I Am a Follower: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus
by Leonard Sweet
The Way, the Truth, the Life
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.
A couple of years ago, videos began to pop up on the Internet of a lone, shirtless dancer in the midst of an open sloping field at the 2009 Sasquatch Festival in eastern Washington.2 Internet entrepreneur Derek Sivers brought attention to the episode with a dazzling three-minute commentary on “the shirtless dancing guy” at one of the 2010 TED conferences.3 The video begins with one guy doing an improvised dance to the song “Unstoppable.” Though his form is jerky, his lack of inhibition is striking. After a period of dancing alone, the shirtless dancing guy is joined by a brave dancing partner, a first follower who syncs his own unique movements with the lone dancer. Before you know it, more and more people rush to join in the dance. In just three minutes it’s a dance party, and a movement is born.
In first-century Palestine, a similar movement was born. A solitary man from the fields of Galilee began a dance of life so different and unique, so daring and innovative, that most at first could only stare in amazement, wondering who this astonishing human couldbe. He was joined first by Simon (Peter) and Andrew, next by Philip and Nathaniel. Then one by one, more and more excited followers began to join the Lord of the Dance.
“Come and see!” was the invitation. Jesus’ disciples came, saw, and followed the life-giving dance of the blessed Trinity until dancer and dance became one.
Our concert of praise
To Jesus we raise,
And all the night long
Continue the new evangelical song:
We dance to the fame
Of Jesus’s name,
The joy it imparts
Is heaven begun in our musical hearts.
The Greek noun perichoresis was the early church’s favorite word to describe the interrelationship of the holy Trinity. When the prefix peri (around) is linked with the root of the verb choreuein (to dance), a compelling metaphor is formed or “choreographed” to describe the “one nature in three persons” of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Literally they “dance around.” The choreia or dance of God is the choreography of the cosmos, the interrelationship of Creator, creation, and life itself, the holy creativity of the All in All.
The dancing metaphor of the holy Trinity is envisioned and embodied as a circle dance. The perichoresis, though a noun in term, is built upon a verb. The dance of the triune divine is moving, active, eternally both transcendent and immanent, and flowing together in a joyful and harmonious, rhythmic and resonant celebration of life. The great Artist of eternal life dances with the incarnate Christ and the Holy Spirit. Each dwells in the other, outside of and within thecreated world.
Jesus, the Lord of the Dance, is the physical embodiment of the sacred dance of life, the incarnated vision and rhythm of the artistryof God. Whereas the Trinity is the music and the composer, Jesus is the One who calls to us to “come and dance” and promises that we
need never lose the rhythm of the dance.
It is God’s dance, and Jesus is the Dancer who summons us tojoin in the music of the spheres. We don’t take Jesus into the world. We discern where he’s dancing and join in the dance. God takes the initiative. Heaven is entering into the triune life of God, the circle dance of creation.
The Lord of the Dance takes the lead. But the most important human role is that of the “first follower,” the dancing partner who has the courage to get up from the safety of sitting and violate the unwritten eleventh commandment: “Never be the first to do anything.” The longest distance in the universe is the distance from zero to one. In joining the dance, the first follower breaks some kind of social membrane and gives others the courage to follow their hearts.
As we join the Lord of the Dance in the art of pilgriming (being on the way), we form a community of followers, each relationally on the move and invested in each other’s life. The body of Jesus becomes a whirling life force, wherein each member of the growing body becomes aligned with Christ and at one with God. The implication of the dance of the Trinity is that all persons dance a dance of mutual love, breathe together the breath of life, and pour out to one another in mutual giving.
John of Damascus saw this giving as a “cleaving together,” a fellowship of oneness and intimacy so close that only one nature is evident. In a followership community, all are “cleaved together” in relationship with Christ and with each other, a living temple of the
body of Jesus. Followers have their own unique identities but alsoembrace and pour themselves into the identity of Christ.
Creative dance requires both discipline and grace. When we dance along with Jesus, we become disciples within his incarnated body and baptized in the Spirit with the grace of his resurrection life.
The choreographer of the dance creates for us a liturgy of life, a his(story) within the context of the embodied Christ. When we join in Jesus’ dance, we join in his story, and his story becomes our story as we move in eternal pilgrimage with him.
O Lord . . . you changed my mourning into dancing. . . .
Forever will I give you thanks.
Psalm 30:11–13 NAB
The Bible is filled with stories of dancing. These dances are not planned, scripted ballets but improvised songs of freedom and hope. They aren’t performed by trained and seasoned professionals but are initiated in the joyful celebrations of the common people of God.
The dances of God are edgy and innovative. They are thedances of the margins, the seeds of raw potential, born not out of the exactness of ritual but in the spontaneity of the Spirit. The only GUIdance is the perichoresis of God that allows us to sing with complete abandon: “God, U and I dance.”
As long as you have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing, just learning about the dance. To truly dance in perichoresis is unthinkable. You cease to think when your body begins to dance to the rhythms of the Spirit, and the only choreography is that of the Creator. Before you know it, the dance has taken over. There is no greater feeling in life than the moment when the dance you are dancing takes over, when the dance and the dancer become one.
Praise God in your body.
Jesus invites us all to dance, though not all follow: “We piped to you, and you did not dance.”7 But look what happens when we do. As followers fall into sync with Jesus, we enjoy not just synergy with him but a syncopated and synchronous movement together. The rhythms of the Jesus life echo within the movements of the Spirit’s music until all are singing and dancing together in a beautiful and diverse harmony. The dance of Christ is a world dance. The Holy Spirit is starting new dances in every part of the world. When we dance the dance of God, we follow the Spirit’s lead.
The time is now, and the dance is eternal. Don’t sit this dance out. Life is a speedy season. Buds burst in smelly spring; fruits delight in fertile summer. Leaves change colors in inflamed autumn. Trees fall in whitened winter. Dance while you can. The world doesn’t need more conversations so much as it needs more dancing. When “heart
speaks unto heart,” what comes next is less a conversation than a cha-cha-cha. Or a tarantella, with all its unexpected twists and turns.
Christ’s dance occurs both in the earthly here and now and in the heavenly beyond. The celebration of resurrection beauty and hope surrounds and permeates the Jesus dance of life. In Jesus the sin of Adam is overcome by the “syn” of the resurrection, and the vision of accord and harmony prevails in every step we take with him and with each other. Jesus leads us in a new dance of human connection under divine direction.
When you stumble, make it part of your dance.
Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra exclaimed that he “could believe only in a God who would know how to dance.” The perichoresis of God is a dance of love that moves and flows through the ins and outs, ups and downs of all of life’s joys and travails. The circle of our dancing is a powerful movement of shared com(passion).
Too often in our churches, we want to give dance lessons, to be thejudges for dance competitions. But the Lord of the Dance can never be directed or contained. To join the dance of the Spirit, we need to break out of our square lines and ballroom boxes and let the Spirit draw us in. The dance of the perichoresis is a unity of sound and sight, a unity of followers in Jesus, and a unity of God and world.
This book is about those who would dance the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus. About those brave and courageous first followers who first step forth to join the dance. They are the way pavers, those willing to play the first fool. (Fools for Christ make the best first followers.) They are not afraid to stand up and dance to a different beat. Not afraid to follow an unconventional and unfamiliar way of life. In the improvisational jazz club of life, first followers are those who begin to dance.
Heaven is much too serious a place for work.
It will be all dance and play there.
C. S. Lewis