The Dance of Life

Dear Friends,

I am imagining a dance between two partners, Biophilic and Necrophilic. They are life-long partners, like a Ying and Yang, depicted in some Mexican literature and art as skeleton dancing with a life figure. They are Kali, the Hindu Goddess of death with a garland of skulls dancing with a Vishnu as creator. They are the compassionate prophetic Jesus weeping over the unresponsive and hardened people of Jerusalem. They compete to see who gets to lead the dance, and each gets a turn. They are inseparable. Life and death.

I’ve been thinking about how these two figures command the dance floor these days. Biophilic is springtime; a surge in political and social activism; scientific creativity and technological change too rapid to even imagine; increased recognition (finally) of women and minority status and rights; a world in constant communication; and the vey real possibility that we can create a sustainable earth. Life Matters! But Necrophilic says, “Not so fast. In fact, it’s my turn to lead for this part of the dance. I represent the threat to the biosphere and nuclear devastation. I represent the repression and exclusion of the refugee and immigrant. I objectify women and creation as something to be controlled, exploited and used. Biophilic may resent dancing with me, but here I am. Learn to accept my lead or figure out how to reclaim the lead yourself!"

You get the idea - actually the very, very ancient idea - experienced in our personal lives and throughout all the wisdom literature of the ages: life and death are one and we must accept and deal with their reality. Yes, we may like to think the dance of life is primarily a waltz, partners in a graceful swirl. But in reality the dance includes a lot of missteps and stomping on toes. It is often inchoate, unfair, destructive, deceptive, painful, traumatic; dancing to the cacophony of the music of racism, fascism, war, and demagoguery. I think especially of war. I think of the lives of all who live so deeply in pain, suffering, need, and fearful for their ability to provide for the feeding, care and safety of their children, their family, and community.

The ancient literature has a response to all this: Choose life! "This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) And I agree we all ultimately have the option to choose life, even under the most dire circumstances. But in the midst of real life-threatening situations it is difficult to know how to exercise this choice. What does it mean to “choose life?” The Necrophilic dance partners - sometimes called “principalities and powers" - just seem to firmly lead on their own, and it’s difficult to intervene. Sometimes Necrophilia really gets the upper hand, and we become despairing and are left with just intrinsic hope, something deep inside that somehow withstands the pain and despair of life. And blessed are they who can hold this level of hope, for themselves and others!

But the dance of life itself has its own great power to overcome its challenges. I believe the dance of life is ultimately destined to recover and go on. Necrophilic’s fear, hatred and prejudice, persistent and strong as they may be, are difficult to sustain. Biophilic, on the other hand, has great endurance fueled by love, compassion, courage, faith and intrinsic hope. 

We are all invited, willing or not, into the dance of life, to live as fully into it as we can despite the threats, hardships and uncertainties. Perhaps a good metaphor for the dance I prefer to envision would be a community contra dance* where Necrophilic and Necrophilic’s partner (if they ever choose to join) are only two in a whole line of dancers of Biophilic’s friends and partners who are carried by laughter and the music of joyful celebration, caught up in the nimble enthusiasm of the Grand Fiddle, even if they (like me) often feel clumsy and out of step with the instruction from the inspirational "Caller.” 

 We do have a choice about how much positive commitment and enthusiasm we are willing to give to our lives and to the support of others. No doubt there will always be some who hate the dance, want to sit it out, avoid it, close it down. And their attitude can be very destructive to themselves and others. But we can choose differently. I am so inspired and encouraged by how pervasively, faithfully, and positively the world is responding to the current threats and setbacks to so many of our past efforts. May the lure of a full life continue to manifest in our marches, our personal and communal initiatives, and in our invitations to partnerships to join us.

Peace,
Tom

 *Contra dancing is considered a social dance that one can attend without a partner, but is danced in pairs. Contra dancing is danced in long lines of couples/pairs formed starting from the stage and down the dance hall. Throughout the course of a dance, couples progress up and down these lines, dancing with each other couple in the line. The dance is led by a caller who teaches the sequence of figures in the dance before the music starts. Callers describe the series of steps called "figures", and in a single dance, a caller may include anywhere from 6–12 figures which are repeated as couples progress up and down the lines. Each time through the dance takes 64 beats, after which the pattern is repeated.