Why aren’t we dancing? A reflection on the diversity of worship

Maasai Congragation
(Photo by: Jordaine Broyer)
Maasai Congragation (Photo by: Jordaine Broyer)

Written by: Jordaine Broyer

“Praise the Lord,
Sing to the Lord a new song,
His praise in the assembly of the saints.
Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
Let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing
And make music to him with Tambourine and harp.”

Psalms 149

We traveled for several hours along rugged dirt trails, entering deep into the bush of Kenya. On several occasions, I was afraid that one of the buses would tip. I watched the leading bus scrape its underside on jutting rocks and bumps. At one point it seemed to seesaw on a particularly violent hill and rip half its bumper loose in an attempt to navigate a massive rut.

 It was the first Sabbath on the two-week mission trip that a group of Maranatha volunteers and I had undertaken. I had been told that we would be worshiping with a Maasai congregation. Unlike the many experienced missionaries on the trip, I didn’t know what to expect.

Our initial arrival felt anticlimactic after the intensity of the journey. Our destination looked nearly identical to the landscape we had just traversed – slight rolling hills of dry grass, meager trees and dry, cracked barren earth. Here, though, several homes and fences were scattered across the hills. Clusters of sheep and goats searched for morsels in the parched soil and chaparral. We had arrived at a small Maasai community. The typically nomadic people had established themselves around a critical resource: a Maranatha well and one-day church. 

As I was taking in the surroundings, my eyes were drawn to a myriad of colorful fabrics, bright red, orange and blue. The congregation, in traditional garb, was waiting to greet us. This is what we had set out for. Like an exuberant guard of honor, the Maasai people warmly welcomed each visitor as we passed between the two lines. They presented us with shukas and sticks and led us by hand to our seats, all the while never ceasing their dance and song. With the church still lacking walls and floors, we gathered in the shade cast by reaching branches of a lone acacia tree. 

I had rarely seen joy so physically and vocally expressed in a Sabbath service than I did in the “House of the Chosen One.” The dancing and singing of the church members continued through the service. While dancing as a form of celebration is mentioned throughout the Bible, I had never dwelt much on the concept. But the worship I witnessed that morning brought the concept of worship and the church into a new light. 

As I sat in the old, blue plastic chair with two little girls on my lap, giggling as I bounced them in time with the music, I recognized for the first time the vastness of God. It hit me in that moment that there is a way for every culture to celebrate and relate to God. God does not belong to the West. 

God does not belong to any single culture. Therefore, a culture does not need to change to create a body of true believers. Christianity is a heritage given to all people and nations.

These musings did not all solidify in my mind that Sabbath morning, but rather began to accumulate as I returned to my own church. As I sat, stood, knelt, and sang in my church I remembered the dancing Maasai people and their bold, jubilant praises. I felt as though my worship had fallen into a routine, lacking confidence and elation. I wondered, did our Western worship’s emphasis on reverence temper our expression of Christian joy? How might every congregation find this authentic source of worship? How might every church find a way to dance and sing for the joy of the Lord? 

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