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Care to Dance?

Remember that old Greek, Archimedes? I remember learning about Archimedes in my sixth-grade class.

Miss Tivnan told us that the king wanted Archimedes to measure the volume of a gold crown to make sure that it was all gold and not some alloy of lesser metals. But Archimedes didn’t know how to do this.

So one day he got into his bathtub—the locus of so many good ideas—and as he sat down he made an awful mess, spilling water all down the sides. But that was it! In a flash of inspiration, he discovered that the volume of the body in the water—his own—was equal to the amount of water displaced.

And then Miss Tivnan told us he got up out of the bathtub and ran through the streets crying out “Eureka!” I have found it! He ran through the streets utterly stark naked.

That’s what I remember most about Archimedes. How he ran through the streets without even a pair of flip-flops on to protect his feet.

But what a day for Archimedes, with its bold eureka moment.

Me, I had this kind of a Sunday, not a eureka moment in the whole day:

I started out talking about Buddhism and patriarchy on the telephone with a friend.

Then I led a class in which we’re discussing Huston Smith’s book, The World’s Religions, specifically the differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. (As a class we decided that, were we not a bunch of Lutherans who wouldn’t be able to do without coffee hour, we’d be Mahayana Buddhists—though this could all change next week when we study Tantra.)

Then there was a church service. Martin Luther King Jr. and St. Peter, whose days we celebrated, were the featured players.

Then I stopped home to play two games of backgammon with each of my daughters. I lost all four.

Then I went back to plan for the evening church service, which is really more conversation and meditation than what people think of when they think of church services.

So I was reading through a bunch of different things—an article from Time on gnosticism, sparked largely by the Matrix movies and The DaVinci Code, some poems by Rilke, Rumi, a couple of other mystic poets.

Then I got an emergency phone call from someone who, like all of us at one time or another, was having trouble making sense of life.

Then it was time for the evening service and as conversation heated up, we talked about the difference between a mystic sense of a transcendent presence and the intellectual hope for a mystic sense of a transcendent presence—not to put too fine a point on it.

But at about that time my mind started wandering.

I started thinking about popcorn and Cabernet. About taking off my boots with my Toastie Toes inserts in them, and taking out my contact lenses and curling up on my sofa with some Edward Gorey—nothing soothes like The Beastly Baby or The Unstrung Harp. I was feeling a little unstrung myself at this point.

My mind wandered some more, visiting all the tempting corners I like to bide a while: lust, sloth, gluttony—that kind of thing.

Then I remembered Mel Gibson.

I reminded myself that I had this DVD sent from a conservative Christian publishing house that featured a trailer and endorsements for The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s controversial opus that I’m dreading having to deal with. Still, what made the most sense was to go home, pop in the DVD and review it.

But suddenly I was exhausted.

World religions make too many conflicting claims.

Christianity is too many things all at once.

Peoples’ hearts are crowded with confusion about God and the significance of their lives.

Language can’t bear the weight of the meaning with which we freight it.

I was exhausted. I didn’t want to be a pastor right then. I wanted to be eating popcorn, drinking red wine, having someone rub my feet. I wanted to wake up the next morning and be an insurance-claims adjuster or taxidermist’s assistant or a spokeswoman for Merle Norman cosmetics:

“I think that mauve-rose lip liner is so totally, totally you.”

Archimedes had that eureka moment.

There are plenty of stories about those radical awakenings.

Buddha had one, of course. And Abraham. And St. Paul. I guess most of the really famous religious figures reputedly had some kind of eureka moment.

I don’t think that most of us do.

So what does that mean? If we are riven with questions, ridden by doubts, does that mean we have to abandon the sense of ourselves as faithful and resort to those sorry descriptors: ‘a-gnostic’ and ‘a-theistic’? They seem like awfully grim words to me since they define by declaring what they are not: outside of knowledge, outside of Godness.

I don’t think so. It just can’t be. Having faith is not a matter of declaring it in words or proving it with logic. Having faith is not a problem to be surmounted the way throwing a gold crown into a bucket of water and measuring the spillage will tell the volume.

Seems to me faith is more about fits and starts and doubts and boredom and confusion and mystery—with the odd, happy insight along the restless way.

Or faith is the lover at the edge of the dance floor. And there you stand, listening together, hearing the opening measures of the next song and wondering how your body can respond to it. Faith gets an awkward or a steady hold on you—or maybe you on it—and you lock eyes the way you lock eyes with a lover. And you dance, with a mysterious pliancy and the half-conscious conviction that you need nothing more certain than your own moving body and the chance to keep on dancing.

—Jo Page

 You can contact Jo Page at jopage@graceniska.org


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