My dancing partner - Chris Gleeson SJ
In mid-March this year I had the opportunity to attend an Ignatian School Leaders’ workshop in beautiful Tagaytay City in the Philippines. High in the rolling hills above a thankfully dormant volcanic lake, Jesuit Father Johnny Go and his team deftly led about thirty of us through some exercises on Ignatian discernment and decision-making.
During one of the sessions, Father Johnny was talking about our various images of God and how they can affect our decisions and behaviour. One of the pictures he developed for us appealed to me a good deal—God as my dancing partner. It reminded me of a book by psychiatrist, Gordon Livingston, And Never Stop Dancing. The title comes from a piece in The Washington Post Magazine:
'After a bomb killed two dozen young people at a Tel Aviv disco a few years ago, Israeli youth refused to be cowed. They resumed a robust nightlife. Today, outside the scene of the bombing, beneath a stone memorial listing the names of the dead, is a single inscription: Lo Nafsik Lirkod. It means, We won’t stop dancing.'
While I have never mastered the art of dancing, I have always enjoyed it. Sadly, my dancing partners did not have the same experience. Many good Catholic girls in Melbourne have had problems with their feet ever since those heady days of dancing class on Friday nights at St Peter’s, Toorak. Not only was I a danger to their toes, but they had to contend with the fumes of rapidly consumed fish and chips in the Toorak village beforehand. Even my football coach one Saturday morning was offended that I had put dancing before football preparation and spent most of the game prancing around the field without finding the football. My dancing days might have expired, but I love watching those who are skilled at it.
Dancing takes many forms, of course, and I often return to some lyrical words of Daniel O’Leary’s in his book, Already Within: Divining the Hidden Spring: 'I am now discovering that the more vulnerable I become as a human person, the more authentic I am as a priest. The light and the shadow—they need each other always; they dance together to give the colour to our lives. As Rainer Maria Rilke said, "If I manage to get rid of my demons, I fear my angels may leave as well.”'
In recent years we seem to have been talking and thinking a good deal about dance. Dancing with the Stars has been an increasingly popular television program, and it has been interesting to hear American Franciscan theologian, Richard Rohr, describe the Trinity as the Dance of God. For many centuries Hindu India has developed a beautiful image to describe the relationship between God and creation. They talk about God ‘dancing’ creation. God is the Dancer, and creation is the Dance. While the dance is different from the dancer, it has no existence apart from him.
In Gift from the Sea, Ann Morrow Lindbergh likens a good relationship to a good dance. 'Lightness of touch and living in the moment are intertwined. One cannot dance well unless one is completely in time with the music, not leaning back to the last step or pressing forward to the next one, but poised directly on the present step as it comes. Perfect poise on the beat is what gives good dancing its sense of ease, of timelessness, of the eternal.'
One of the great dancers in my experience was Robin Madden, known affectionately as ‘the Kew Dancing Man’. I first met him when he came to live with us Jesuit university students at Campion College in the late 1960s. Born with but never defeated by some form of intellectual disability, he was a gentle and always happy soul, working tirelessly in the scullery and offering a cheerful word to all. Devoted to the Melbourne Football Club and loud dance music, he careered around the streets of Kew on his bicycle bedecked with the blue and red colours of MFC pennants and streamers. Robbie was a life giver.
Later in life Robin took to dancing outside the hotel at Kew Junction—one of Melbourne’s busiest intersections. He became a landmark figure there, one might say an icon, listening to his MP3 player and delighting hundreds of passers-by each day with his high-kicking dance moves. Motorists would toot their horns in appreciation of Robin's energetic dances like “The Sprinkler”—with one arm outstretched as he spun around in circles.
In June 2012, Robbie died from cancer at the age of 67. Under the headline of ‘Last Spin for Dancing Man’, the Age reported: 'The man who brought smiles to many faces around Kew, Northcote and Balwyn with his high-kicking dance moves lost his battle with cancer last weekend.' Robin's dancing had even inspired a Facebook page with thousands of followers, where fans continue to post tributes to the local celebrity. 'I'm sure he's grooving away on the corner of the big junction in the sky', one fan posted.
To honour Robin, about one hundred people turned up for a memorial service on the frenetically busy junction corner outside the hotel. Indeed, there is still a record of the event on YouTube. Part of the ceremony was to wave one’s arms in 'The Sprinkler' dance that Robbie used to perform so often. God the Dancer must have been delighted with Robbie’s ‘Sprinkler’ dance and warmly welcomed him home to partner him.
As we move towards celebrating the new life of Pentecost, let us don our dancing pumps and partner the Good Lord in tune with the intimate rhythm of his steps. Let us recall Ann Morrow Lindbergh’s words above: 'Perfect poise on the beat is what gives good dancing its sense of ease, of timelessness, of the eternal.' We pray that we might constantly dance to God’s beat.