In Keeping Time, Dances to the Beat of a Different Drummer, Brian Dixon’s comfort with the spiritual dance floor is reflected in the deep wisdom and faithful love that pours out through the songs, poems, parables and prayers within these pages.
Those who follow Brian’s “crumby” prayers on twitter (#crumbyprayers), created to drop markers to lead the way home like in Hansel and Gretel, will now find dances filled with graceful and grace-filled cadences to guide them through the many movements of Christian life.
Brian’s use of imagery accomplishes what he sets out to do—to illustrate how “imagination can be our spiritual discipline.” He divides his book into six distinct movements. The first he labels “Two to Tango” that metaphorically links the often-complicated relationships between humans and God to the abrupt pauses that take place between two dancers, often while in difficult positions. For example, Dixon’s parable about the Candle-Maker’s gifts and the poem “Covenant” allow readers to ponder how they gratefully receive God’s gifts, yet sometimes sell them for personal gain. His parable catches readers off guard and causes them, like in a tango, to pause midair in, perhaps, a moment of confrontation and confession. Soon, however, the dance movement elegantly resumes as we are reminded that God is faithful: “Losing and finding, as we give ourselves to you, that you have given yourself to us.”
In the next movement entitled “Like a Polaroid Picture,” Brian presents snapshots of faithful people. The powerful illustrations of how day-to-day struggles can be spiritually centered are found in the stories of a little girl whose hand is caught in a gumball machine (“The Hardest Part”) and in the risk of a person who chooses compassion and relationship building with the local eccentric rather than to shun him (“Man on the Street”).
Among the powerful tales and poems in his third movement “Hold Me Closer,” focused on difficult times and suffering, is Brian’s “Psalm from the Rearview Mirror.” Masterfully, he takes this most beloved song and flips its meaning verse by verse until it now conveys pure hopelessness (e.g., “I currently reside in the valley of the shadow of death, and I’m afraid of my neighbors because they know I live alone. The rod is broken and my staff leaves me comfortless…”) This stark contrast helps illuminate for me the pure joy and comfort of the Psalm that is often lost as its words are frequently read but not heard.
“Dance the Night Away,” the fourth movement of the dance, provides multiple resources for use in worship that “celebrate the Light of the world.” Nestled in this section are new resources as well as two he wrote for Sing to the Lord a New Song. While the entire book has nuggets for all aspects of worship, here Brian shares resources that strengthen the dance moves with foci on prayer, love, hands, sacred time, Spirit, eschatology, and community service.
Brian’s fifth movement, “That’s What It’s All About,” calls us more fully to explore our “wonderings” and “wanderings” as people of faith. His questions get to the heart of who we are as people of God as he ponders what it means to be Christian (“What’s in a Name?”), if our hard work for truth brings peace (“Said and Done”), if one can speak of God’s will without considering Love, Law, Justice and Mercy (“Hitting the Notes”), and how much do we really know? (“We Do Not Know”).
One of the strengths of Brian’s work is his ability to weave biblical texts together with prose and poetry in such a way that illuminates meaning and allows biblical texts to be heard in unchartered ways. This is most evident as he brings his book to a close.
The last movement, “A Thousand Dances,” provides retellings of several biblical narratives that open up deep reflection. For example, Dixon chillingly creates the story of a disfigured man, presumably from Jesus’ hometown (Matthew 13:54-58) who chooses to keep his withered hand rather than allow Jesus to heal him due to the man’s fear of unknown responsibilities and faith challenges that a healing might incur (“The Mystery of Unbelief”).
The insightful musings in Keeping Time offer a space for each reader to reflect on his or her faith and to dance to his or her own rhythm. It is a book that will enrich the faith community as readers accept the invitation to a new dance.
With Keeping Time, IBOC steps out and tries something new
When the Rev. Brian Dixon first approached me with his idea for this book, I must admit, I wasn’t quite certain how to approach it.
I had experienced Brian’s knack for stringing words together in ways that make one think, feel and wonder in our publications before. His prayers and liturgies are included in Sing to the Lord a New Song: A New Moravian Songbook; he’s written for the Moravian Magazine; and he has contributed to the weekly bulletin message shared with Moravians around North America. And his creativity isn’t limited to words: his photographs—many taken in the moment on his mobile phone—also have spiritual, reflective qualities that go beyond the images you see.
I was excited to receive Brian’s collection of spiritual, reflective, thought-provoking words, but my first reaction was to dismiss its dance-themed title and section headings as simply a way to organize the pieces within. While song and dance enliven and deepen our worship of God in many parts of the Moravian world, dance rarely pops into one’s head when praying, reading the Bible or meditating on God’s word.
After a second and third reading, however, I began to recognize this collection as an expression of the fluid movements of God in our lives. Brian’s collection of stories, poems, prayers and parables struck a new chord in me. I came to understand how Brian’s ideas and expressions about God, love, struggle, spirit, hope and peace have the ability to produce a different beat in each individual who reads them.
This is a new endeavor for us at the Interprovincial Board of Communication of the Moravian Church. With it, we’re stepping out, trying something new, and offering a collection that highlights the talent and spirit alive in our church today. I thank Brian for his willingness to share his words, and Renee Schoeller for bringing this volume to fruition.
While you may not pull out your boogie shoes while reading Keeping Time, I’m certain you will be moved and hear a beat of your own.
Reprinted from Mike Riess’ foreword to Keeping Time: Dances to the Beat of a Different Drummer.
From Brian Dixon’s Introduction to Keeping Time
It started when I first read Pär Lagerkvist’s Barabbas, a fictional account of the life and death of the man who could claim, quite literally, that Jesus died for him. Reading Barabbas as a God-fearing seeker—hoping at least to stumble and fall forward in faith—what impressed me most was the feeling I got that the Bible not only contained light and truth, but also life and breath. In addition to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the gospels bear witness to everyday people whose living, dying, and hoping for something more are lifted up as the Christ of God walked and wept at their sides.
What started when I found that there were books like this, stories rooted deeply both in the scriptures and in the hearts for whom these words were meant, was my belief that imagination could be a spiritual discipline. I have come to trust the great capacity of Truth to bear our wildest wonderings. And, I also believe that Truth shines patiently and undimmed with each step, or stumble, we take out of darkness. These writings are fruits of my earnest attempts to practice imagination in a disciplined, reverent way. More than that, I pray that they are fruits of the Spirit’s leading in Truth.
Of course, I am happy to share these stories, poems, and prayers. I hope that they serve you well as worship resources, devotional materials, studies, reflections, etc. One thing I would ask—let this book be the start of something: a growing awareness that you can trust the Truth to be true; an understanding that you are indeed free to speak, to raise your questions, to write and to wrestle with unbelief; and an unreserved leading to chase sparrows through fields of lilies and wild mustard until you fall laughing and exhausted at the feet of Jesus.
Keeping Time (Paperback, 108 pages) is available from the IBOC Bookstore.
From the September/October 2016 Moravian Magazine