By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge
“I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am’, to a nation that did not call on my name.”
That’s how our ancient Hebrew scripture (Isaiah 65:1-9) begins this morning. It is a call from a loving God to people who are seeking real freedom. As the reading continues, it sounds dire for those who seek freedom away from God. They are called “rebellious” people who seek after things that are not good for them, chasing after things that they believe will make them free, but really just puts them deeper and deeper into bondage.
Not much has changed since Isaiah’s day. We’re still seeking after things we think will give us freedom in the form of money, stuff, relationships, anything that takes away our discomforts and gives us even a moment of pleasure and relief from our anxieties and fears.
What the Holy offers, however, is freedom from all of our fear and anxiety, no matter what the world looks like around us. What the Holy offers is the opportunity to dance with the delight of freedom, even if we find our outer world one of oppression and violence.
In South Africa, during Apartheid, when an oppressive white colonial government believed that freedom is best found by beating others to the ground, the native black South Africans used an unusual weapon to bring down Apartheid: dance.
The dance is called toyi toyi and if you’ve ever seen videos of protests in South Africa, you’ve seen it. The people cluster together and stamp their feet. When they do it together in a group, it appears that they are bouncing up and down in rhythm together. While they dance, they chant. One part of the group will chant, “Amandla” which means, “power.” The rest will then chant, “Awethu” which means, “for us.” So, they’re dancing and chanting, “Power to the people.”
A former riot policeman in South Africa said the chanting crowds scared the crap out of the police – though he used a different word. “Here was an unarmed mob,” he said, “instilling fear just by their toyi-toyi!”
The South Africans knew this was the only way to claim their power, by dancing together, in a group that the police would have no power against. It was the power of this dance that embodied the true human-divine spirit that overcomes all earthly oppression, even Apartheid.
The dance has such power that when Nelson Mandela finally took over as the country’s president, he danced the toyi toyi at his inauguration.
South Africans finally won the freedoms they sought from the government, but they understood that they had deep freedom all along – and they could bring that forward even as they reformed the government. They knew, like Isaiah before them, that though the nation they lived in was not perfect, their aim was not to destroy it. Instead, they protested, they danced, to bring forth the blessing for everyone that they knew was there.
“You can take everything away from South Africa,” said one dancer, “but you can’t stop us from dancing.”
No matter how oppressive, violent or terrible this world gets, Jubilants, don’t ever let it stop you from dancing.