We praise God with more than just our minds and hearts

Written by Bethany Brown

During worship at an Anglican church one Sunday, a young mom stepped out of her pew into the side aisle of the sanctuary and started dancing with her son. A few other children in the congregation joined their circle. It was beautiful to witness this little moment of joyful worship. I wanted to join in, but the fear of judgement stopped me.

Dance as a form of worship isn’t a new idea. There are examples of people dancing to praise God in the Bible: “Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing” (Exodus 15:20); “David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might” (2 Samuel 6:20); “Let them praise his name with dancing” (Psalm 149:3).

Unfortunately, dance—like everything—has been tainted by sin. In the West and in Europe, dance is often seen as sexual (think club dancing) and therefore some say it has no place in the Church. Some denominations have, in the past, gone so far as prohibiting dance altogether, while others simply don’t allow it in churches.

The wife of an intern at a Baptist church I attended referred to “the Baptist sway” while we were discussing the place of dance in church. She deemed that appropriate for the congregation because to newcomers it wouldn’t seem that we had lost control of ourselves, but that there is some order to worship in God’s house.

Yet just like other forms of artistic expression, dance can be used to teach, worship, and point to God.

The Bible tells us there’s “a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Every church has a different way of doing things. Means of worship vary culturally as well as by denomination. Some are more solemn while others are more charismatic.

Let’s look at King David’s dancing. When the Ark of the Covenant was being brought into Jerusalem, it was basically a parade. People were rejoicing with instruments and sacrificing animals to God, and David leapt and danced.

David’s wife found his behaviour quite vulgar but he justified it by saying, “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes” (2 Samuel 6:21–22).

It’s true that when we focus more on God, we focus less on ourselves. This is a beautiful thing both to witness and to experience. Do we hold back because of perceived appearances? I know I do at times.

Sunday school and summer camps often teach actions along with worship songs. There are many children, then, who are taught from a young age to use movement for worship and to be more concerned with God than with how they look. At the end of every summer, when the camp staff returned to my church, they would be up in the balcony doing actions to the songs our worship team led. It always made me smile. Jesus tells us that “unless [we] change and become like little children, [we] will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). What a joyful example!

In Canada, charismatic and African Canadian churches are more likely to incorporate dance into their worship. In other traditions such as Lutheran and Anglican, the services involve worship postures like kneeling, processionals, or the priest turning away from the congregation to pray before the altar. Although this isn’t “dancing,” congregants are using their bodies to worship.

Think about what happens physically during a service: standing, sitting (Luke 10:39), kneeling, bowing your head and closing your eyes and folding your hands in prayer, sharing the peace, making the sign of the cross, burning incense (Revelation 8:3–4), the laying on of hands (Matthew 19:15), rubbing ashes on foreheads, anointing with oil (Mark 14:3, 6), baptism (Matthew 3:11), the preparation of and partaking in communion (Mark 14:22–23), foot washing (John 13:5), and greeting with a holy kiss (1 Thessalonians 5:26).

These are embodied forms of worship that we participate in, probably without realizing it. Our relationship with Christ does not have to be limited to our minds or hearts.

In church next week, take note of what you do throughout the service and consider the reason for those actions and postures. I believe embodied worship is pleasing to God and a witness to those around us.