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Dance to the Music

If you’re old enough, you might remember the 1960/70s Teach Yourself books. They had a distinctive black and yellow cover. I learned to touch type with one of them. They were the equivalent of YouTube before the internet existed. My girlfriend Barbara and me were into folk in the 60s. We sang folk songs and enjoyed folk dancing. But there were formal balls at Church where we had to sit at the side so, after we married, we decided to learn ballroom dancing. We couldn’t afford lessons, so we got a Teach Yourself Ballroom Dancing book and a scratchy vinyl record of Victor Sylvester’s dance music.

If I had a video, you would laugh your heads off. In our living room, we would take the ballroom dance hold, except I held the open book in my left hand, looking over Barbara’s shoulder at the diagrams of foot positions with arrows. Without music, we tried to learn the foot patterns—with difficulty—feet frequently collided. We eventually graduated to music and the comedy got funnier. I learned that the gentleman is supposed to “lead” the lady. Eh? What? How? It remained an enigma. Eventually we achieved a wooden waltz and a quirky quickstep. The foxtrot, Latin, or any other dances were an impenetrable mystery. A fundamental problem was that I had no sense of rhythm and timing. I couldn’t even recognise the beginning of a bar in a tune—I had to ask Barbara “do we start now?” and we often began dancing a few seconds after everyone else. This takes me to a quote:

Years ago I listened to a radio interview of a young doctor who worked in a hospital in the Navajo Nation. He told of an experience he had one night when an old Native American man with long braided hair came into the emergency room . . .

. . . The old man then looked at him and said, “Do you dance?” As the young doctor pondered the strange question, it occurred to him that perhaps his patient was a tribal medicine man who, according to ancient tribal customs, sought to heal the sick through song and dance rather than through prescribing medication.

“No,” said the doctor, “I don’t dance. Do you dance?” The old man nodded yes. Then the doctor asked, “Could you teach me to dance?”

The old man’s response has for many years caused me much reflection. “I can teach you to dance,” he said, “but you have to hear the music.”

(Elder Wilford W. Anderson, The Music of the Gospel, April 2015 General Conference)

Other activities, just like dancing, have a core element that’s hard or impossible to teach, an instinctive, intuitive quality. We talk about someone being a “natural” teacher, footballer, leader, speaker, musician and so on. This doesn’t mean we can’t learn the steps to do the job, but we won’t have the style, grace or effortless appearance. But although it’s hard to teach, with time and effort we can often develop an ear for the music ourselves.

Music makes Christmas. Cheerful songs about Santa, stars, snow, and sacred psalms saturate the season and make it what it is. But all these sounds, even the carols, are for many just the steps, not the substance. On that first Christmas long ago the Scribes, Pharisees, and Jewish leaders were tone deaf. The angel didn’t speak to them, or the Roman conquerers, or wealthy merchants, or rabbis in the synagogues. The birth of the Son of God was announced to a few poor shepherds, and wise men in a distant country. His mother was Mary and his step-father was Joseph the carpenter, a couple of little significance or social prominence. To follow Jesus we need to hear the music, deeper than Dreaming of a White Christmas, more subtle than Silent Night. The music of faith is not audible yet it’s all around us; with effort, anyone can hear it. Some find it easier than others. Perhaps you’ve wondered, like me, how it was possible for Jewish leaders to reject and eventually murder their Creator, Jesus Christ the Son of God. Well, they were obsessed with the steps: a hedge of performances and restrictions, added to scripture over the centuries, that blocked their hearts to the music. He healed a lame man: they ignored the healing but accused him of working on the Sabbath. The scale of their deafness is staggering. He raised Lazarus from the dead, so they plotted to kill Lazarus to eliminate the huge following for Jesus it generated. His teachings were irresistible; in every debate they were defeated and silenced, yet they refused to accept the obvious: he was their Master.

In our own time, many distractions obscure the music of the Gospel, and we may confuse steps and melody. Religious performances are important of course, without the steps as well as the music there is no dance. Attending Church, being a good neighbour, holding a calling, attending the Temple, studying the scriptures, are all necessary. But when we see them as tick boxes, a list of chores to be got through, we’ve lost the tune. We dance the steps because we love our Father in Heaven and his son Jesus Christ. It should become a joy to us. Our whole soul is involved. After Jesus fed the five thousand, some followed him just to get a free lunch. True commitment is much deeper. Ultimately, accepting the Gospel of Jesus Christ involves complete surrender of our will to his, a willingness to do whatever he asks. At that point, we hear the spiritual music clearly and the dance of our lives will have the style, grace and effortless appearance we seek. Perhaps we know a few people like that, and think they are “naturals” and wish we could be like them. But this is music we can all hear and dance to, if we choose.


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