Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The glory of the dance

A half a century ago, I was a kid in a Sunday school class taught by a man who’d taught those classes for years, longer, maybe, than he should have. We thought he was ancient, but he was likely a decade or more younger than I am today.

The church loomed greatly over the Dutch Reformed world I grew up, set agendas, created identities, shaped behavior. A 1928 warning from our denominational synod—against movies, dance, and cards—became a kind of measure of righteousness. In my own family, those rules weren’t necessarily set in stone; but, in the 1950s, they still had some heft, and one didn’t violate them with impunity. I don’t remember our old Sunday school teacher ever railing against "wordly amusements," but the church was so strong back then that he didn’t have to. It’s unimaginable to me that he wouldn’t have been fiercely opposed to dancing.

If the truth be told, I don’t remember much about that fifth grade Sunday school class, except shenanigans. I wasn’t the worst—but I wasn’t the best either.

Last night, I’ll admit the truth: I watched my own grandchildren far more closely than the hundreds of others on stage for a sweet little Christian school musical show, a presentation whose Sunday School-ish lessons were lost somewhat by a sound system that didn’t always pick up mumbled lines.

No matter. The evening’s blessing wasn’t good, moral lessons. No one came for catechism. They filled the place to watch their kids and a couple hundred other munchkins sing their hearts out.

I admit it watching my grandkids more than others, but that’s a sin for which I can be forgiven—I am, after all, a grandpa. My kindergarten grandson stood beside two little girls—one of them Korean, a beautiful young lady he’s known since pre-school. Beside them stood a little darling whose rich Mexican heritage could hardly be mistaken.

That young lady’s mother used to visit when she first came to this country, when she was bound-and-determined to learn English and get a better job than she had—scooping brains from the skulls of hogs just slaughtered in the packing plant. Later, she married; and last night her daughter, looking every bit of what her mother must have years ago in Mexico, went through every last action of every last song with the same determined gusto as the whole mess of kids up there, including my blonde grandson, who I never would have bet could have stood still for an entire hour the way he did.

But then, he didn’t exactly stand still. The gyrations that whole bunch went through made me believe that someday, among my people, there would be no more problems with rhythm, not when, from kindergarten on, they’re taught music like last night’s, music that won’t let you sit still.

Don’t know what my grandpa the preacher would have thought of it exactly, nor our old Sunday school teacher. But 1928, last night, was ancient history.

The truth is, the show was a ball. It was raucous treat, a bedlam blessing, a feast of dance and song performed by angels (I know better, but give me some poetic license).

Then, right at the end, a tiny dark-skinned little girl in a loose white dress came out, belted out a song, then stepped back and danced, all by herself, a series of darling, little-girl pirouettes to the praise music swept up in a torrent by the kids behind her, my own grandkids among ‘em.

That dance was the highlight of the night, at least for me. I know the child’s parents; her mother was once a student of mine. I even know her grandpa, a man who, years ago, was the very model of what the kids in my boyhood church could become, if we gave our lives away to the kingdom of Christ. Her grandpa was a missionary to Mexico; to me, growing up, her grandpa was a hero of the faith.

And that missionary son was himself the child of my old Sunday School teacher, who left this vale of tears so many years ago already that, even back there where I grew up, 500 miles east, few people likely remember him.

But I did. Last night, when I watched his own great-granddaughter spin out praise in a dance to the Creator.

This morning, I wish I could tell him—that old teacher—what a blessing it was.

Maybe I don’t have to. Maybe he saw it all. He would have had to rub his eyes, I’m sure. More than once.

What a blessing. I swear he would have loved it, dance or no dance. After all, he’s a grandpa—he can be forgiven.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, dance... still can't... no practice... it was evil, like movies, cards, transistor radios, contemporary music, the Beatles, long hair, beards, short skirts, pants on girls, swimming on Sundays... need I go on?