On flights across the Pacific via Alaska to New York City – and I have been lucky enough, since coming home from studies in 1995, to do it for one thing or another – I almost never fall asleep. Since I can’t read in the dim cabin light either, I usually resort to watching the smorgasbord of airplane movies on offer – six one way, six flying back.
Obscure movies I remember most, especially films on break dancing like The Step-Up Generation. My fascination with such spirited movement stems from Boston days when friends and I hit the clubs three or four times a week to shake off grad school stress. It helped that I was 70 pounds lighter then.
So what has break dancing got to do with the Sixth Sunday of Easter, for which this reflection is written?
Among mostly middle-aged professionals in our crowded makeshift place of worship, we contrast today’s spare stillness with the great Catholic tradition. There we find many songs, scriptural highlights, liturgical color—a combination that quite literally put God in the same class as break dancers.
In fact, one of his ancient names was Lord of the Dance, as tradition calls Jesus. True enough, today’s scriptural verses coalesce where Jesus interprets all existence— from the creation, through the comings and goings of the people of the covenant, to the events of his public ministry, his passion and his resurrection, until his promises to keep providing for us as God’s Easter people—that EVERYTHING God has made intertwine like the physical cadences of a marvelous dance, to which we have all been invited.
And today’s Psalm expresses how Moses’s Ate Miriam and other sisters must have felt after having been barely saved from genocide by their gender.
“Shout joyfully to God, all the earth . . . Say to God, ‘How tremendous are your deeds!’ ” And we respond, “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy,” arms elevating like Charismatics.
Jesus and we are body and soul
Then John’s gospel reminds us that God, supremely, independently, and powerfully, created us flesh and blood, body and soul. He embodied us in matter. And he continues his creating, perfecting work by sending into our midst an Advocate to sustain the task of renewing the face of the earth.
Exactly what our embodiment is supposed to represent is something we Christians have forever struggled with. Some of the most celebrated heresies erupted in Christianity’s effort to hone its faith understanding of how exactly we are embodied in relation to Jesus’ own incarnation.
He is fully the son of Mary, and therefore truly human and incarnate, but at the same time fully the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. That may seem easy to affirm, but the fly in the ointment is the view that we are spirits trapped in our bodies, that our spirit is the part of us that is good, whereas our body is the part that is bad, and that life is a struggle to see which shall rule.
But there is no such gobbledygook from the scripture presentation concerning the life and teachings of Christ. No, the gospels are candid and forthright in their narrative: Jesus got his feet dusty and dirty as he trudged along the crisscrossing backroads of Napthali and Zebulun in Galilee and Jerusalem in Judea. Indeed, he was grateful to have them washed by a woman’s tears and dried with hair.
Like Jesus, let us heal body and soul
The gospels announce that Jesus so often sat at table at parties and grew ruddy with wine that his detractors called him a glutton and a drunkard. He had also laid his hands upon people to heal their hurting bodies—restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute, and walking to the lame. He cast demons out of people whose bodies were tormented by them.
He raised children and adults from the dead. Never once had he said, “Your little girl is with God now.” No. Jesus valued life, bodily life, a life of both pain and pleasure. He had sought to make people feel better by taking their hurting, hungry bodies seriously.
We call ourselves Jesus’ disciples. Should we not endeavor to do the same? Taking our and one another’s bodies seriously should at least mean that we desist from engaging in the sort of abstract thinking that highlights the millions who could yet be born if there were no contraception. Yet we remain indifferent to and even contemptuous of the living, breathing people—tens of millions in our nation’s D and E classes alone—who daily struggle to find their next meal.
Dance with divine joy
It should also mean that we learn to take pleasure in those things God created to give us pleasure, like dance. So what should it mean that life is a dance, that faith is a dance, or in the first place, even to dance?
Think of the weddings where the ecstatic bride, the super enthused groom, and their families danced the night away, or the soccer game in which the player who just scored went through an giddy little jig upon scoring a goal, or those moments when small children in your family spontaneously holding hands in order to swing themselves in an ever-widening circle.
We dance because we feel good and it makes us feel even better. We dance all alone in the kitchen because it’s a good feeling and we’re feeling good.
So in worship, we dance, for we rejoice when we live our faith, when we believe in the love of the God who created us, in Jesus’ love for us, and in the Advocate, the Holy Spirit renewing the face of the earth. Jesus, the Lord of the Dance, invites us to a life of faith brimming with joy.
Fr. Luis S. David, SJ, is professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Manila University and the University of Santo Tomas.)