Is joy at the heart of your life in Christ? Many Catholics feel beleaguered as they struggle to stand up for the truth in an increasingly hostile environment. Of course, it is easy to become so busy addressing serious moral and religious issues, that our spirituality is relegated to Sunday Mass and a few Hail Marys rattled off on the run. However, if we are determined to be effective agents of change in society, we must make time to learn how to live in, with, and through Christ. Only when we are filled with the power of Holy Spirit, we will witness effectively with joy, with a dance in our step.
Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire. Catherine of Siena
The average Catholic probably thinks sanctity is for a select few and certainly does not associate play with holiness. Most of us are deaf to God's invitation to join His glorious, cosmic dance. Yet, life in Christ is all about surrender, letting go of control, not labouring in our own puny strength to the point of exhaustion. In fact, once we have been purified and transformed, life in Christ is child’s play, a dance of joy.
Dancing demands a freed person, one who vibrates with the equipoise of all his powers. I praise the dance. O man, learn to dance, or else the angels in heaven will not know what to do with you. Saint Augustine
Listen to the Children
Early in my mothering career, I was determined to raise committed Catholic Christians So I tried too hard. I had the mistaken notion that my kids were blank slates and I personally had to teach them everything. I assumed the role of teacher, the resident expert. However, God had to shake me out of this arrogant stance by humbling me in the face of my children’s innate spirituality and their open relationship with their heavenly Father and Mother Mary.
Children’s spirituality is not simply taught, it rises from within their own spirits as they listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit in their own hearts. Often what came out of our children’s mouths surprised and startled my husband and me. Yet both of us were often aware of the deep spirituality which flowed from our children to us.
For example, I was rocking newborn Mary, one afternoon, while eighteen-month-old Ann sat on her Dad’s knee, slowly waking up from a long nap. The topic of discussion for the last hour had been,”How on earth can we manage to get to church as a family with three little ones, all on different schedules?”
Every choice of Mass or church had some complication or difficulty that seemed insurmountable. It seemed an impossible situation and I resigned myself to simply staying at home on Sundays for the time being.
Suddenly, we were both startled as three-year-old Mark came running into the kitchen. He was still groggy from his nap but yelled loudly, “Jesus says come, Jesus says come!" My husband and I were both shocked as we looked at each other in wide-eyed silence. The deep discussion was over. God took charge of this particular dilemma in our family by using the most open, articulate member of our family, a three-year-old. No wonder Jesus said,
“Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew:18:3
Become Like Little Children
It was the same story 2,000 years ago; serious adults have always tended to dismiss little children. The disciples, who had left all to join Jesus must have been shocked when He answered their question, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" The greatest in the heavenly kingdom was not the dedicated ascetic, the scholar of Holy Scripture or even one His closest followers. Perhaps the disciples thought the Son of God was too important to be interrupted as He preached to massive crowds:
But Jesus called the children to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." Luke 18:16
Focus on God Not Self
We have heard this reading countless times but we still don't understand how Christ's words apply to our own spirituality. There is a tendency amongst Catholics to become so serious about our devotions, prayers, spiritual growth, almsgiving, and good works, we end up focusing more on ourselves than on God. Such solemnity can be rooted in pride. On the other hand, little ones are holy because they simply are who they are called to be by God, without masks. They are delightful because they are not self-conscious.
The Cosmic Dance
God invites us to join in the cosmic dance with humility and the freedom of a child. Thomas Merton reflects on the fact that adults tend to take themselves too seriously when all along God invites us to dance with Him.
What is serious to men is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as "play" is perhaps what he Himself takes most seriously. At any rate, the Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear His call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance.
The mystics often danced as an expression of their spiritual joy. St.Teresa of Avila praised God with her body, not just her mind and soul; she was known to express her joy in the Lord by dancing while playing castanets:
May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
When we allow God's presence to sink into our physical bodies, right to our bones, we will set our souls free to dance. St.Philip Neri, the patron saint of joy, used humour and performed impromptu dances so others would snap out of false solemnity.
Could there be anything more blessed than to imitate on earth the ring-dance of the angels and at dawn to raise our voices in prayer and by hymns and song glorify the rising Creator? St Basil, 4th Century Mystic
Dance engages the whole being, spirit, emotions, and body. So let us relax and join in the cosmic dance with the saints and angels.
Learn to dance, or else the angels in heaven will not know what to do with you. Saint Augustine