Shut up and dance with me

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Night Two

[A post reminiscent of last year’s post-festival post!]

In early November, our parish had its annual festival. It’s a huge affair, lots of fun and I thoroughly enjoy working the food booths. It’s been a tradition for my wife and I to go together on the first and second evenings of the festival, when the awesome bands, Bag of Donuts and Category 6, play. Sadly, she was sick for the first night so I had to jam with Donuts alone, but on night two she was ready to dance. Actually, we arrived at 5:00 p.m. and danced almost uninterrupted until 11:00 p.m. Six hours! And then we ended the evening with an 11:30 p.m. Mass for the festival workers. No music. No homily. 100 tired people. Sublime! Our pastor, Fr. Luis, asked me to lector. I could hardly hear myself with my ears still ringing.

In the middle of Mass, during the consecration, with the crucifix looming in the background, I suddenly saw everything — the Gifts brought to the altar, the prayers, the calling down of the Spirit on the Gifts, the consecration, the uplifted Host and Chalice, the genuflections, the lengthy Eucharistic prayer, the final doxology — as a dance between God and us. To me, so clearly in that moment, it all seemed a deadly serious whirl of playful joy. I immediately thought of Romano Guardini’s work on liturgy:

The fact that the liturgy gives a thousand strict and careful directions on the quality of the language, gestures, colors, garments and instruments which it employs can only be understood by those who are able to take art and play seriously. Have you ever noticed how gravely children draw up the rules of their games — on the form of the melody, the position of the hands, the meaning of this stick and that tree? The liturgy does the same thing. It too, with endless care, with all the seriousness of the child and the strict consciousness of the great artist, has toiled to express in a thousand forms so the soul may therein have its existence and live its life. The liturgy has laid down the serious rules of the sacred game which the soul plays before God …

The soul must learn to abandon, at least in prayer, the restlessness of purposeful activity; it must learn to waist time for the sake of God, and to be prepared for the sacred game with sayings and thoughts and gestures, without always immediately asking “why?” and “wherefore?” It must learn not to be continually yearning to do something, to attack something, to accomplish something useful, but to play the divinely ordained game of the liturgy in liberty and beauty and holy joy before God.

And I thought of David Bentley Hart’s extraordinary observation:

But, as I was writing the book, I found myself thinking again and again of a photograph I had seen in the Baltimore Sun. The story concerned the Akhdam, the lowest social caste in Yemen, supposedly descended from Ethiopians left behind when the ancient Ethiopian empire was driven out of Arabia in the sixth century, who live in the most unimaginable squalor. In the background of the photo was a scattering of huts constructed from crates and shreds of canvas, and on all sides barren earth; but in the foreground was a little girl, extremely pretty, dressed in tatters, but with her arms outspread, a look of delight upon her face, dancing. To me that was a heartbreaking picture, of course, but it was also an image of something amazing and glorious: the sheer ecstasy of innocence, the happiness of a child who can dance amid despair and desolation because her joy came with her into the world and prompts her to dance as if she were in the midst of paradise.

What was happening outside in the festival, and what was happening inside the church seemed not to be contrasting binaries of sacred and profane, but rather to be seamlessly united, intermingled, intertwined and hypostatically conjoined in the Heart of Fire.

When the song, Shut Up and Dance With Me came on and Patti grabbed me and pulled me to my feet, I whipped my phone out to record it as we danced. Those few minutes, for me, give the rest of my life fresh meaning. Give the Mass meaning, for, “as [I] came and drew near to [God’s] house, [I] heard music and dancing” (Luke 15:25). And it was that song, playing in my head on an endless repeat, that somehow seemed an oddly fitting accompaniment to a Mass I mostly could not hear.

If you care to hear the recording:

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