- 'Gimme de kneebone bent':Liturgics, Dance, Resistance and a Hermeneutics of the Knees
When my knee and your knee fall together in affliction and quietness, and the nest of the bed becomes the comfort and grace that will not want anything else but a hug, I will repeat with Teresa (de Avila) the question of the flight, entangled in your leg: God with us!(Pereira 2006)
Shall we all dance to the Lord? But what Lord? To whose Lord shall we bend our knees in prayer, honour, dance and praise? Can our knees be naked? Can we open our legs? How much skin can we show without apologizing? Are we allowed to get the sensuous fever while dancing a tango, a salsa, or a samba? How should our knees behave in the house of the Lord? And whose house is God's house? Is there a proper way to dance in a worship service? What parts of our bodies can we move without distressing the proper liturgical order rooted in respect, faith, rationality, tradition and good manners?
Our knees connect liturgy with ecclesiology, theology, colonisation, dance and bodies. I was asked to write about dance in Brazil/Latin America, perhaps because Brazil is well known for its dancing spirit, as one can see in our carnival, samba, joy and beautiful women. All of that is true. But the task for this article was more specific. I had to write about dance within Christian communities. Then, the whole aspect of dance was turned around in my head. In truth, we do not dance in historic Protestant churches in Brazil and in that regard, we do not differ one inch from many of our brothers and sisters in Edinburgh, Rome, Geneva or the United States – at least when dance is concerned. We just do not dance. Only [End Page 1] our Pentecostal brothers and sisters can dance. Moreover, new Pentecostal churches and the Charismatic branch of the Roman Catholic Church now have aerobics during worship services. You leave these services all wet!
However, I decided to write about some of the conditions that prevent many Brazilian Christians from dancing in their Sunday liturgies. In spite of our wonderful carnival, we do not, and cannot dance in Protestant churches. God forbid we move our bodies beyond the 'please stand' and 'you may be seated' parts of the service. While worshiping, we usually do not need more than our eyes to see the altar/table and the priest/pastor, our hands to hold the bulletin and hymnal books and our mouths to sing and pray. We mostly need our ears to listen endlessly.
Let us start by saying that the problem with dancing obviously has to do with problems with our knees, which bend and move our bodies. The knees have always been a dangerous element in the Christian faith. In spite of the doctrine of the incarnation, God's excessive knee movement in Christ, the Christian body in general remained a frightened space where things can easily get out of control. The knees held the possibilities for pleasure, desire and resistance, these fervent enemies of reason and control, and must be denied and/or stay under surveillance of a proper spiritual faith. Rubem Alves, a Brazilian thinker and poet, says:
We thought of finding God where the body ends: and we made the body suffer and we turn it into a heavy load, an obedient entity, a machine of work, into an enemy to be silenced, and that way we persecuted the body to the point of praising death as a the way to God, as if God preferred the smell of sepulchres to the delights of paradise. And we became cruel, violent, allowing exploration and war. For, if God can only be found beyond the body, then everything can be done to the body (Alves 1983).
Our evangelisation in Latin America, both from Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, taught us to be careful, suspicious and even hateful of our bodies. We learned that there was a proper (read civilised) way of moving, believing, acting, singing, looking, gesturing, touching within the worshiping space and in the world. Silently, the...