Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dancing With the Lord

In the summer of 1518 the people of Strasbourg, France, suddenly began to dance in the streets. Men, women, and probably young people and children, went into a dancing frenzy. Once they began to dance they couldn't stop and they couldn't say why they were dancing, they just danced in a fury until in the hot sun they began to fall and many died.

John Waller has written about this strange event in A Time to Dance, A Time to Die. This phenomenon has been analyzed from many angles. No one has been able to fully understand it.

I have a theory, they danced BECAUSE THEY WERE HAPPY! There are worse ways to die. David danced before the Lord (1Sam.6:14), we are to praise him with timbrel and dance (Ps.150:4), "...there is a time to mourn and there is a time to dance..." (Ecc. 3:4), when Jesus entered Jerusalem for Passover people threw palm branches on the road, cried out, "Hosanna, Hosanna!" and probably some of them broke out into a break dance, and in that marvelous, wonderful non-canonical book in the Catholic Bible ACTS OF JOHN, "Grace danceth. I would pipe, dance ye all! (vs. 95) and then, "Thus, my beloved, having danced with us the Lord went forth." (vs. 97).

On Palm Sunday I dare you: get up from your seat in church or during Passover from your synagogue, go out into the aisle and dance! Dance for joy, dance for faith, dance for the Lord who is present in our lives, dance just for the fun of it, just for the Hosanna of it. Praise him with timbrel and dance, dance, dance!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Blue Skies and Practicing Hope

I don't know how many words there are in all the human languages for "up" and "down" but there must be hundreds. They all describe the daily life of almost all of us. "Sometimes I'm up, sometimes I'm down," is the musical way of describing our human journey, Paul Robeson sang it so powerfully. Life is yin-yang, push-pull, a tug of war, and for all the hazards and uncertainties that brings us I never thought it was so bad a way to live. If nothing else it keeps us from being bored out of our minds. It keeps us from being ordinary, predictable, safe. I've suffered a lot of ennui this particular winter from the prolonged cold here in Nebraska and I've had visions of all those years our family spent in the Republic of Panama with 85 degree temperature year round, warm oceans, fresh fruit in the garden every day of the year. Then I remember those times in that beautiful country when I was nostalgic for wintry mornings and sleds and snow and... Sameness can be deadly.

I tune into this human peculiarity when I see the stresses and trials of my friends and acquaintances. I sympathize with their defeats and undeserved sorrows. I've never been so dumb as to be a blind Pollyanna or reckless Candide who see nothing but blue skies and pure joy. Life is a lot more than constant blue skies even in Panama and certainly a lot more than just continuous joy. But even so, I'll tell you something: Bitching and blaming never turned a grey sky into a blue one and complaining never in the history of the world made a 'down' into an 'up.' What does help us at least move closer to an 'up' is the knowledge that practicing hope makes hope. "See the birds of the air, how they neither spin nor gather into barns, yet see how they are fed.'" Life is a waiting banquet, a banquet of good news, of victories great or small, of hope unconquerable, of expectations, of efforts, of attitude. So - in the midst of our downs, hey, look up, son-of-a-gun!, the sky has turned blue and we didn't even know it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What’s That You Say?

In our recent book, WHIRLWINDS AND SMALL VOICES, my daughter, Amy and I write a lot about how language is developed and used.. As far back as 500 BCE the Greeks advocated the development of an international, or alternative, language that everybody in the world could learn. The Greeks thought such a common language would prevent wars, assist in international business dealings, promote academic and cultural ties and stall off domestic violence. With such a language children and parents could actually understand one another! The fact is, we have such a language, in fact, more than one. The most important one is Esperanto. 100,000 people can speak and understand Esperanto. Esperanto is spoken in at least 83 countries. There is an annual World Esperanto Conference. More than 100 periodicals are published in Esperanto and more than 30,000 books.

I have a basic Esperanto grammar book. It hasn't gone well. I haven't found anybody else who can speak or understand it. I've had to revert to my basic English with attempts at other languages when I'm in the countries of those languages. Thank goodness I've never visited the Inuits of NW Canada.

Then I think, well, maybe I'm capable of a second language after all. I can say, "Hello," in the language of every one of those 83 countries. All I have to do is smile, that's "Hello" in any language. Even the Inuits recognize that. Every 'foreign' language speaker understands the language of a warm handshake, an arm around the shoulder, a 'Please," "Thank you," "You're beautiful," "What's your name?" and "I love you." If someone has offended us we have only to say, "I forgive you," and KAZAM! barriers of language fall.

I'm going to take up Urdu. I have no idea what, "shlaa" means in Urdu but I know what "You're my friend," means in any language. So - whoever you are or wherever you are, let's talk, you and me, beginning with, "I do believe, really, that you are one of the most important people God ever created." You'll understand that; it's our common language.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Giving Up Not Singing for Lent

I've sometimes thought the Season of Lent must have been created to remind us that music may well be the most God-centered way for us to express our longing for a more perfect union with Him/Her. Written prayers we read by rote or confessions that don't confess anything or giving up chocolate for 40 days seem to me to miss the mark of Lent which is glory and not gloom. I've never gone much for sackcloth and ashes in Lent. I much prefer standing out in the garage singing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" or riding my bicycle down the park path letting Haydn's "The Spacious Firmament on High" scare the living daylights out of the kids and dogs within hearing. I have no intention of downgrading prayers, confessions and creeds - but when it comes time for me to let out the Spirit and to tell Christ how I feel about him and about the state of my soul and about my earnest efforts toward a deeper spiritual perfection, I find it more to my liking to sing my version of "Hallelujah (hey, try spelling that without looking it up) Chorus" or "Sing With all the Sons of Glory" or waiting for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to lift me up to repentance and to send me winging upwards with, "O, Thou, That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion."

Yes, of course, we all have our own way in spiritual disciplines, to all that is holy and divine. For me it has always been singing out like a madman. I'll tell you something, I once blew off the facing of a hand held microphone in a service by singing to excess, "Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken." Remember, on the night of the Last Supper before Jesus went out into the night before Golgotha, he and his disciples "sang a hymn."

Lent is for singing, brothers and sisters. Where we sing and what we sing and how we sing is of course up to the singer. For myself, every day in Lent I sing half a dozen hymns. I generally like what I sing. I can only trust the Lord to like it too. That why I sing it.