I grew up in a small house that burst at its seams with music and dancing. From ABBA to Bob Marley, Irish worship to South African gospel choirs, Motown classics to The Spice Girls, The Beatles to Tupac, there was something to suit every mood and occasion. The music would begin and, oh so steadily, it would seep into our bones until consciously or not, we danced. We danced as we did our homework and cooked dinner and washed dishes and lived our lives.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “rhythm is music’s pattern in time. Whatever other elements a given piece of music may have (for example patterns in pitch or timbre), rhythm is the one indispensable element of all music. Rhythm can exist without a melody… but melody cannot exist without rhythm”. A thousand songs, a thousand dances, might have the same rhythm and yet look and sound completely different. Rhythm in this sense, the way it holds the rest together, the way a good beat can make you move, was as familiar to me as the air I breathed.
I hadn’t considered it in another context until I moved overseas and found myself the only Australian on an international team. It was a double culture shock for me as I learned the cultures of my new country and of my team and was introduced to a host of holidays and celebrations. The liturgical calendar, the changing of seasons, birthdays and birthdays in Christ, everything was celebrated in its own unique way, forming monthly and then annual practices and traditions.
It was utterly foreign to me. I didn’t grow up in a church tradition that followed the liturgical calendar. I did grow up in a part of Australia where the changing of seasons was not significant enough to be marked. And every celebration or event was commemorated with a BBQ in the park or a day at the beach. Or both. The intentional marking of time that had passed, the built-in practices of reflection and rejoicing, the large and small-scale cycles of rest and work and play that I was introduced to in my international team formed a dance, and it took a while before I could hear the beat or figure out the steps.
Just like the rhythms in my childhood home, this rhythm gradually sunk into my bones. I discovered that at the centre of it, holding it all together, was the heartbeat of the Father. This new dance I was learning, at its purest and healthiest, was an act of worship and an intentional posturing of wayward human hearts towards Him. Of course, things still went wrong, but the ever-present, ever-steady heartbeat of our Father was our north star and listening to it together, we were transformed and redeemed. In rhythm, I was able to love others, do the work that was asked of me, respond to challenges with hope and faith, and rest.
The value of this new dance was undeniable and the lessons I gained on the field I brought back with me to my home country. I got the steps in place and all was well. Until this year. This year, I have been struggling to hear the beat. Circumstances outside of my control have thrown me off course and into a season of wilderness. I’ve been trying to wrangle the steps of the now-familiar dance into the seeming barrenness of the wilderness, and somehow, it just hasn’t fit. It won’t work. I can’t do it. I’ve been wandering, dazed and restless, irritable and anxious. I’m out of step, stumbling over my own feet and confused about where I should be going and what I should be doing.
Here’s the thing: the dance I learned on the field was and is a good and healthy response to the rhythm. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only one that’s right. Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten the knowledge gleaned from a childhood dancing in a tiny home.
Although I may be struggling to hear it, my Father’s heart beats still, and in His kindness, He has been allowing me to see different dances. I’ve found myself interacting with Christian traditions different from what I have been familiar with. Worshippers with drums and worshipers who spurn all accompaniment except their voices. Songwriters striving to find words for the indescribable and singers who choose only the words of The Word. Heads covered. Heads exposed. Kneeling, standing, sitting. The differences are many. Yet everywhere the Bible was opened and the gospel of Jesus Christ faithfully declared, I was welcomed in by my brothers and sisters. The melodies have been different, the steps of the dances are new, but the rhythm is always the same heartbeat of the Father.
What does it look like for me to dance in the wilderness? I’m not quite sure. What I do know is that my Father’s heartbeat is in it all and forms endless songs and dances for us to participate in. Right now, all I need to do is be still and wait and listen. I’ll let the rhythm sink into my bones until one day, once again, I will dance.
What new dances are you learning in this season? Are you hearing the heartbeat of the Father in the midst of it?