Ascension

In these bodies we will live / in these bodies we will die. / Where you invest your love, / you invest your life. / Awake my soul …  Awake my soul … awake my soul … For you were made to meet your maker.

                                                                                                                                —Mumford and Sons, “Awake My Soul”

Last week I wrote about dance, about the joy dancing brings me and how when I dance I can find myself and simultaneously connect to something greater than myself. Having spent a bit more time dancing to iTunes in the privacy of my bedroom this past week than I normally do, a new thought has occurred to me: I might be a music person. This thought has come as quite a surprise, as it runs contrary to my inability to carry a tune, to the fact that the only activity I really ever quit growing up was piano lessons, and to my desire to keep the radio off in my car so I can relish the quiet.

Bantu Dancing from NeilsPhotography (Flickr)

Bantu Dancing from NeilsPhotography (Flickr)

But this new self-identification has brought back other memories that indicate I may have been a music person all along (but maybe just thought a bit too narrow-mindedly about who a music person is). For instance, as I type this, I can easily recall the words to some of my favorite hymns from the red Worship or blue Gather hymnals that we used in our church. (“Gather us in the lost and forsaken, gather us in the blind and the lame; call to us now and we shall awaken, we shall arise at the sound of our name…”;  “Let us build the city of God, may our tears be turned into dancing…”; “Sing to the mountains, sing to the sea, raise your voices, lift your hearts…” Seriously, I could go on and on!) As a child, a lot of Sunday mass went over my head, but singing was something that I could participate in, something that made me feel a part of the community. And the joy in the voices of those around me never failed to bring a smile to my face. In my child’s imagination, I envisioned each of our individual voices joining together above our heads to create a gift that was greater than the sum of its parts, a gift that floated up and out of church to be with God in heaven. Now, as an adult, I can see that God was also touching us as we sang together each Sunday.

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The Mumford and Sons song I quote above tells us that we are made to meet our makers. I think that the phrase “meet your maker” is usually connected with death in people’s minds, as in “Will you be proud or ashamed of this or that action or part of your history when you meet your maker, that is, die and face judgment in front of God?” In this sense, it an ominous phrase, one that might scare us into acting as we know we are supposed to.

But as I think about these lyrics as we approach Ascension Sunday, during which we celebrate Jesus returning to heaven to be with God, they take on a new and positive meaning for me. We are made to meet our maker. That is, God made us, all of us human beings, to be in communion with God. Just as Jesus ascended to be with God, we, too, will “meet” God fully in the afterlife. Yet in transcendent experiences in this life, experiences in which we touch something greater than ourselves, I think we already get to meet our maker, if only dimly, if not as perfectly or as completely as we will know God after death (see 1 Corinthians 13:12). In this life, we get to experience mini-ascensions that give us a a glimpse of the glory that comes when we are fully one with God.

For me, music and dance help me to know myself at the same time as they enable me to connect with something greater than myself. For me, music and dance can lead to mini-ascensions, to moments of pure joy and connections with the divine. In musical transcendence, I feel most myself because I am connecting with the God who made me to be this self. Musical transcendence awakes my soul, as Mumford and Sons sing, because in it I am touching the source of my soul.

In what experiences do you experience transcendence, that is, the sense that you are connected to something greater than yourself? Have you met God in these experiences?

 

 

Shake It Out

“And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back, so shake him off, oh woah.”

Florence + The Machine, “Shake It Out”

In my four years of high school, I never once got asked to a dance. Each time a dance came up on the calendar, I would amass all the courage I possessed, sit by the phone with sweating hands, and finally call someone, anyone, who I thought might agree to go with me. (Too bad this was before the days of texting! When the answer came back negative, I could have just pretended that I never asked in the first place.) Then I would go through an equally excruciating process of finding something to wear. I was shorter and rounder than the average girl with much less fashion sense. Yet I would drag myself to the mall and try on what felt like hundreds of dresses until I found one that I hoped would not make me look ridiculous.

Why not just stay home? Because I simply loved dancing. Even though I almost always felt awkward at school, all too aware that I did not quite fit in, no matter how hard I tried, during dances I could lose myself. Moving to the music, laughing with my friends brought an exuberant joy that I rarely felt otherwise. (Do they still play “Come On, Eileen,” “Blister in the Sun,” and “Fishin’ in the Dark” at high school dances? I challenge anyone to continue in their blue mood after dancing to these songs.) For a few hours, I enjoyed myself, and while I did, I felt comfortable in my own skin and was transported beyond myself.

After high school, my friends and I tried to recreate that emotional high of high school dances by going out dancing at 18+ nights at a few clubs. Between the cigarette smoke and having to constantly fend off men so that we could just DANCE, it was not the same. But I sensed that I needed to move, not just for my physical health but more so for my emotional health. So I could keep feeling like myself. So I could keep feeling comfortable in my own body. So I could keep having the experience of touching something greater than myself. So I enrolled in dance classes, from ballet to modern, from jazz to pop. Granted, as a Midwestern, white girl, I am sure I looked ridiculous trying to do Latin motion with my hips or to pop and lock in hip hop class, but it did not matter because I had so much fun trying. I always felt like my best self in dance class: not self conscious, willing to try and fail, willing to laugh at myself, willing to laugh period.

Recently, I heard Florence + The Machine’s “Shake It Out” and it got me thinking. If you have been reading this blog regularly, you know that I have been struggling with depression surrounding my parents’ recent separation from each other. You also know that I have been looking for healthier alternatives to using food and television to avoid and numb my sadness. Hearing Florence sing, “It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, so shake him off” reminded me of therapeutic power of dance.

I do not believe that there is an actual devil personified… but I have felt a weight on my back in the recent months. I have experienced the sensation of something holding me down, something blocking my joy, something bigger than myself that makes it hard for me to do what I want to do and to live as my best self. And in addition to dealing with this weight unsuccessfully with food and television, I have also been dealing with it with words, with writing and talking and praying. And it is not that writing and talking and praying are bad things, but in using words to talk about that weight on my back, the weight is still there. The wisdom of “Shake It Out” is that it reminds us that we have a different recourse for battling the devils on our backs. We have our bodies. If we move them joyfully, the devil will not be able to hang on.

Even if it is only in my bedroom with iTunes playing, it is time for me to dance again. In dance I find joy. In dance I can find myself. In dance I am able to touch something greater than myself, perhaps even to touch God.

I am done with my graceless heart.

So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart.

Cause I like to keep my issues strong.

It’s always darkest before the dawn.

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh woaaah.
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh woaaah.

Florence + The Machine, “Shake It Out”

What brings you great joy in life? When do you feel most yourself? What helps take you outside of yourself or helps you connect with something greater than yourself?