Thursday, March 24, 2011

We Can Dance if We Want To

With liturgy as in life, most of us don't experiment enough.  Go to a thousand masses and at least 900 of them are going to be done exactly the same. Not that that's an inherently bad thing; indeed, as I've written here before, priests mess with the prayers at their peril. And it'll sure be interesting to see how the massive changes in translation of the Mass go over next Advent.

But liturgy, as well as being a well-worn road, is also like a coal mine. It's filled with pockets of grace, waiting to be tapped.  If we stop after we hit just one vein, we miss out on so many additional blessings.  As I learned twice the last few months with regard to the opening procession.

There's really only one way of coming down the aisle, right? I mean, maybe you come from the side, sort of the sneak-in/sneak-out approach.  But otherwise, you just wait until the music starts and get to walking. 

Turns out, that's not so.  Last week I was at the Religious Ed Congress in Orange County, a massive convention of Catholics from all over the world hearing talks on faith and spirituality.  Super, super cool.  And each evening there were liturgies in different styles -- Samoan/Pacific Islander, Celtic, Spanish, Vietnamese. 

The first night, I attended the "Black Culture" liturgy, presided over by Fr. J-Glenn Murray, S.J., a liturgist renowned for his respect for the mass and his challenging depth of insight.  I went mostly to hear what J-Glenn had to say; and he was good, as always. He talked about the angers that we hold on to as a sort of "leprosy of the soul", eating away at us from the inside.  Really good stuff. (Here's some J-Glenn videos I found online.)

But looking back, the most profound thing to happen to me at that Mass occurred during the opening procession. Rather than simply processing in, first the deacon holding aloft the book of the Gospels and then J-Glenn actually danced up the central aisle, their movement a steady sway to the rhythm combined with fantastic 360 degree spins akin to a child imagining he is a soaring plane.  It was those spins that got me, the relish of it, the sense of a joy so wonderful it has to be delighted in, expressed.  More than any words could, they drew me into the Mass as a moment of celebration.  

Late last fall, I witnessed something similar on the TV show "Glee", in which high school melodrama meets song and dance, with some really wonderful characters and journeys. On this particular episode, the mother of Finn and the father of Kurt (two of the kids in the glee club) got married. And in presenting the wedding, the creators of the show completely reimagined (at least for me) what a wedding procession could look like. 

The whole thing is wonderful, but what really grabbed me was the end -- the father dancing awkwardly down the aisle.  Whereas the rest was highly choreographed, that moment had the ring of truth -- what it would really look like if people did something like this.  And yet, rather than seem embarrassing, here again, what pops is the sense of celebration.  The dad's like the biblical David, completely unabashed as he dances with joy.

Maybe I just like to dance and don't get many opportunities to do it, but boy I think these guys are on to something... 

(And if you liked the Glee video, here's an actual wedding from a few years ago where the wedding party did dance in. Again, great stuff.)


Shelly said...

"More than any words could, they drew me into the Mass as a moment of celebration."

Yes! Celebrating Liturgy with a smile on your heart, with such joy it can't help but escape and embrace your entire being and then "infect" those around you.

Thank you!

Jim McDermott, S.J. said...

With a smile on your heart -- I love that! Thanks!