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Issue 8-16

Dance Lessons:
Stomping Around on Holy Ground


My nephew, Justin Bell, the son of my sister Valerie and Steve Bell, finished his Masters of Divinity at Fuller Seminary, then went on to be the only theological student on record to receive a Peter Stark Master’s Degree in Film Producing from the University of Southern California. He did some student interning at Imagine Entertainment, Ron Howard’s production company, and ended up with a job working for Ed Saxon, the Academy Award-winning producer (for the film The Silence of the Lambs) just as they were ramping up production on a new movie. The director of this film was Sam Mendes, who won an Academy Award for American Beauty.

Start-up work is generally entry-level, gofer kind of stuff; but it’s something for a recent film-school graduate to step into the producing responsibilities (albeit assistant level) of a film in progress. Away We Go, staring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, was Justin’s first professional cinematic job. He even received screen credit, Justin Bell, Assistant to the Producer. Believe me, for a new player in the Hollywood arena, this is a pretty big deal.

So I e-mailed Justin when I noticed an editorial in the October 26 USA Today newspaper, with the headline ‘Holy’ moments surround us. In it, the author, Dean Nelson, director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego, makes the point that holy moments are not only experienced in church or religious functions, but they occur in all of life. The tagline reads: “You don’t have to be religious to know that there’s something bigger out there, often in plain sight.” He beautifully contends that we should observe the days’ events through the prism of sacramentality. (Quite a lovely editorial for a national newspaper, actually.)

As evidence, he cited moments in two films, The Shawshank Redemption and Away We Go. Nelson focuses on the moment near the end of the last film (a section I knew Justin had worked with in a script rewrite). “Haven’t we all been part of conversations where they somehow take on a deeper dimension, even though it’s just two people talking?” the writer asks. He continues:

“It’s as if the two (or more) people tapped into something much bigger than themselves. It happened toward the end of the movie Away We Go, where the couple … expecting a baby, make promises to each other. But because of the camera angle from above, it is clear that they are making those promises to the universe as well. It’s both private and cosmic. Watching it, I thought of the sacrament of confession. And haven’t we all had meals with friends or family where there was another level to that experience, and we didn’t want to leave the table because of that additional Presence? I’ve had Eucharistic moments at picnic tables, restaurants, kitchens and the beach.”

I know exactly what this writer is talking about. In fact, one of the driving motivators of my existence is to hunt down, seek out, be aware of, find and celebrate this numinous quality in as much of my life as is possible. And like any discipline, the more I practice, the more it becomes an active facility in my living.

These kind of moments dot Scripture accounts. For instance, when the prophet Elisha was at Dothan, the King of Aram sent men to capture him (because he revealed the whereabouts of this army to Israel’s king). “He sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.” This obviously was an upsetting sight to the servant of the prophet, but Elisha prayed, “‘O, Lord, open his eyes so he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”  2 Kings 6, NIV.

Surely, this was a holy moment observed by someone as dim-eyed as the rest of us normally are.

Two weeks ago, I received a phone call from my daughter-in-law Angela. Our son Jeremy and she frequent the local public library, which is within walking distance of their new home. They sign out intriguing DVD’s for free—“Mom, they’ve got great documentaries. You need to check them out.” “Hey! We got complimentary museum passes from the library!” Two Saturdays ago, the West Chicago Library and the Park District sponsored a free dance in the high-school auditorium. “Do you and Dad want to come? They have a dance band, but they’re also offering free swing lessons. We have to sign up now at the checkout counter. Come on—it’ll be fun.”

OK. OK. When any of your adult children thinks it would fun to do anything with you, my rule of thumb is: YOU BETTER GO.

Please understand that David and I are dance-deficient. It was a big “forbidden” in both of our ultra-conservative church pasts. I can dance swing a little if I have a good partner who doesn’t mind me counting under my breath, Step-step-rock step-step; step-step-rock step-step. And there is some improvement in that I am landing on the right foot going into turns and whirls as well as coming out of them—Whew! So, I broached it to my husband, saying, “I really think we need to go” and was amazed that my body-rhythm-challenged husband acquiesced.

Come that Saturday night, we found ourselves in the high-school cafeteria with an amazing assortment of local folk (in addition to our son, daughter-in-law, 2-year-old granddaughter and 3-month-old grandson). We were welcomed at the door by an official committee member (librarian, perhaps, or library board member), given an American-flag lapel-pin (?), walked past the shy group of high-schoolers—all dressed up (!) in dancing clothes, both guys and gals. We commandeered a small table, noticed the white-haired couples, the college-age kids, and shortly after arrival, were invited onto the dance floor while a teaching troupe introduced us to swing patterns. I was concerned for David, who is not an awkward man but who regresses to the awkwardness of junior high at moments like these. So I kept a watchful eye out for him as our instructor shifted us around the circle from partner to partner.

