The Dance of the Hours
What you love is what you spend time with.
I cannot recall where I first heard that maxim. I do know that I have tested it repeatedly over the past twenty years or so, and I have found it to be remarkably true: at times,
I do know that it is a piece of wisdom that is known by the smallest of children.
Granted this truth, it would seem wise, in honoring Jesus’ commandments, to spend time with God and to spend time with each other; to spend time with God in prayer and to spend time with our neighbors, spending time that includes acting in loving ways toward them.
If we are centered on the love that is expressed in the two commandments, it would seem that such a commitment would bring us into conformity with them.
Some may say, “Is that all?”
To which I would reply: “Is that not enough?”
It can’t be accomplished in the course of a lifetime. It can’t be perfect. Moreover, it requires an ongoing struggle against all of our flaws or “vices”.
That should be enough to keep us busy.
Not enough? There’s plenty of room for more. Many of us carry a myriad of traditions from our spiritual communities that do not contradict Jesus's commandments.
I would be loathe to dismiss some of my traditions.
But I find that I test them with increasing frequency.
I test them against the commandments.
And I try to guard the time.
For the sake of those with whom I should spend the hours.
I said that many of us carry a myriad of traditions from our spiritual communities.
I realize that there are many practicing Christians who will neither attend church nor affiliate with a denomination.
Some of them find that they can neither spend time with God nor engage in any meaningful relationships with others in a church environment.
Some have been stung, perhaps repeatedly, by an exclusive, power-driven country club atmosphere, or by a judgmental climate, or by an evangelical agenda, or by a feeling of false good humor, or by the sensation that what is said in church is left at the church door.
Personally speaking, I struggle with the overweening emphasis that is placed on faith rather than love.
In so many of our churches, the articles of faith are the center of the liturgy, hammered home, as they are, by the reading of scripture, the singing of scripture, the interpretation of scripture and the recitation of creeds.
I struggle, moreover, with the arrangements of our liturgies. When we gather with our sisters and brothers, should we sit before a standing authoritarian figure who is empowered to lead and to speak?
Of course, this picture does not reveal the loving relationships among members of a community, nor the power of music and the other arts in the spiritual experience.
But the eye is not lead to these things. The eye is lead to where it was designed to be lead. And the picture, to me, is baffling.
In some communities, it is not so much that love is absent, but that it is ancillary, relegated to the sidelines by an overwhelming focus on other areas.
Is this how Christians should gather?
As I said in a past article, the two commandments are pristine and undiluted by qualifiers. Shake the dust of tradition from them at your peril. Looked at with fresh eyes, one feels that one has stumbled upon hidden wisdom.
Regarding our liturgies, I wonder: is this how we should spend time? Or, at the very least, should this spent time be regarded as the keystone of our week?
I neither encourage nor discourage church participation, but I affirm those who will not attend church because their experiences cannot be reconciled with the words of Jesus Christ.
Whether in church or out of church, I would recommend that we spend less time in seeking power, less time in passing judgment, less time in Sunday morning glad-handing and less time in pounding beliefs into our brains.
Let us spend more time on our relationships with God and with each other.
We have made such a business of it.
We have made such a rocket science of it.
The church service or the denominational affiliation is not my center; I believe that there is more grace in one act of love than in ten thousand hymns or sermons.
If we are called to love, then let us love, and make that the center.
Let us look past the once-a-week, and look at who is around us during the hours of our days.
Let us look and respond.
As I wrote in my last article, we can begin by listening.
Listening is a valuable way of spending time with people.
We can begin with those around us, in our families and in our communities, who we have marginalized because they didn’t “fit the bill”.
We can listen to the experiences of those who have been marginalized. Perhaps we will visit Carlton Pearson’s website, or read his book, The Gospel of Inclusion. Perhaps we will read books by feminist Christian scholars, such as Jane Schaberg, Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, Elaine Pagels, or Karen L. King. Perhaps we will google to find others who have not been included.
Perhaps we will accept some of their thoughts, perhaps we will not. We are free to agree or disagree. For the purpose is neither to argue nor to adopt yet more articles of faith. The purpose is neither to prepare for a debate nor to study for a final exam.
The purpose is to connect.
The purpose is to understand.
The purpose is to hear and include the voices of those who are Christians, but who are not among those males who canonized our scriptures, designed our liturgies and so overwhelmed our culture with their experience and beliefs that the full participation of others was excluded or proscribed.
We center more on ideas and persons of authority than we ought.
If we cast them into stone, we risk turning ourselves into stone.
I think that Jesus would prefer us to be lighter on our feet.
It is in the moment-by-moment way that we respond to those around us, and how we include them by listening to them and reflecting their experiences. It is in how we speak of our time with them to God, again, moment-by-moment, through the hours that are given to us.
Let us be quick on our feet.
I am reminded of the words of Thomas Merton:
“What is serious to men is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as “play” is perhaps what He Himself takes most seriously. At any rate the Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear His call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance. We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing. When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Basho we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash---at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the “newness”, the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.
“For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.
“Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.”*
I post new articles twice monthly in "Author's Corner".
If you live in or near the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and you would be interested in meeting with others for discussion or prayer, please contact me at
firstname.lastname@example.org. All are welcome, regardless of identity or personal choices. Please understand that I do not have the resources to guarantee that I will be able to read or respond to all other correspondence.
*“The General Dance”, in New Seeds of Contemplation, New York, New Directions Books, 1962.
Rob Wright holds advanced degrees in education and performing arts, and he has been a professional teacher for over fifteen years. In his home denomination, he has served as a lay minister in liturgical, educational and ecumenical activities. He lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire with his spouse of twenty years and their daughter.