[Loosely adapted from my portion of the Hutchmoot 2014 session “The Romance of the Gospel”*]
Five years or so ago, I took swing dancing lessons in the name of trying scary things. Ballroom dances evoke images of poise and elegance and precision, but swing appealed to me as a reckless street dance that anybody can join, regardless of skill or athletic ability. (So no, I never did experience being tossed in the air and flung over someone’s head, thank goodness.) But of course, if you’re going to dance, there are always a few rules to get out of the way.
The teachers stressed two major elements at the start of every class: frame and connection.
Frame involves how you hold your body and keep a good posture as you move with the music. Connection is where the two frames meet, and the silent, subtle communication between leader and follower. If your frame is too loose, the follower flails around, unsure where to go. But hold your frame too rigid, and her moves become snappy and robotic, losing the flow and rhythm.
The trick is keeping these things in balance, just taut enough to signal each move. Two great dancers can make it look like mind reading, even if they’ve just met. Without tension, there is no dance.
It reminds me of the balance between head and heart as we contemplate the mystery of the Gospel.
“No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found…”
This verse rarely seems to make the cut in modern versions of “Joy to the World.” Maybe it’s because hymns are often lengthy and difficult to get the head and voice around, or maybe thoughts of sorrow, thorns, and curses don’t exactly drum up holiday cheer. But a lot of truth is in that forgotten third verse; it captures the soul of Advent, the waiting, the intense anticipation for reversal.
Far as the curse is found. Maybe farther. Hope, renewal, joy, flooding across the nearly-dead earth to drown the weeds.
The first great curse is that we toil, surviving by sweat and tears and waging battle against thorns and drought and disease. Of course the beauty is there, but our joys and sustenance are tempered by futility, the sense that we can never do enough, or be enough, or win.
But take heart, because the memory of Paradise sustains us, and the hope for renewal leads the way from winter’s bitter sting to spring’s gentle rain. The reversal has begun, and with heaven and nature we can sing.
Joy to the weary, broken, beautiful world.
The light looks different this time of year.
Shafts of gold pierce trees
The earth goes to bed
a little earlier each night
because she knows she’s getting older,
fighting gravity, remembering
carefree green and dancing in the
rain, remembering emotional
thunder and flashing lightning.
she’s only wiser
and knows sleep makes all things
And tomorrow she’ll wake early,
dress in fire-red and bands of gold
because she can
with no one left to impress
and never more alive.
What did you love in your high school years? A band? A movie? A book that kept you up all night? It’s amazing how, in that fragile time between becoming an adult and still hanging on to childhood, those attachments you can’t explain can shape your passions for the rest of your life.
If I think about it long enough, go back far enough, I’d say I write poems today because of Emily Dickinson.
She’s a staple of the earliest literature classes, like Shakespearean tragedies and Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart,” the old stuff you have to read. Demure in photographs, with wide collared dresses and hair pulled back tight. But for me, and I suspect many other slightly awkward and shy teen girls, her poems burrowed deep into something I didn’t have a name for yet. My text books taught the “cleaned up” versions that toned down her eccentric obsession with dashes, but being drilled into memorizing “To make a prairie” and “I never saw a moor” stirred a sense of vast possibility.
There’s a string of three towns outside Fall River, Massachusetts that I nicknamed “The S Towns” because Somerset, Swansea, and Seekonk all line up along the highway as you drive toward Providence. (Technically, Rehoboth is in there somewhere, but for the sake of mnemonic I pretend it isn’t. Sorry, Rehoboth.) In my many visits over the past year and a half, I learned them by their names and landmarks. Somerset is across the Braga Bridge as you’re leaving Fall River, and the first thing you see are the power plant’s water cooling towers (we call them the “cloud-makers”). Seekonk has a freestanding Starbucks in a sea of Dunkin Donuts and the Irish jewelry shop where my engagement ring was found. I think I have relatives in Swansea somewhere.
So there are The S Towns. I saw them laid out on a map the other day and it made more sense. Home is where you know how the roads intersect and you can always find your way back to family and a hot meal after a long day of exploring. You don’t have to worry about the oncoming night. You make your way, trust your instincts, and soon you can see the welcoming lights in the window.
For the first time in weeks, I woke to the sun in my curtains, and it felt like the break of spring. It may be the Sunshine State, but chill and rain have pushed their way into paradise. As brief as a Florida winter can be, there comes a time when the wet and the gray give way to the sun, and it feels like death working backwards, even though the next wave of rain will come again soon.
The sky is the perfect pale blue. The air is just cool enough to wear a light sweater. Even a few of my neighbor’s pink azaleas had the audacity to bloom.
Today, I’m not holed up in an office, or buried under blankets avoiding the rain, or turning future preoccupations over and over in my mind like a troubling foreign object I found in my yard. Today, I simply take the time for being and dip my fingers in the stream of eternity.
These days I catch myself too often living in the future, for good reasons at least. I can’t wash my hands without catching the flash of a diamond that promises how everything will soon turn upside down. When I’m not trying to work or sleep, my mind tries to skip forward in time. After all, there’s wedding food to taste, guest lists to tweak, shoes to search for. From the growing task lists to help me pull off this party, to packing boxes before moving and making a new family, to choosing napkin colors and cake flavors and what kind of vacuum to put on my registry, everything seems to exist in a sort of rapidly approaching someday that becomes more real with every sunrise.
I have to admit… Christmas is everyone’s favorite holiday (mine too), but something about the Lenten and Easter season feels deeper, more profound as I get older. Yet what do you do with Holy Saturday, that single dark day in between despair and hope? Last year, I did my best to capture the tiniest glimpse of what it might have been like for those left behind who didn’t yet know for sure how the story would end…
She used to say she loved
those TV movies about Jesus,
but hated the crucifixion scene
even though it was toned down
in the grains of 1970s film,
palatable to the eyes of those
eating dinner in front of
a flickering screen.
This is us, now, knowing
how it all ends, knowing
in three days the lungs of God
Knowing the ending, could I
ever comprehend the blackness,
ever imagine the darkest
Saturday in history?
A King’s body shrouded in spices
and linen lay withering
The budding bloom of salvation,
Oh my God
today the sun scatters clouds
the sun that once turned away
at your final earthly breath
as the lion lay shorn and still.
May I never forget
the darkest day of history,
spring stopped, waiting,
pressing her face
at the tomb’s door.
[Editor's note: Jen Rose has been a familiar name around the Rabbit Room for just about as long as it's been in existence. Today I'm happy to see her here with her first post as one of our new contributors. Welcome, Jen. We're glad you're here.]
When my aunt passed away, I inherited a little black journal of my grandfather’s that she had kept. It’s just big enough to hold in one hand, the paper so soft and thin, and his light, somewhat cramped penciled handwriting is fading with the years. He died just months before I was born, and all my life I’d been told how much alike we were, so this little piece of him, traveling to me from across the decades, was a treasure indeed.
One day, I started to read it. Though I hoped for insight, outpourings of the depths of his soul, I got entries like this.
Fri February 7, 1947
Worked 8 hrs today, which went by very well.
Pay day. Fair all day.
These were the makings of life. There was the birth of dad’s eldest sister, years before he was a thought. There were fair and warm days working in a shipyard. There were days work went well and days it went slow. There were days of cultivating gardens and visiting family and, occasionally, missing the bus.
My grandfather was a simple man. He went to a Bible college in New York, wanted to be a preacher, somehow made his way from New England to Florida, and supported his growing family by working on ships and in orange groves. He never drove. His kids played marbles in the dirt road.