“Dancing from Death into Life”
I recently had the privilege of accompanying the Wellsville Marching Lions (as a parent) to the New York State Field Band Conference at the Syracuse Dome. Some of you are familiar with “Dome” yourselves, and Way-Co was at Wellsville earlier this year in football too. (If I serve church in one town, and my kids are in band in another, it’s a “win-win” no matter the scoreboard, right?!) Other local bands were present for Dome too, but no one else had the “privilege” of sleeping on field-house turf from midnight until 4:00 a.m. drum-roll!
As the band director and I spoke of the program he had assembled for performance, I mentioned the reaction some others had to the music they heard played from the field. Despite the esoteric titles of the music, the emotional thrust of the program was vivid. A sudden drum opening signaled a startling “Totentanz” (“Dance of the Dead”) by Franz Liszt, gentled by a soothing “Hymn Song by Philip Bliss” (“It Is Well With My Soul”), thrummed out by a “Bat out of Hell” (yes, the one sung by Meatloaf). If that is not a program to turn your head around, well…
The Totentanz begins…
The “Divine Comedy” so marched (according to the director’s program notes) begins with the “depiction of a catastrophic event, with the grief and anger that inevitably follows…[after which] the band then transports the audience through depictions of paradise [before coming to a] descent into a place of debauchery and chaos.” All this in ten minutes! (And hundreds of hours of preparation on the part of students, staff and volunteers.) Jolting transport from a group of youth so ably prepared.
The “Divine Comedy” Dante composed eight centuries ago was presented in a different order, to the end of having both head and heart turned (or converted) on witnessing the consequence of choices made by us in life before death, that we may experience grace beyond life as well.
In Dante’s epic poem, Inferno (hell) is portrayed first, in order to serve as a warning of where we need not end up (a point missed if we read the first part alone). Second comes Purgatory, named for the purging we must make in this life of that (and those) which would point the wrong path. Thus prepared, we may find ourselves led toward Paradise instead. This is the goal of Dante’s “Comedy” – not a bad prescription for a faith-filled path, if a bit over-sure in consigning others to places best known by God.
In some sense it matters little which part of Dante’s vision one enters first, so long as we realize the rest of it is there too. If life seems little but swirling madness, then to know God’s promise can sustain. If life is more blessed, we can reach out from where we are to others in the spirit of Christ’s compassion. And if life is a bit of both, then we in the middle may help make it a better while at it too, seeking a way forward while at the same time (meaning to or not) serving as guides to others on the way.
Even in the order played on the field Sunday morning – beginning in the mix of where we are (purging the bad, picking up the good), pausing to contemplate the wholeness of where we are bound (the promise of paradise), before returning to heedless chaos (recall Jesus’ own descent into hell, in our Apostle’s Creed) – we end, as I shared with a young mother at the performance, with a bat freed out of hell. Grasp for hope where it flies!
So – Short version: Wherever we are, God is with and for us.
Therefore: May we be with and for others in Christ’s name too –
• In helping to surface from the chaos gone on around us,
• In the wellness of soul we’ve tasted and known,
• In the dance of death and life yet to come.
Peace and good,
Pastor William B. Jones
(November, 2012 Newsletter “The Voice”
Saint Peter’s United Church of Christ, Perkinsville, NY)