Yesterday morning I set out on a bike ride. There’s a lovely route which starts near my house and after a short while drops down through some woods into a nature reserve and then along the banks of the River Ribble.
This stretch of the river is still in the countryside, winding its way through farmland. The river is wide, meandering through a broad valley with woods on either side.
In the nature reserve they’ve recently erected a Sand Martin nesting wall hoping for some seasonal visitors. I stopped off to see if anyone had taken up residence, but there was no-one home. I left wondering whether it was still too early in the year for them to be nesting.
A little way along the river I had the answer to my pondering. I’d noticed a set of holes in a sandy mud bank on a bend in the river on a previous trip. Today it was a mass of teaming activity, the travellers had arrived from there southern wanderings.
Sand Martin’s were swooping along inches above the river.
Some were chasing each other from bank to bank before one of them would climb steeply up into the sky eventually plunging down again to join the chase.
Others were congregated around the nest holes sojourning from one to another as if it was an open day at university halls of residence.
Wings of dark brown feathers danced through the air using each flap to propel the Sand Martin with absolute precision.
Each bird danced with the others in close acrobatics without collision or clash.
The air was their play area and their play was an integrate dance.
After standing and taking in the gymnastics for a while I pressed my feet back onto the peddles and continued on my way.
A little further along the cycle track cuts the corner off one of the Ribble’s meanders and makes its way through fields of grazing cattle. Above the cattle another dance was under-way, this time it was the turn of the Swallows to show their talents.
The Swallows’ dance is different to the Sand Martins’.
Where the Sand Martins dance in close intricate acrobatics, the Swallows prefer a more swooping arching movement.
The Swallows can fill a sky chasing insect delights.
I watched as one Swallow travelled from one end of the field to another no more than a wingspan away from the ground, swooping left and back right along the way. Another Swallow criss-crossed in the opposite rhythm not far behind.
As they reached the end of the field they both flicked a wing and shot high into the sky to join the dance higher up.
They were followed by others creating reversing patterns in the air as they went.
There was no set design to their dance and yet there was a form, there was an artistry to their movement.
I’ve spent most of my life in a Christina tradition that has, for the most part, regarded dancing with something of a suspicious eye.
In recent months I have become convinced that God wants to be so intimate with us that he wants to dance with us. He doesn’t want to be distant or stand-offish, he wants to hold our hands and swing us around. He wants to look us in the eye and smile at us as He leads us in the next movement.
I was recently at a meeting where I saw a picture in my mind’s eye of a spotlight shining down into the middle of the assembled crowd. In the middle of the crown was someone dressed in traditional Jewish clothing that I took to be Jesus. He reached his hand out to someone and gently swung them around, he then reached his hand out to another and drew them into the dance. A full on ceilidh was taking place with Jesus right at the centre of the action orchestrating the steps.
I’m not sure what it means to dance with Jesus, but it sounds like a fun thing to do. More than that though, it sounds like an intimate thing to do. You can’t ceilidh with someone at a distance.
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