dancing machine

Cliche as it might be, I've begun numerous conversations over the past few days about how the recent thaw has brought new life to my week. And everyone- I mean everyone- seems to agree. Something is happening. Something new. We're moving forward.

So I breathed deeply and walked extra slow on my thirty second jaunt to the car this morning, and hunched over the wheel just enough to let the morning sun hit my face. And if that weren't enough, I furthered the celebration by rolling down my window and letting- what seemed at the time to be- a warm February Chicago breeze roll in and over me as I drove along to work.

It was music. Enlightenment. Eureka! (yikes. Grandpa language.)

But when I got to my office (an old desktop computer with a cat sleeping on it, in the back lower level of my boss' house) I was taken aback when my homepage greeted me with news that it was in actuality, "Mostly Cloudy and 28 degrees."


This happens all the time, doesn't it? And not just with the weather, but with everything. Is the glass half empty or half full? How do you see it? We say there are two sides to every coin, every story, every argument, maybe Owen Wilson's nose- and we acknowledge it because we know it's all about how you look at things. It's perspective.

oday, Ash Wednesday begins our journey through the Lenten season. A season- my roommates reminded me- inaugurating Jesus' forty days in the desert, a period before Easter, counting down, ultimately, to His crucifixion and death. Or is it a countdown to His resurrection and life? Well, we can't have one without the other? So it's both, I guess. But it depends on how you look at things. Ah...Perspective.

Every year the Lenten language begins with questions like, "What are you giving up?" Because the emphasis is sacrifice- which it should be. So we make a pact, typically with only ourselves, to abstain from all the local anesthetics like chocolate, beer, or Madden '07. And it becomes a sort of bet or convenient talking point at work, "So what are you giving up Bill?.. Oh, nail biting... Cool."

I actually overheard a conversation at work the other day between three men, debating what the point was in giving anything up. Or more specifically, how to participate while, in fact, not giving up anything at all. One guy told of how his wife, whom he characterized as a theologian, had persuaded him to give up wine; much to the laughter of the other. But after some thoughtful consideration and head shaking, the third guy chimed in with a brilliant idea, "man you gotta be really specific" he began. "Like, give up something like phalaphal, or no- only plain doughnuts. Yeah. You can have all the different ones with sugar and frosting and everything- just not the plain ones."

Have you ever had that feeling of insignificance- like you're in the presence of giants?

So this is the language. The familiar journey of Lent. But could we look at the same reality from another angle? Could we embrace these forty days not only as a call to the giving up of certain things, but as a call also to the giving in to new things?

once read that the most fundamental law in all of psychology is the "law of effect". And it went on to illustrate how it's much harder to simply eliminate a bad habit than it is to replace a bad habit with a good one.

I was talking with a woman who told me that she'd recently begun exercising to quit smoking. And she went on and on about how surprised she was to find the exercise had actually spilled over and brought new light to areas of her life she'd never intended it to- like inactivity, overeating, and eventually maybe even self-criticism.

She's learning that when we clean house, we make room. We always do.

n the book of Romans, the writer Paul tells us to, "...Throw off everything that hinders... and run with perseverance..." The very type of instructions that often leave Christians looking or feeling like the people that first get perfect and then get God. An ordering of our operations.

But could it be they are not two separate tasks- one the throwing off and the other the running- but one dance with two movements? Indistinguishable. Like a two-part harmony comprised of a combination of contrasted elements. Like the mysterious friends, faith and works, always insisting on being together. Because where you find one, you will inevitably find the other. An inseparable pair. A graceful couple. And could this continuous movement we do be like so many others? Everyday dying and reborn, falling and rising, running away and returning...

Could this be the Lent that you choose to not only give that up but at last, finally, give in as well?

was at a wedding last year and decided- because it was the third such function in two months- that I would play it cool and lay low. So I sat and sipped my ice water and talked about the ceremony, the reception so far, the dj, the music and of course, eventually, the creative expressions out on the dance floor. And although I'd intentionally sat facing away from the action, I still could not keep it from happening...

I danced.

I couldn't help it. Because real dancing is never isolated or alone. It's communication, expression, social interaction. Never one dimensional. Never completely containable. And always contagious.

Where you find one person dancing, you will likely find another.

You see, once we pick up our dragging feet and get moving, I believe the throwing off of things becomes easier and more natural. And it begins making more and more sense. The load is lightened and we come to see we were made for running. And A divine domino-effect begins. An exponential escalation in the fullness of living. The more we run, the more we give in; and the more we give in and up, the more room we have for the limitless, infinite and uncontainable in-flooding of stuff like peace, patience, kindness, and humility.

A putting down and a picking up. A dance.

So sure, give up gossip, cigarettes, idle words and the he said, she said business- but don't merely create an empty space. But give in also. Give in to words of encouragement, affirmation and a personal mission to leave mysteriously unprovoked compliments on others. And then get out of there. Replace agenda driven efforts to straighten the record with an entirely new record, where the scoreboards are scoreless and you're no longer holding the heavy past up over both your heads.

A forty day experiment bent on burying old beefs and moving forward. Making way and making room.

don't know a Christ who came to bring us a great void where we are simply emptied of all things, and are vacant and sterile. A Christ who makes rules because He likes them. I know a Jesus who brought with Him a new way to new life. A life about the do's and less about dont's; the kind of life to dig deep down into, bust the knees out of our jeans, and get dirty with. Life to the fullest. A life of fullness.

The biblical studs were not revered for their mere abstinence or refrain- although there are times for such things- but for what they were over-filled and therefore overflowing with: generosity, passionate love, compassionate regard for others, and faith beyond even belief. All dancing together.


J. Mack said...

I think we had this conversation. Or maybe I had it with someone else from the house, either way the subject was Lent and what to do with this ancient, extra-Biblical, yet worthwhile stretch between now and Easter. I've tried again and again to dive into it with pious vigor, but always end up falling short of my religious goals. I think you are right when you say that the central theme of faith, of holidays like this, is not to simply clean yourself of bad habits and harmful trends, but to fill yourself, your mind, your life with Godly traits. As I downed my second pop the other night, realizing I had blown yet another lame Lent goal, this idea dawned on me. By the way, Quiche, is there a certificate for most comments on the blog? I'd like one to frame.

Paulina said...

Good words.