The Word in the Wings

The Word in the Wings  > Reflecting El Roi: moving Isaiah 40:3-5

Reflecting El Roi: moving Isaiah 40:3-5

By: JESSICA NOONAN

Glorify Dance Theatre will premiere a new ballet, Reflecting El Roi, in March 2024 during the liturgical season of Lent. Lent is a forty-day period when Christians prepare to experience Holy Week and Easter and to remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Reflecting El Roi uses dance to explore three traditional intentions of Lent: preparation, prayer & fasting, and giving.

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Over the past two months, Glorify Dance Theatre has been studying Scripture to prepare our hearts for Holy Week, Easter, and the upcoming performances of Reflecting El Roi. We began by asking questions: How does one prepare her heart? What does God’s word say about it? What does Jesus want us to do? After some studying, I chose Isaiah 40:3-5 as our memory verse to help us on this journey:

 

3 A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.

5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

 

This verse was written by the prophet Isaiah, who lived in Judah, the southern kingdom of the divided nation of Israel. He prophesied from about 740 B.C. to 681 BC. (NIV Quest Bible). This particular prophecy was looking ahead to John the Baptist who, about seven hundred years later, would “cry out” to help prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. He did this by “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3).  

When studying this verse, we learned we need to make the “path” for our Lord without obstacles. We need to clear the obstacles in our own hearts to fully prepare them.  Obstacles are things in our life that distract us from time with the Lord. Some of the obstacles we identified were social media, stress, and over scheduling.   

Now let’s take a look at how the dancers interpreted this verse through movement. I will share my interpretations on verse 3, and then I invite you to explore your own interpretations for verses 4 and 5.

 

 

A voice

I noticed two different interpretations of this line amongst the dancers.  During “a voice,” one dancer was completely still, while another slowly turned her head, both maybe representing the struggle of an internal voice wanting to reach the masses. Aleksa, Liz and Gabrielle chose upper body movements that implied outward action. The “voice” was an active one, traveling outwardly.

 

Cries out

The dancers continued by elongating their movements to represent “crying out.” Most of their arms were stretching out as if they were reaching for something. I interpreted the arms as a symbolic representation of the “voice crying out” and continuing to move throughout the wilderness. This voice moves with unobstructed movement. 

 

In the wilderness

When I think of wilderness, I think of solitude. Maybe God is telling us that moments of solitude are important when preparing our hearts for the Lord. Matthew 6:6 says, 

 

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

 

Both Gabrielle and Liz expressed “wilderness” as flailing arms wrapping down into themselves. This forward contraction reminds me that solitude with the Lord can be uncomfortable but also comforting, like an embrace from a loved one. An embrace can be a vulnerable position. When we are hurting or grieving, an embrace from someone can soothe, but depending on your history with that person, it could be awkward and uncomfortable. It may be uncomfortable if one of you has difficulty expressing physical affection or if it was the very first shared embrace. 

 

Prepare the way of the Lord

Naomi’s choreography struck me on a personal level. When I think of my own preparation for the Lord, I always think of my heart. Is my heart open to receive the Lord? Or are there things that are in the way, distracting me? Naomi’s simple yet graceful arm gesture towards her heart and then away reminded me that I have to dig deep into my heart to give something worthy to our Lord. There is hard work involved on my part to give a pleasing version of myself to the Lord. But her gentleness reminds me that our God is a faithful and forgiving father who loves me regardless of my unworthiness. Our Father is always available, but will we participate in God’s mission by clearing a path and removing all distractions? Isaiah’s instructions are clear, but will we obey? Will we say yes when the spirit moves to clear distractions from our hearts?

 

Make straight in the desert a highway for our God

Now we must make a clear pathway for our Lord. Many of the dancers used straight arms to represent the physicality of clearing a straight, level path. The movement was so effortless, reminding me that when we trust God, HE does the hard work, not me. We must completely give ourselves over to God so the path can be cleared away. This process of preparation and trust  is important and should not be taken lightly. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, 

 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

 

Aleksa, Liz and Naomi used arms reaching towards the heavens as their final movement of this verse.  Their bodies focused upwards but I interpreted the movement as a symbol of reverence for our king who is coming down from heaven.

 

Preparation can be difficult and strenuous, or it can be done with ease, depending on the situation. Clearing obstacles in our lives as part of our Lenten preparation is no different. Through the dancers’ movements, I was reminded that every day is a journey.  Some days, it may be very simple to do, as represented by the dancers with a gentle lift of a hand. Other days it can be complicated and strenuous, represented by the dancers with flailing arms and level changes. Either way, God is by your side. He is with you. All you have to do is say yes.

 

Now, I invite you to take a look at the other videos to make your own interpretations of verses 4 and 5.  

 

 

Here are some prompts for interpreting what you see:

  • Describe a movement that stood out to you, or replicate it with your own movement.
  • Why did that movement stand out to you? Did it stir up an emotion or memory? Did it evoke another idea or image from Scripture?
  • What is God saying to you through the verse and the movements? How do you feel led to pray or act in response?

 

The combination of studying this verse with watching it come to life through the choreography has helped clarify how God desires us to prepare our hearts. He sacrificed His only son for us. What can we do for him? We can prepare our hearts even when we know it can be challenging. True surrender and obedience is a sweet sacrifice to the one who gave us all.

 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” 

John 3:16

 

This Lent I pray we understand the magnitude of what he did for us so that we can truly prepare our hearts for the celebration of our risen Christ.

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All Scripture quotations in this post are from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition.

Secondary reference: NIV Quest Study Bible (Zondervan, 2019).

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Glorify Dance Theatre Presents

May 3-4

This is a family-friendly ballet that kids of ALL ages will enjoy!