But David was game; after all, his 2-year-old granddaughter was wigging and jazzing all over the place without any evidence of self-consciousness (oh, to be an extroverted 2-year-old again). Perhaps a certain freedom came due to the clumping habit of the high-schoolers; an awkwardness behavior well remembered even by those of us in our sixties and seventies. Perhaps it was because my extremely inept dance-lesson partner was about 16, had never danced before and didn’t have a clue which foot to move first into which step. “I think you will do really well,” I said to encourage him. After all, I am 67—I can certainly lavish these benefices on an emerging man-guy. “Really?” he responded, sounding amazed. “Yes, I think you have natural rhythm and you should learn really fast.” Perhaps, because we were surrounded by stumblers and stompers and learners, we became more relaxed—step, step, rock-step, step.

By the time the band straggled in and begin to play live swing music (we had been practicing to a CD in a boom box), we were warmed up. Others, real and proficient dancers, came to the floor—a white-haired man, trim and sure and grace-footed, swung his plumper partner around. Eliana scrunched into a toddler’s version of “getting down” with the music, interspersed with great bursts of running when we adults had to chase after her and corral her to keep unsuspecting dancers from backing up and tripping. (It is amazing how fast a little half-pint can move!)

“Oh,” Jeremy Mains said. “That’s one of my students from a 300-level Spanish class.” We watched a young man, wearing a brimmed fedora, turn a young woman, dressed to the dancing nines, around the floor. Jeremy is an adjunct professor at Wheaton College. “His parents were missionaries in Vietnam. He’s a really nice kid.”

At the next break, we greeted this student. “So. How did an MK learn those kinds of moves?” I started. Then after introducing myself as his professor’s mom, and after Jeremy explained he had gone to high school in West Chicago (and I slipped in the fact that my son had been voted “best dancer” in his class and this was disparaged by the additional fact that it was only “house dancing” during those years), I heard the missionary kid say, “I learned most of it by watching YouTube.”

So at this point, stomping around the dance floor (or rather off to the edges where David and I counted our steps, and Angela finally swept her babies out to the car and home to bed, and Jeremy coached his Dad and Mom on stepping in and out of swing turns), this sacramental melody actually began to hum alongside the African-American middle-aged woman who crooned the lyrics to slow dance songs into the microphone, and who had said as one of us chased Eliana again, “Now, you can move that baby, but don’t you take her away from the music.” Another harmonizing began (was I the only one who heard it?), alighting like an anointing on the teens and the youngsters and the mid-lifers and the single woman who had “come just to watch” and on the grandparents, some who moved like in a dream and some who sort of pushed-pulled themselves across the floor, and on all those of us with a rhythm-restricted religious upbringing, on the moms and dads and sons and daughters, and on the dance teachers. Our hearts lightened to its soft loving beat; we warmed to each other, we laughed freely.

Here was the musical benediction: It wound its way out of the trombones and the saxophones held in the hands of band members, down through and around the tapping feet of the straight-backed professionals and the stumbling and bumbling newbies. This is life, it sang. God’s great gift given to those, worthy or unworthy, who reach out to receive it. As the poet e. e. cummings wrote, “The eyes of my eyes are opened.” And the Scriptures say, “Those who have ears to hear…” Every artist knows these moments, every poet—but it is also a gift given to those of us who are commoners, but those of us who want to see. The benediction settled in my soul, and I was filled with a kind of supernal love for all of us in the room. A sort of sweetness, a reality going beyond the reality. As the writer in USA Today explained, "You don't have to be religious to know that there's something bigger out there, often in plain sight"—if we only have eyes of the soul to see.

Here we were, a slice of middle America in the exceedingly unpretentious cafeteria of West Chicago High School. Here we were, Anglos and Hispanics, intergenerationals with backgrounds of different ethnic and work experiences. Here we were, strangers dancing together—with a 2-year-old zooming around the floor and a baby nodding sleepily in his carryall chair. Here we were, my white-haired husband, stiffly moving into the steps and twirls defying old fundamentalist downstate conservative prohibitions. Here we were along with the awkward 16-year-olds and the MK who had studied dance on YouTube. Here we were with our American-flag lapel-pins and a buffet table of soft drinks and minimalist finger-foods provided by the public library. Here we were as the band played and the black singer crooned Sentimental Journey. Here we were as the older couples smoothly glided across the floor and some obviously really good dancers began to strut their stuff. Here we were and God had somehow graced our togetherness with His Presence and His love.

In that moment I could feel how God feels about us all the time whether we are in church or out of church. The writer is right, all moments can be religious moments—even for the non-religious. God’s loving-kindness, goodness and heartfelt compassion are available to all. “I say we are wound with mercy round and round—as with air.”—Gerard Manley Hopkins.

How do we get to that place where our covenants to each other are also something beyond our individuals selves, where there is a recognition that life is bigger than we know, that Christ is with us in the “breaking of the bread”?

We start where the prophet Elisha started with his servant. We begin with a prayer: “Open my eyes, Lord, that I might see …” Then we go looking; we go into the world listening. We write down the moments when the veil of non-seeing parts; when our ears recognize the higher ranges not normally heard. We look at a world far greener that we knew it to be, the skies bluer than blue, the people sweeter and more lovely than we had ever recognized. The warriors in fiery chariots surround us. The wind carries descants; the world is in a chorale of continuous antiphonal call. We are in the holy.

