I’m rubbish at dancing. Ask Mrs. A. I was left traumatised after being laughed at by some girls at a primary school party. Though Mrs. A loves dancing, I made sure there was none at our wedding. Apparently, I just don’t have rhythm.
Rhythm is all about timing; it’s a regular, repeated pattern, which your body is supposed to connect to. You sway, move your limbs, and click your fingers in time to the music. Apparently!
I find rhythm a helpful picture for Christian living (if you were brought up singing “Lord of the Dance” in school assemblies in the 80s, you’ll have to erase that memory!). Rhythm is a helpful image, because we instinctively know it isn’t oppressive or guilt-inducing; it’s liberating. Who wouldn’t want to have rhythm?! Getting into the beat doesn’t ruin you or spoil your fun; it’s the magic at the heart of dance. Well, in the gospel, Jesus sets us free to move to the beat of a different drum. He frees us to walk by a different rule to the world (Gal 6:16). We recognise our Creator has embedded an order into this world (Gen 1:14; 2:2), which Jesus, the Wisdom of God, has tuned us into (Prov 8:30).
The presbyterian’s favourite verse is 1 Cor 14:40 “all things should be done decently and in order”. That word “order” can strike terror into the hearts of mums, who see messy bedrooms and piles of laundry stacked high, but if you think of “order” as “rhythm”, it’s much less threatening. The Bible’s vision of “order” isn’t Nazi soldiers doing goose-step marches. It’s rhythmic. It’s patient gardening (Gen 2:15). The tempo doesn’t have to be at a 100-miles an hour. It can be subtle. It doesn’t mean no missteps. Sin is chaos; sin is a-rhythmic, but Jesus the Lord establishes a new rhythmic, order in our lives.
The trouble is that with the invention of the electric light-bulb and shiny personal devices, finding life’s rhythms has got much harder. Day and night used to exert great power over our work arrangements (Ps 104:19-23). Work had to stop at sundown. But the line between day and night has got blurred. Nature’s “off-buttons” have got disconnected. Shops may shut at 5pm, but online shopping never stops. A generation ago, TV programming had nothing on at 1am, but today plenty of men are up at night in their bedrooms consuming online content. We’re a 24/7 on-the-go society. This only makes finding “rhythm” all the more important spiritually.
It’s not unusual for Christians to search for this rhythm personally. They think: “I, personally, need to work out my own rhythms”. What time will I set the alarm clock? When will I go to bed? What will my priorities be? How will I manage my work/life balance? What will I do with my Saturdays? How will I use my devices?
But one of the key truths of the Bible is that this “rhythm” of Jesus is a very social thing. In her book, Real Sex, the author Lauren Winner discusses the way the history of dance has changed in the West. Dancing has shifted from barn dances (social), to ballroom (lots of lone couples), to the rave (individuals). She points out that that shift illustrates bigger underlying social changes.
Well, the Christian life isn’t a rave, or bopping in a night-club, but a barn dance. It’s an inherently communal activity. This means the “steps” I need to learn, and the “beat” I need to tune into isn’t something I figure out on my own, freestyle. My rhythms need to adjust to the church’s. I need to learn the rhythms of church life. Sadly, a large part of the UK church scene at the moment looks like ravers showing up at a barn dance! Jesus doesn’t ask his church to adjust to the rhythms of modernity (Rom 12:2) e.g. change Sunday service times to allow our children to play sports! Rather he calls each individual to adjust and learn the alternative rhythms of his church.
This is why “little” things like church attendance are such “big” deals spiritually (Heb 10:25). Finding our spiritual “rhythm” in the church is one of the most pressing pastoral issues for believers, new and old. Let me encourage you to find out when the main church meetings are and commit to being there (together with your family). Perhaps this is a season when you, as an individual, are “out of rhythm”. When that happens, everyone should feel it, like someone muffing up their steps in a barn dance. But, in your head, be convinced that the Christian life is a communal dance. Ask others for help. Ask older folk for advice about how to join in. Think: “how can I improve my steps?”. Want it. In your heart, aspire to move in time to the joyful rhythms of Jesus and his church. This dance is what you were made for. Don’t miss out! Catch the beat!