“I praise the dance, for it frees people from the heaviness of matter and binds the isolated to community” [Augustine]
“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” [Deuteronomy 6:5]
“Theres joy, joy, joy in repetition” [Prince, Graffiti Bridge]
This post forms part of the synchroblog “Moving towards worship”, and is part 1 in my series “Myths for our time.”
For some time I have been asking about the shape of things to come. I have wondered about models of community as well as of worship. And in the last month, myself and other venturers have been engaged in various activities, firstly the Afrika Burns festival in the Tankwa Karoo, South Africa, and secondly two NIA (Neuromuscular Integrative Action) movement sessions.
So, in the wake of some exciting, practical experimentation, (and to a lesser extent as the “season” of Christmas looms), I would like to offer a reflection on Festivity.
Celebration, are you quite mad?
Having been immersed in creativity, freedom of expression, dance and music, almost might we say, baptised anew into Celebration, I am compelled to consider the role of this in my and our life. Naturally, I also reflect up the nature of life and of G-d. So I have some questions:
- Is celebration an aberation from serious life, something to do once, twice a year, at prescribed times like Christmas, on a holiday, or on a birthday?
- With tragedy and despair all around us, and suffering an ever present reality, is it appropriate to celebrate at all?
- In Anglocatholic culture, it is said that the Eucharist (Body and blood of Christ) is “celebrated”. I have always liked the sound of that, but sorry Father, I’m afraid your church services just don’t feel very celebratory.
- Kids get so excited about things, ice cream, horses, swimming, TV, but from adolescence onwards we loose this – is this the proper way to grow up?
- Is celebration equal to hedonism – for those who simply want to escape reality, or blot it out through indulgence, escape, sex, drugs, and partying?
- Even if I do intellectually believe in celebrating, why don’t my attempts to do so seem very authentic or powerful?
- What is the essential nature of the afterlife: solomn, pious and peaceful? Mao Tse Tung-era massed movement? The euphoria of a purple haze? Having all our messy earthy theologies nicely put into order, with a Mr-Bean-style smugness? Having all our needs finally met in the ultimate consumer experience?
I offer these questions from the POV of one who was raised in a Modern, Western, Eurocentric culture in South Africa, and one who has been on a lifelong journey to seek out the truth, a 15 year soujourn through the conventional church, a 10 year period on the via negativa, and in the last year, a freedom to ask and live whatever the hell question I wanted to of anyone, the cosmos, and G-d him-herself.
More importantly perhaps is the fact that I am not a natural party animal, nor am I that hedonistic. I have inherited my mothers Apollonic spirit, preferring the mountaintop, simplicity and asceticism to the ways of my father: he was an arch-Dionysian given to self-gratification, joviality and revelry. But it is his spirit that now calls me down into the valley, towards the sounds of mirth, partying and sheer enjoyment.
So I am happy to say that I have some ideas, I have some vision about all this. But I wanted to frame these questions to give a context for where I am coming from now.
A Festive G-d
I’ll get to the point: We serve a Festive G-d, and as made in G-ds image, we are “Homo festivus”. It is part of our nature to celebrate, indeed we are called, coaxed and wooed to do so. I am indebted to John Morehead for introducing me to the term Homo Festivus, as well as many of these notions, and he and others have long been involved in this debate.
Now I am not going to say “Thou shalt celebrate”, because that undermines the free hearted giving that is part and parcel of loving response. Only a loving, thankful response can be sustained, and provide the fuel for authentic festivity.
In reality, we don’t always feel like celebrating. We may NEVER feel like it. We may be so caught in despair that we cannot see any reason for joy. I have felt despair. I have lived in loss for many years. I will live in loss in the future, and will feel despair again. But while, by grace, I glimpse the glory of this freedom, I want to live it, share it, write it, and move it, for THIS is a my foretaste of eternity … being one with the Creator, one with each other, one with creation.
