Wednesday, Fourth week of Lent
"Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning." - Psalm 30:5
"By Moonlight", 1994, Margaret Neve
We surrender to joy: we have no option. Margaret Neve's girl dances in the moonlight, resting upon the silky air as the great moon rests on the soft waters. She throws her arms out wide as if to float backwards, held up by pure joy. This gesture of embrace, opening as widely and welcomingly as is possible, marks the experience. Joy is felt as profoundly 'right', as what 'ought to be'. In grief, part of the pain comes from our feeling that we should not suffer so -that it is fundamentally alien to our being: this even though we all suffer, and frequently. Yet we reject suffering as a basic human truth, while greeting joy as integral to our very substance.
The writer of this song, Sherman Kelly, shares the surreal origin story of this happy hit:
Kelly and some friends were running a nightclub in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, in 1969. One day, they decided to rent a 65-foot yacht and travel to St. Croix for the day. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Kelly was prone to seasickness, and he and his girlfriend got really seasick on the crossing.
When the group arrived in St. Croix, those onboard took a dingy to shore to look for some dinner. But Kelly and his girlfriend were both still sick and weren’t interested in eating at that point.
The group got its food and decided to head back to the boat to spend the night. Kelly and his girlfriend looked out into the harbor and saw the boat’s mast swaying back and forth, and instead opted to stay in town overnight rather than risk more seasickness on the boat.
There was only one problem: Due to his extreme seasickness and disorientation, Kelly had left his wallet on the boat and had no money or credit cards for a hotel.
The two went to a small inn, explained the situation to the innkeeper and offered to settle up in the morning when Kelly could return to the boat to retrieve his wallet.
“And he said, ‘Sure, you can stay here if your girlfriend will sleep with me,’” said Kelly in a telephone interview from his home in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
After being turned down at a second inn, Kelly’s girlfriend said, “It’s a beautiful night. Why don’t we just stretch out on the beach?”
“So we did,” said Kelly. “And that’s all I remember very clearly.”
What happened after that was pieced together through bits of Kelly’s own memory and the recollections of other people. According to those accounts, while sleeping on the beach, Kelly and his girlfriend were the victims of a vicious St. Croix street gang. Kelly was severely beaten by five gang members wielding baseball bats. His girlfriend was raped by the gang leader and the rest were in line. But Kelly’s girlfriend later reported, that Kelly regained consciousness during the attack and fought back, making enough noise to scare off the attackers.
With Kelly drifting in and out of consciousness, the two managed to follow the lights along the shore, eventually making their way to the only St. Croix hospital. Kelly and his girlfriend were thought to be among the first victims of the notorious Fountain Valley Gang, who in 1972 murdered eight tourists and wounded eight more thereby devastating St. Croix tourism for many years.
Hanging on for life, he stayed in that St. Croix hospital several days. Eventually, he returned home to Ithaca New York where Doctors had to re-break and re-set the bones in his face. During this time of convalescence he wrote "Dancing in the Moonlight". Kelly said,
[I] began to write some verses for a song, verses that would later become the lyrics for “Dancing in the Moonlight.”
“I envisioned an alternate reality, the dream of a peaceful and joyous celebration of life. It was just me imagining a better world than the one I had just experienced in St. Croix,” said Kelly.
An unspeakably traumatic experience that almost cost him his life had turned into a beautiful song. ( https://vinyldialogues.com/VinylDialoguesBlog/the-traumatic-experience-that-inspired-the-hit-dancing-in-the-moonlight/ )
The seed of something more. A disquiet with the way of our lived experience compared to what we envision 'should be'. Kelly and his partner had experienced hell, but something within Kelly longed for Heaven as he wrote this song. I love the juxtaposition of those two emotional centers when Advent comes around each year and we sing "O Come. O Come Emmanuel". The music plays in a minor key, a melancholic longing is sung in verse...
O come, O come, Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
We're waiting for a God who intervenes to save us from despair. It shouldn't be like this, come quickly Lord...and then the refrain brightens, a transition to hope, the promise of the advent of God is coming in human form, Jesus our Immanuel "God with Us".
Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel shall come to you, O Israel.
During this season of Lent, we reflect on 'who' showed up. We still wrestle with suffering as alien, and long for the day when joy will be made complete. And yet, we ponder, that God has not abandoned us. God comes to us...and even more...takes on the suffering we dish out. Suffering is not Alien to God's experience. It boggles the mind to pause and simply speak those words aloud "suffering is not alien to God". God knows intimately, the things that effect us all: pain, betrayal, abuse, disenfranchisement, bondage. Only, where we sing, where we pray in hope, God comes in redeeming love. The suffering we inflict on the creator of the world becomes the means by which God transforms creation. Death becomes a passage way to joy. While the author of life made himself subject to death; death could not destroy him.
As we give ourselves to this God, come in Jesus Christ, we are incorporated into this redeeming love...like the process of creaming sugar into butter when making cakes & cookies. To the sugar and the butter, it could be perceived as loss...they'll never be the same again...but as the jagged edges of the sugar crystals dig into the fat they create tiny air pockets that open, steam, and leaven the cake making it light and fluffy as it bakes.
I know, it's a stretch...but i'm trying to paint a picture with words. Maybe giving our life away, surrendering to joy, is like thinking of ourselves as the butter or the sugar. Sometimes the sticking places in life need a little lubrication to free the gridlock. Sometimes the bitter notes need the balance of a little sweetness. As we offer up our lives, give ourselves to a million tiny deaths...the death of 'being right' with your spouse or your coworker. The death of your plans and your time to invest in someone else's life. Maybe that's just the thing that creates the tiny cavity, to be filled with steam and leaven the dense troubles of life into the delicious treat of what could be.
In God's hands, maybe even our pain can be transformed into poetry...and dancing.
One of the first sermons Jesus preached, he was proclaiming this text from the prophet Isaiah, as fulfilled for his hearers-
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
- Isaiah 61:1-3
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to
be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
(prayer attributed to St. Francis)