of people dancing around the cross with Jesus hanging there naked, bleeding and suffering. When it is sung at Mass I NEVER move my lips and try to keep my kids from participating. It is a vile, awful song. I plan to talk to our new priest about it also. It has not been sung since his arrival so I hope that means I will not hear it during his stay here.

Pilgrim said...

Hey Laurie,
It's so good to see you here! And I'm not surprised at all that you hate this song. Yuck!

ignorant redneck said...

That was an informative post! I mean, it's a catchy tune and all, but it is obviously (from the lyrics) more in tune with gnosticism.

Whats really disturbing about it is the fact that neo-pagans and wiccans like to use it too, with little or no modification.

Medieval Trad said...

Don't worry, the Holy Inquisition have re-written it. The chorus shall now be sung as follows:

"Burn them, wherever they may be;
Heretics burn or accept what's right.
Else we'll burn them all, wherever they may be,
For by burning they Turn and come round to the Light!

A splendid thing for the children to sing, as they process up with their little bundles of kindling to help with the burning.

Pilgrim said...

Oooh, Medieval Trad! I like that a lot. How edifying for the kiddos! How redeeming for those poor heretics! Have you thought about going into Youth Ministry?