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Shaking the Foundations

Shaker dance, from a woodcut on the cover of Don E. Saliers,  Worship as Theology: Foretaste of Glory Divine  (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1994).

Shaker dance, from a woodcut on the cover of Don E. Saliers, Worship as Theology: Foretaste of Glory Divine (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1994).

We should praise in and with everything we enjoy. Every faculty of the body should be dedicated to his praise. Our tongues were made to bless the Lord; our voices were given to sing his praise; and the Psalmist call on everything that hath breath to praise the Lord.

—Thomas Brown, a Shaker, cited in J. G. Davies, Liturgical Dance: An Historical, Theological and Practical Handbook (London: SCM Press, 1984), p. 67.

Christians believe that God is a dynamic being; one who is on the move; one who, if the Jerusalem Bible rendering of Zephaniah 3.17 be accepted, is himself a dancer and who, according to a Jewish exposition of the Song of Songs… will lead the dance of the righteous in the age to come—one who, if we may move outside the confines of Judaism and Christianity and accept that something of God may be learned from other religions, one who like Shiva in Hinduism dances creation itself. Dancing must be regarded as an entirely proper way of responding to and acknowledging the divine presence. To refuse to dance would be to identify him with immutable stability. To dance, although not in an insipid way, can be to do homage to the one who shakes the foundations.

—Davies, Liturgical Dance, p. 133.

Below: Covers of the two books mentioned in this post…

Jesus the Cat

From Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies:

I didn’t go to the flea market the week of my abortion. I stayed home, and smoked dope, and got drunk, and tried to write a little. On the seventh night, though, very drunk and just about to take a sleeping pill, I discovered that I was bleeding heavily. It did not stop over the next hour. I thought I should call a doctor, but I was so disgusted that I had gotten so drunk one week after an abortion that I just couldn’t wake someone up and ask for help. Several hours later, the blood stopped flowing, and I got in bed, shaky and sad. After awhile, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there – of course, there wasn’t. But after awhile, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.

And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends. I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, “I would rather die.”

I felt him just sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with. Finally, I fell asleep and in the morning, he was gone.

The experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition, born of fear and self-loathing and loss of blood. But then everywhere I went, I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever. So I tried to keep one step ahead of it, slamming my house door whenever I entered or left.

And one week later, when I went back to church, I was so hungover that I couldn’t stand up for the songs, and this time I stayed for the sermon, which I thought was so ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the existence of extraterrestrials, but the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling – and it washed over me.

I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along my heels, and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers, under a sky as blue as one of God’s own dreams, and I opened the door to my house, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said, “F*ck it. I quit.” I took a long deep breath and said out loud, “All right. You can come in.” So this is my beautiful moment of conversion.  

—Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies.

Below: Dominica, Cambridge, Mass., currently residing at Yale Divinity School.

The Most Dissipated Tabby

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941):

Look with the eye of contemplation on the most dissipated tabby of the streets, and you shall discern the celestial quality of life set like an aureole about his tattered ears, and hear in his strident mew an echo of

"The deep enthusiastic joy,
The rapture of the hallelujah sent
From all that breathes and is."

The sooty tree up which he scrambles to escape your earnest gaze is holy too. It contains for you the whole divine cycle of the seasons; upon the plane of quiet, its inward pulse is clearly to be heard. But you must look at these things as you would look into the eyes of a friend: ardently, selflessly, without considering his reputation, his practical uses, his anatomical peculiarities, or the vices which might emerge were he subjected to psycho-analysis.

Practical Mysticism (1914), p. 47.


Below: Donald Trump (the cat). Photo: Stephen Burns.