I Should Have Danced More

Reading poetry is one of the ways some of us nourish our faith, a way we set or reset our inner compass and stay focused on the big picture, on the spiritual journey. I know that is true for me. In this monthly column, ‘Setting the Inner Compass,’ I share some of the poems I find nourishing to the soul.

I end most of my public programs with a benediction I learned from Marcus Borg adapted from the work of the Swiss philosopher Henri-Frédéric Amiel, “Life is short. We don’t have much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk this way with us. So, be swift to love and make haste to be kind.” I think that when you move into another new year many of us, no matter our age, become aware of the passing of time and the “shortness “of this life. At its best this awareness of time gives us the chance to step back and ponder how we use the time we have and what ways we might want to change things or refocus our energy.

Moving into 2024 it feels to me this is particularly true. The challenges before church and society are real and immense. As we enter this new year the world around us feels uncertain and vulnerable. There is global unrest, and domestic division. Indeed, we are looking at an election year where people are talking about “an existential threat to democracy” or as Frank Bruni wrote in the New York Times, “The Final Battle”. And, in the church we face our own struggles as we wrestle with decline and diminished relevance. It is a hard season.

As we step into a new year, there is lots to wrestle with, lots to consider, lots of work to do. As we face these challenges, denial, indifference or what I call “it will be all rightism” is not an option for people of conscience or followers of Jesus. We need to engage and get involved; a lot is on the line in 2024. Yet as I write this, I also deeply believe that we must find a way to not allow the challenges, threats, and hard realities to completely define who we are as individuals and our communities. We need balance, a healthy rhythm where we address the challenges and take our brokenness seriously while still finding a way to embrace and celebrate the gift of being alive in a world that, alongside its horror, has amazing beauty.

We have work to do, but we also need to dance more. That’s right, dance. Or if you don’t dance do the things that make you come alive inside. I am a longtime fan of the singer/songwriter Joan Osborne. Last November, Ann and I heard Joan at City Winery in NYC. It was one of my favorite concerts, ever. In it Joan sang several songs from her amazing new record, Nobody Owns You. I strongly recommend it. Apart from the opening track, “Should’ve Danced More” (co-written with Ben Rice) I am particularly fond of “Nobody Owns You”, “Woman’s Work”, “Secret Wine”, and “ Child of God” among others. Check it out.
The first track on the record, “Should’ve Danced More” is a song for our times. It is really a song of confession and redemption. It begins as a lament for lost opportunities:

Should’ve Danced More” by Joan Osborne and Ben Rice

“I should’ve danced more
Left those things on the shelves at the store
I should’ve danced more
Spun around like matador

I should’ve danced more
What on earth is this body for
I should’ve danced more
Given myself to this beat I adore

I should’ve laughed
I should’ve laughed
Between the tears that feel on the floor
I should’ve flown
I should’ve flown
I should’ve danced more
I should’ve danced more”

Near the end the song shifts from regret to change and possibility. We don’t have to be stuck in the world of “I wish I had”. We can choose instead to embrace the joy and love, to dance more:

“It’s not too late
But I can’t wait
I’m still above the ground
It’s not too late
But I can’t wait
These things can still be found…

I should’ve danced more
I should’ve danced more”

Friends, there is serious work to do in the church and the world. Yet as we face the challenges, we also need to remember the blessing of life, these bodies and the precious gift and opportunity we have to live fully in them. So, let’s dance once in a while, not as a way of denial or escape but as a celebration of life that renews our strength to do the hard work before us.

As I heard Joan sing about dancing, I remembered this month’s poem. It’s a favorite by David Budbill, a remarkable poet who I have written about in previous columns.

Happy New Year. Don’t forget to dance.



Tomorrow” by David Budbill

we are
bones and ash,
the roots of weeds
poking through
our skulls.

simple clothes,
empty mind,
full stomach,
alive, aware,
right here,
right now.

Drunk on music,
who needs wine?

Come on,
let’s go dancing
while we still
have feet.

CREDIT: Tomorrow © David Budbill is from his collection While We’ve Still Got Feet ( Copper Canyon Press 2005) Used with permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Rev. Dave Brown is a poet, writer, and creator/host of Blues Vespers. He is a member of the PCUSA National Self Development of People Committee and the PCUSA Education Roundtable. He will publish his second poetry collection this spring. The Echoes of Panhala poetry FB group will be using another one of his poems next week. He is the former pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma WA
([email protected]).

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