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What makes your soul dance?
Does your soul dance when you listen to music, or the birds singing on an early morning walk? Does your soul dance when you gaze up at the sweep of the sky on a clear summer night, or feel the sand between your toes on a walk on a beach?
Does your soul dance when you read the words on the page of a great novel or a poem, or when you enjoy a great meal with people you love?
Human beings are created to dance.
All of us can dance even when our feet never move, if only we let ourselves dance.
When you dance, what do you see? Which way do you face when you dance?
There is a poem by Mary Oliver entitled “Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?”
She writes about a Sufi poet who is whirling – dancing – and she wonders which way he faces when he is dancing.
“When the Sufi poet whirled, was he looking
outward, to the mountains so solidly there
in a white-capped ring,
or was he looking
to the center of everything: the seed, the egg, the idea
that was also there…”
Which way do you face when you dance? Inward or outward? Or both? What do you see when you dance? Who do you see?
Does your soul dance at the touch of someone you love who is near? Does your soul dance at the memory of someone gone?
Those we love dance with us even when they are gone. Maybe that is why it is so hard when someone we love departs from us and one dance ends before another begins.
The lessons today are about the pain of the dance ending. Jesus has died on a cross, and his tomb is empty and, yet, somehow he has come back to his followers for a time and danced with them.
He has come to them in dreams and visions, at meals and on a beach; on a walk on a road and in a closed room, and the disciples learn to dance with him once more.
Then this dance ends. Jesus is carried into the clouds and disappears from their sight. The Church calls this event the Ascension, and it sounds so weighty and grand and glorious.
But I would imagine that for the first followers of Jesus, this was not so grand and glorious. As their dreams and visions ended – as the dance ended – they must have felt a terrible silence, and a void in their hearts.
They must have searched deep within souls for a thread of faith that there would be new steps to the dance. They must have felt very alone, very disoriented.
Life and faith can be like that for us. There are moments of silence and loneliness, and that kind of silence is not comforting. Sometimes silence is only silence – and our soul craves to dance.
The first disciples went back in their aloneness to their upper room – their hiding place – to wait what for was next.
They would learn new dance steps. But learning the new steps is not so easy. Feet get knotted up, and they stumbled and fell. The new dance was as disorienting as the deadening silence that came before it.
Maybe at first those first disciples began to sing. Maybe they sang the words of the psalm: “Lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds…God gives the desolate a home to live in.”
And then maybe they remembered a few words by Jesus that lingered in the air, perhaps the words we hear in John’s Gospel today.
In the gospel, Jesus tells his disciples about the next dance. The passage is sometimes called “Jesus’ Farewell Discourse” – his last teaching – and his words are presented as a prayer.
Truthfully, the Early Church added dense layers of language onto his “discourse,” and to me, much of this gospel lesson today sounds stilted and churchy with its declarations of “authority over all people.” That is the unmistakable sound of the Church speaking.
But listen beneath those layers for the words that dance. Listen for the real Jesus facing both outward and inward at the same time as he dances with his disciples:
“And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
Can we dance with this? How can he say we are “one”? We know the world looks than that: Warfare, religious strife, poverty, partisan politics and petty church politics – none of that looks like we are one.
Or maybe there is another way of seeing us as one. Maybe we are one in the dance precisely because we are different from each other.
It is because of our differences that we can dance together. We are one in the dance.
Like the Sufi poet, we need look inside ourselves for the Spirit within us that brings us joy, and we need to look outside ourselves to see who is there with us. We need to learn to dance in this world with people who are different than us.
And when we dance, we need whirl once in awhile and see who, and what, is around us. We need to dance with all that life brings us.
It is in learning the dance that we truly will be one, and truly blessed, and may our dance bring all of us joy. Amen.I am much in debt to my friend Linda Lee Clader once again for her inspiration. Her commentary in Feasting on the Word (Year A, Volume 2, page 539) highlighted for me the idea of how we are one in our dance together.
Mary Oliver's poem, “Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?” brought me still closer to seeing the dance in the lessons for today. Here is Mary's poem in full:
Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?
By Mary Oliver
Don't call this world adorable, or useful, that's not it.
It's frisky, and a theater for more than fair winds.
The eyelash of lightning is neither good nor evil.
The struck tree burns like a pillar of gold.
But the blue rain sinks, straight to the white
feet of the trees
whose mouths open.
Doesn't the wind, turning in circles, invent the dance?
Haven't the flowers moved, slowly, across Asia, then Europe,
until at last, now, they shine
in your own yard?
Don't call this world an explanation, or even an education.
When the Sufi poet whirled, was he looking
outward, to the mountains so solidly there
in a white-capped ring, or was he looking to the center of everything: the seed, the egg, the idea
that was also there,
beautiful as a thumb
curved and touching the finger, tenderly,
as he whirled,
oh jug of breath,
in the garden of dust?
(Why I Wake Early, 2004)