And God bends low, whispers to our soul, Good job, kid. You’ve earned a screen credit: Karen Mains, Assistant to the Producer.

Karen Mains


ANNUAL ADVENT 24-HOUR
RETREAT OF SILENCE

The registration fee is $120 for Wednesday/Thursday or $125 for Friday/Saturday. The last day to register is November 25. Please register with our volunteer registrar, Melodee Cook, at the following e-mail address:

If you are new or bringing a friend who is new, the fee is $90 each for Wednesday/Thursday and $95 each for Friday/Saturday.

Theme: Prepare Ye!
Time: Check-in begins at 4 p.m. on December 2 and December 4. (women only) Dinner is at 6 p.m. Silence Begins at 9 p.m. Wednesday/Friday (men and women), and ends at 3:00 p.m. Thursday/Saturday.
Ending: We try to end by 4 p.m. on Thursday and Saturday.
Place: The Bishop Lane Retreat Center in Rockford, IL.

The Lord seems to work each year in remarkable and lasting ways in the lives of many. He seems, for reasons beyond our knowing, to enter with us into the silence. Don’t miss this opportunity to become still and to listen in our increasingly busy, noisy world.

This year, because of increased stress for so many, Laurie Mains, a board-certified, licensed clinical massage therapist, will give upper-neck and back massages. Laurie’s fee for short neck-massages (15-, 20- and 30-minute sessions) will be posted with the materials you receive upon registering.

WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID ABOUT THE ADVENT RETREAT:
“I wanted to thank you for the wonderful advent retreat. I was a first-timer and came to the retreat with two friends who had both come in past years. I came with the desire to meet the LORD and you provided a wonderful atmosphere for me to focus on him. In my walk with the LORD, I spend a lot of time caring for others in a variety of ways, and I was yearning for a time for ME! When I’m with the women at my church I’m in a ministry-mode. … I loved sitting in front of the windows, looking out at God’s creation (thanks for the beautiful snow and the deer!) and meditating on the scriptures about his delight in me! By mid-morning I could feel a weight being lifted from my spirit and I left feeling refreshed! Thank you so much!” —another hungry soul

Wannabe (Better) Writers:
Teleconference Opportunity

Karen Mains is offering an eight-month, twice-monthly teleconference training for people who have always wanted to write, have written before but are now stalled. We will begin in February 2010 and go through October. The conference calls will be one hour long. This will be a personal mentoring opportunity with no more than 12 people per training team.

During these eight months, Karen will walk Wannabe (Better) Writers through the principles of writing personal memoirs—this is a form that Karen’s writing has taken in many of her articles, blogs, e-newsletters, and in some of her 24 published books. The cost will be $40 a month ($20 per conference call) or $320 for the eight months (16 sessions) of coaching.

For an e-mail copy of the prerequisites required to attend this course, the goal of the telementoring process, the curriculum for the 16 conference calls, and more details about payments, e-mail Karen at:

(Karen ran a test teleconference session last year, was amazed by the process, and is jazzed by sharing her learning and experience as a published writer with people who are serious about their work.)



Reminder!

The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the biweekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to www.HungrySouls.org.


Karen Mains

Karen Mains

"Here was the musical benediction. ... This is life, it sang. God’s great gift given to those, worthy or unworthy, who reach out to receive it. Every artist knows these moments, every poet—but it is also a gift given to those of us who are commoners, but those of us who want to see."

Book Corner

Sacrament.jpg

The Sacrament of the Present Moment
By Jean Pierre de Caussade

This is considered a classic on the topic of living with God during the ordinary moments of everyday life. Written in the form of lectures, de Caussade was the spiritual confessor for the Visitation nuns in Nancy, France in 1729-1733. This small books invites all to reach for saintliness by accepting God’s imminent guidance in whatever happens, especially in the seeming minute, trivial or non-extraordinary occurrences of the passing days.

If you don’t have a copy, or have not read the book, it is a must for building a library on the contemplative life. It emphasizes the need to develop a quality of silence, of learning to hear, then being obedient to that inner voice “that speaks to every individual through what happens moment by moment.”

Another-Book Corner

HolyFools.jpg
Holy Fools
By Matthew Woodley

We also would like to recommend a book released last year, Holy Fools: Following Jesus With Reckless Abandon by Mathew Woodley. The concept of the holy fool is an intriguing state that many writers have examined. Dostoevsky, for instance, developed this concept in his masterpiece, The Idiot. Woodley, a pastor on Long Island, applies this “fools” motif to Christians following Christ in radical ways. The subtitle says it all. Many of these concepts have been covered in many other places, but Woodley’s writing is fresh, his thinking original, and his use of the “holy fool” as a lens through which to consider one’s discipleship is excellent. Put this one right on the shelf with de Caussade’s Sacrament. It would make a great discussion book for a reading group.

Buy The Sacrament of the Present Moment on Amazon.com

Buy Holy Fools on Amazon.com


Copyright 2006-2009 Mainstay Ministries. All rights reserved.

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