There is a joke among recovering fundamentalist Christians. It goes, “Why is pre-marital sex so wrong? Because it might lead to dancing.” While most Christians can agree with the former prohibition against sex outside of marriage, the latter taboo has brought frustration to many a footloose Christian who begs for a definition of exactly what kind of dancing leads to moral degradation. As for this recovering fundamentalist, I have never been happier than the first time I witnessed centuries-old folk dancing going on right in the fellowship hall of an Eastern Orthodox church. You can even say it was one of the things that led me to the Church.
C.S. Lewis’ novel Til We Have Faces retells the ancient Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. The narrator of the story is a jealous older princess named Orual whose younger sister Psyche is chosen for marriage to a god who threatens to totally consume and destroy her frail mortal frame. Orual, who rules as Queen after her father’s untimely death, journeys to the top of a mountain with the priest Bardia to gather what might remain of her younger, more beautiful sister. As she fearfully treads into unknown and divinely charged regions, her great reserve and overly cautious reason gives way to an unexpected feeling of “… frolic or insolence. There came as if it were a voice- no words- but if you made it into words it would be, Why should your heart not dance?” This refrain is the turning point from her envy of Psyche’s beauty and her overwhelming fear of mortality as she concludes, “Who can feel ugly when the heart meets delight? It is as if, somewhere inside, within the hideous face and bony limbs, one is soft, fresh, lissom and desirable.”
When I first read that invitation to dance in Lewis’ myth, I felt the same toppling of encrusted stereotypes that Queen Orual felt. No longer was the God I served reduced to a predictable dogmatic calculation that I could keep carefully tucked away into a safe corner of my heart. Rather, He became to me what He really is: the Great Lover of my Soul, the one to whose capacious bosom I could fly while the tempest still draws nigh:
And now as an Orthodox Christian, the Lord of the Dance ever beckons me to join the communion of saints, the great line dance that reaches back to creation and forward into His everlasting Kingdom to come. Come join in! Why should your heart not dance as well?