The Freedom To Dance & Worship

Post Author: Joy Williams

a picture of the author, Joy Williams, sitting, laughing, in front of a small body of water surrounded by grass and trees

The author

I feel it. Slowly at first. Suddenly, my spirit bursts and I must stand. Within seconds, I am on my feet. I’m swaying, one arm on my heart and the other raised in the air, palms open. Something in me notices that I am the only one standing while I am in church.

“Am I supposed to stand? Is it against some rule that I should not?” I begin to think to myself. I’m not sure who is looking at me, if anyone, and I try to concentrate on what drew me to stand, which is the Great Spirit. God beckons all of me–not just my presence, my voice, my ears, my eyes, or my attention, but my body. God wants all of me to worship. When there are any scrutiny or judgments I feel, I remind myself of examples of dancers in the Bible.

David danced.

Miriam danced.

Sigh. The service is over. A few individuals come up to me and comment on how nice it was to see someone standing during worship. I have received comments, “Wow, you really know how to worship.” It makes me wonder what about the experience of others makes such a distinction between what they see of me, and what they feel inside. Why are the experiences described differently if they too are worshiping? Did they want to stand? If they did not stand what stopped them?

We are used to singing in church. We are used to using our voice to speak in church. We are used to sensing the “spirit” in our spiritual spaces, but, rarely, are we used to seeing our bodies as a necessary, and integral part of worship. Why?

We use our bodies to enter a worship space, but we tend to disconnect the body once inside, and only focus on the spirit. We go into a mode of sensing, feeling, and concentrating on all things internal. Focusing on all things internal is a good thing. Churches and other worship spaces are one of the only designated places that our social sphere focuses on the spirit, where the spirit can have a voice, have a body, have a presence and be intentionally tended to.

However, sometimes we focus so much on the spirit that we disregard the temple in which that spirit lives, the body. We may kneel, we may clasp our hands together in a prayer pose, we may stand to take of sacred elements, or we may raise our hand. All of these embodied practices are indications of what is happening on the inside.

We move our bodies because we have to fulfill a goal of the spirit, and we can only fulfill that goal if we move our bodies. For example, if I am sitting in the pew and the offering plate is at the front, I have to move my body or get someone to move theirs for my spirit to offer finances to the offering plate. Likewise, when I take of the sacred communion or Eucharist, I move my hand, my mouth, and any other body part to fulfill the goal of the spirit to remember the Last Supper that Christ instructed us to follow.

Whenever I am in a service, it is not optional for me to use my body—well, it is, but I feel an internal deadening if I sit still. Movement is a chance for my body, the temple in which my spirit is housed can express herself. My body, as another part of my essence, worships and cries out to God. I say–my spirit, my body, and my mind say–“God you must be greater than this. You must be greater than my experience. You have to make change, and if my body will convince you of how much I need that change, then my body I will use. This body is yours. And the assaults that the world puts on it do not belong to me or the world, but to you. You will see my body, and you will hear my cry. Please come. Please.”

It is with an internal dialogue of this sort that if I hear a musical selection, my head starts bobbing slightly, my feet start tapping, and slowly my eyes start to water, as my spirit is being moved. I stand, I crouch in the aisle, and I allow my arms to sway over my head while my torso rocks to the tune of the piano, slowly bringing my head, knees, and arms to a prayer position on the floor.

I am dressed in a dress, with nice shoes, and my hair is pulled back, with a nice pair of earrings. I negotiate how much I can move based on the clothing I am wearing, but how I wish I could lift my legs up as much as I am lifting my arms to show just how much the music is beckoning me to express what my spirit wants to say, but voice cannot do it, sight is too limited, and it is only with the body that I can emphasize the pull inside of my stomach that precedes a spiritual change.

Dance or movement in worship setting is more than just a “special event” or “the devil at work”, it is my chance to cry, to worship to God with all of me. And even if I were abled differently, like some of my other Christian siblings, dance would be in my eyes, or in whatever body part could move, including my imagination.

Wherever you are in your worship journey, allow your body to join in on worship.

Joy Williams is a speaker, writer, and currently a Master of Divinity Student at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Her spirit sings when she dances, and she loves being part of the Otesha African Dance Company in Winston Salem.

When not in school or dancing, you can find Joy turning her family home into a living and learning homestead, growing and cooking food, and making homemade chemical-free cleaning and body products. Joy believes in modeling a lifestyle rooted in what it means to live simply, off the land, and striving in harmony with God, the earth, others, and oneself.

You can find more of Joy’s writings at Healing Joy Ministries or email her, to secure her craft where you want the presence of joy. She brings peace, and is grateful for your trust.

Image by: Joy Williams
Used with permission
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