Years ago, in High School, I dated Paula, who liked square dancing. So, most Saturday nights we were down at the community center, she in her petticoats and dress, I in my jeans, button down western shirt with a scarf tie and hand towel.

Square dancing has some basic moves that beginners learn. And so it was that Paula and I started with the basics. But in square dancing there are different levels, and so eventually we cleared the floor and watched those who knew the more advanced moves. Sometimes there were several levels of dancers. I remember being amazed at the complicated moves the move senior members had learned and wondered how I would ever master it. But, little by little the moves were learned, and we got to stay on the floor just a little longer as the months and years ticked by.

Image of the Church? I was over at YouTube and came upon the video below of a square dance group that’s pretty advanced. I remember many of the moves they do, but some of it was above what I ever learned. And  suddenly it occurred to me that I saw an image of the Church.

Please forgive me. I know you think I must be theological geek at this point. Surely as a young man I never gave a thought to the Church, in terms of square dancing. But now with this great love for God and for the Church, I can’t help it, I see the Church in square dancing. Just a few thoughts:

1. Every Square Dance needs a caller and, if the dancers in the square are the body, he is the head. He calls the moves, and the dancers must listen and respond. He has the authority to set direction and maintain order. If a square falls into disorder he reestablishes order by calling them home. Not only that, it is also the role of the Caller to teach new moves and drill the dancers until they master it. So the caller is the source for unity and direction for the square.

This is also the role of the Pope and the Local Bishop in the Church who also have the authority to set direction, maintain unity and restore order when necessary. It is also their role to teach the faith, along with their priests and catechists until the faithful master the Christian walk (dance).

2. As long as everyone listens carefully, and fulfills their particular role in the particular moves, the dance continues. But when, usually through error, one or more of the dancers veers away from the directed move, the square either stumbles or falls apart. As long as the dancers are open to learn, the square will continue to get better, and become a good, and disciplined group who increasingly enjoy advanced square dancing.

So too with the Church. When all listen carefully and do their part, the Church is strong and well ordered. When the faithful do not listen, or persist in error, the Church stumbles and is less effective. Disunity leads to a poor Christian walk (dance), not only for individuals, but also for groups and parishes. But if the faithful are willing to learn to and grow, the dance of faith becomes deeper and richer, more enjoyable, and just plain fun.

3. Everyone has a role, but not the same. When the caller calls a dance move, what you do in response depends on where you are in the square at that time. You might just stand still while others move, or you might be the one who switches positions. And all this varies from move to move.

And so it is with the Church. We have varied and different roles depending on where we are in the Church. Some of our roles are stable but others change depending on the situation. As a pastor, I am a leader and teacher in my parish. But at a meeting with the bishop I am a learner and a man under authority. In the parish I may take the lead when it comes to teaching the faith, but I may need to learn from my parishioners when it comes to understanding some technical legal matter, or car repair, etc. In such cases many of my parishioners can show me the way. We all have different gifts and talents and they all interact in various ways, depending on the situation. At times we lead, at times we follow, at times we stand still, while others move about us. All at the direction of the caller.

4. There is an etiquette to square dancing. There are bows, and curtseys, there’s a way you hold a lady’s hand, and there is a graciousness expected by all. Especially for those in higher levels, proper attire is also expected. Timeliness is also important since it is necessary to have eight people to form a square and get things underway. Thus everyone needs to be committed and timely. If just one of the eight is late, seven others are left standing. In larger groups, where there are numerous squares, people can mix and match a bit, but one missing member always impacts many other people.

In the Church too, basic kindness and generosity are also expected and necessary. Where there is Charity and truth, God himself is there. Further, people must be true to their commitments and be timely or many others suffer.

5. There is a great intricacy to square dancing where many aspect are interacting at once. It is almost mind-boggling to watch as the dance unfolds.

So too with the Church, there are many layers and great intricacy at work. Some are praying, some are studying, some are raising children, some are preaching, some are evangelizing, some are caring for the poor, some are praying in front of abortion clinics. But all are responding to the great call of the Shepherd Jesus speaking through his Pope and Bishops, through the Scriptures and the Tradition. It is a great dance of wonderful intricacy, and everyone interacts at different levels, all at once.

So there you have it: the Church as a square dance. Enter the dance, learn the moves and have a great time.

Photo Credit Ben Parmeter via Creative Commons

This video shows Square Dancing at a more advanced level. I got close to this, but never this good. Paula’s parents could have danced like this in their sleep.

Here’s how a caller teaches a new move:

17 Responses

  1. Nick says:

    I bet Jimmy Akins would like this blog post :)

  2. Ismael says:

    Interesting article… but I am sorry to say I really HATE the analogy :P

    Not because they are wrong… but only because I really do not like square dancing. That’s however only my personal taste which matters not… and other than that I agree with what your wrote Msgr. Pope. :)

  3. Corrie says:

    For this reason I love ballroom dancing as well! its SO “TOB”! :)

  4. Vijaya says:

    As a former folkdancer, I love this analogy.

  5. Beth says:

    Brings back some fun memories. Our caller was an elderly pioneer who was known for his taciturnity and his mumbling speech. He was asked to be a caller because he could do it and because we all adored him. Had to listen hard, though (which might be a good analogy? :)
    He was interviewed on a local station once and nodded through the whole thing.

  6. Fr. Philip says:

    Great analogy! In the Christian East we use the image of a dance for the life of the Holy Trinity, “perichoresis.”
    I think the word used in the West is “circuminsession.” St. Gregory of Nazianzus first mentions the term (Third Oration), but St. John of Damascus goes into greater detail. It refers to the mutual inter-penetration and indwelling within the threefold nature of the Trinity, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. (On the Orthodox Faith 1:8, 14: cf 4:18)

    And, of course, we have in the East have “church sanctioned liturgical dance” (Dance of Isaiah) at baptisms, weddings and ordinations, these are lead by a priest. Each of these involves moving around three times in a circle. At baptism the newly enlightend child, parents and godparents are led around the font. At Crowning in Marriage the newly married couple with their sponsors are lead around a table with the Gospel Book set on it. At ordination the newly ordained priest is led arround the Altar kissing each corner. This “dance” is a sign of a new life entering within the life of the Holy Trinity.

    Dance analogies are not some new “flaky” innovation but are rooted in Christian Tradition and theology. Needless to say these true dances do not involve leotarded dancing girls with pots of incense!

  7. Judy says:

    Great analogy! My husband and I met at our schools square dance club. He was my best friend’s boyfriend’s cousin : ) Loved square dancing!

  8. Suzannah M says:

    +JMJ

    Praise be to God… This is what we need in this highly (overly!) technology-centric society… a simple analogy which is experiential and spatially adaptive. I am a sacred artist and am committed to our Church recapturing the importance of ‘image’ in portraying the truths of our Catholic Faith. I remember learning to square dance in my jr high school phys ed classes in the early ’60s. It was more ‘community building’ than team sports. We were all gathered together in the same endeavor; it wasn’t about us as individuals, but about all of us following the lead of one person, who could tell us the way…to dance. While I do not think ‘liturgical dance’ has any value in the church, I think that this ‘square-dance’ ecclesiology would be a great asset for Catholic catechesis… youth groups, vacation church school, even adult gatherings. Monsignor, you should get to work adapting your ‘analogy’ to a practical version that could be published for church use.

Leave a Reply