Dancing and VJing at Camp Vuvuzela at Afrika Burns was a new experience for me. There was no sense in which “I, performer”, or even “I, reveller”, was present. “I” performed, sure, putting visuals to the DJ’s psytrance/electro offerings; but I never saw that DJ, nothing was announced, and everything just happened … this was the Anarchy of Love. It was for me a confirmation of Advaita – radical non-duality – or put another way, its was the joy of the ego being lost in Oneness. There was no me-you, or us-them. Those that lose their soul shall find it, reports the Gospel.
I’ve been brought up with a view that “Oneness” is an exclusive concept, defined by the orthodoxy of Christendom. This is based on the dualistic view of a future separation of the saved and the unsaved. So, Oneness is OK if it’s Orthodox Christian Oneness, otherwise it’s a pantheistic eastern notion incompatible with the bible, Christ, and salvation.
In case you misunderstand my embrace of Festive Culture, it is not without its dangers. To be consumed by the offerings of the ego – hedonistic self gratification, sexual conquest, shame at ourselves, or debilitating introspection – means that we are imprisoned slaves and, not true members of the Festive Race. I still can’t quite get my head around how this man said this, given his role in the propogation of many of the destructive dualisms that haunt us to this day, but … to further quote Augustine,
“Dancing demands a whole person, one who is firmly anchored in the center of his life, who is not obsessed by lust for people and things and the demon of isolation in his own ego.”
Are we having a good time, yet?
Homo Sapiens, “Knowing” Man, has an inkling that he should rejoice, but is confounded by ego, sin, and systems of injustice that oppress this instinct. How he expresses this instinct to celebrate has in many cases, been substantially reduced.
- Instead of Holiness of all Being, we have intermittent “Holidays” where what we “celebrate” bears little or no relationship to our lives. What exactly is “Family Day”, or “Heritage Day”?
- Instead of deep, authentic humour we have jokes – little pills of laughter.
- Instead of sumptuous, inventive expression through our garments, we have the tyranny of fashion and occasional Fancy Dress opportunities.
Our institutions have let us down. I’m not asking for a Cultural Revolution, I am saying wherever meaning has been lost, we need to refind and reinvent it. For example, primally, we know that the drum calls us to enter in. But layer upon layer of manners, sophistications, domestications, civilisations and barriers have rendered our sense of the Festive quite inane.
- If a holiday is redundant, then dump it. If an important day is not noted, note it – who celebrates Beltane besides a few neopagans? And yet our connection to the seasons is far more important than artifical notions of nationality.
- Stop filling up deep sadness with alcohol-fuelled jokes. I like good jokes, but often the “life and soul of the party” is actually a penguin-suited cadaver out of contact with real irony or deep authentic joy.
- Instead of religeously branding ourselves with Nike, Gucci, or Calvin Klein, assemble your own outfit, one which IS you and comes FROM you. Authenticity is so much more powerful than cloned coolness.
There is nothing that inspires me to dance, move and create, like the idea that G-d is present, present in all of creation. This panentheist vision – All is IN G-d, and G-d is IN all – is what drives me to give my body, energetically and wholeheartedly, to the moment, the community, to the Ground of Being. No E’s, no acid, no grass, no mushrooms, no drunken stupor, just a deep appreciation for being alive. No ulterior motive, no one to conquer, to impress, to rebel against, to convert, a simple isness, is a pround act of worship.
- I am inspired by the the Sweedish movie “As it is in heaven”, reviewed here, in which a dour, fearful Reformed community is transformed by dance and celebration.
- I am inspired by the River in Tolkein’s Third Earth called the “Celebrant”.
- I am inspired by Brasilian, African and other cultures who host wild, spectacular carnivals, a celebration of carne (that’s flesh, brothers and sisters), the aroma of which MUST be more pleasing to G-d than all the incense floating up from 10,000 aescetic alters.
- I am inspired by the trend to expressed, overt rhythm in music over the last decades. Long live Elvis, and his holy, gyrating hips. It’s largely a matter of taste, but I do love trance and other musics which until recently sounded boring to me. I have discovered a profound truth in rhythm, simplicity and repetition.
And in my brief introduction to NIA, I am inspired to combine robust bodily expression, an exploration of the healing arts, moving in community, freedom to express any kind of gesture my imagination might produce, and a profound sense of Festive worship as G-d intented it to be.