The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic podcast episode.
To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 140: The Dance
Hello friends. I had a day off from teaching music class while the local children’s museum did their fall clean-up, so I decided to go to a daily mass at a local Catholic college and then treat myself to breakfast at the counter at one of my favorite spots. Now, sitting alone, either at a mass or in a restaurant, is a unique experience, and it’s something I’ve really only been comfortable with in the last ten years or so. In that time, I have grown to really like my own company actually, and sitting alone also provides an opportunity to observe the world from a particular point of view. You get a rare window into the people, elements, and processes of a place and into the rhythms of how a thing gets done – the words and actions and tools that make an experience happen.
The goals of the Church and a restaurant when they offer either mass or a meal are, of course, different. The Mass is a holy memorial celebration where we worship God and where Jesus is truly present – you don’t get that at a restaurant – but there is overlap in the ways in which mass or a meal are presented. Both a mass and a meal center around the table and service, both are places where a community gathers, and both are places where the words, gestures and actions that are used are intentional, timely and meaningful. When a mass or a meal experience is really good, people will leave more joyful and fuller than when they entered, and maybe they’ll even be inspired, and they’re likely to tell other people about it, too.
The thing that really stood out to me this week, though, is how the experience in both church and at the restaurant were really a kind of a dance.
If you listened to episode 118 which was called, “What I Learned This Lent: An Owl’s Surprising Appearance,” then you will know that every time I see an owl these days, I think of it as an invitation from God to a sort of dance. I’ll link that episode in the show notes for you if you missed that one, but this has been a significant mind shift for me to see the experience of my life as a kind of dance with God. It has made my best moments even more fun, and it has given real consolation to the hard ones as well, but seeing owls in unexpected places has also helped me to see the patterns of dance in places where I did not see it before.
If you were born and raised Catholic like me, you are well acquainted with the ‘dance’ of mass: the standing, kneeling, sitting, the hand gestures as we bless ourselves, the predictable rhythms of the songs, the readings, the psalm, the homily, the passing of the peace, the prayers, how the people flow up to and then back from communion. It’s all kind of beautiful when you think about it. When I was in Rome this past spring, it was amazing to see how easily we could pick up on those rhythms and participate in the dance even while the mass was offered in a language we did not speak.
At breakfast this week at the counter, there were similarly predictable rhythms – between the staff who were behind the bar, sharing a tight space and marking their steps, each movement practiced and graceful and efficient with a collective goal of getting the job done. Refilling the water and the coffee, checking in with the customers, getting everything from where it was to where it needed to be in the shortest time possible.
Both at mass and at breakfast, there was evident preparation which was easy to observe. From my counter seat, I could see all of the fresh-squeezed juices in their containers, the various glassware lined up on shelves which are each designed for specific beverages, the citrus and garnishes that were prepped and ready in mason jars on the bar, the house-made syrups for cocktails ready in their squeeze bottles, the jam of the day set to be served over and over in their little, tiny containers. On that day, it was a strawberry-and-blueberry combination, a perfect house-made concoction which I got with my sourdough toast, but which I also happily stirred through my yogurt as well. I am a sucker for a house-made condiment like a jam or a hot sauce or an aioli. These take so much time and thought to make, which I always appreciate, and they are given out freely, just like grace. When you receive something amazing, especially for free, you tend to talk about it with others, to spread the word, person-to-person, and this is the way that all good things are shared: jam, the Gospel, grace, you know, all the best things.
At a church, the preparation for a daily mass is less obvious but very much present. In the cycles of the readings that are chosen, in the formation of the priest and the lector and the eucharistic and music ministers, in the homily and the music that were (hopefully) prepared and practiced, in the setting of the altar with its linens and vessels, each serving a specific purpose, and of course, in the bread and the wine.
And, of course, the dance is most evident in the people who participate in each place, in those who serve and in those who receive. In a successful church or restaurant experience, every person in attendance will play both roles: each one both serving and receiving, and if you’re not sure that’s true, just think about what it looks and feels like when a rude customer disrupts the flow of service in a restaurant, or when a clergy member abuses the pulpit with a political or even meanspirited homily. I have been witness to this and maybe you have too. When this happens, everyone in attendance can sort of feel the energy drain from the room, it’s like the invisible but very real dancing just… grinds to a halt.
The dance requires not only participation, but also the kindness and generosity of spirit of every person gathered there. You notice when one customer is sour, or when a server is off. That morning at breakfast, we had a nice flow going between five or so customers at the counter – we were very chatty, and the four servers who moved in and out behind the bar, but then a woman arrived who just kind of brought a weird energy with her. She barked out her order, she never said please, she abruptly changed her seat, and she was pretty demanding and impatient, and through all of it, you could feel the shared experience of our very pleasant dance kind of slowing down. You could also feel us trying to make up the difference with more pleases, more thank yous, more kindness and good tips, but in a moment like that you really see the impact of one person on the whole, and you see clearly how we really are all connected, all parts of one Body some might say. Most of us want to be a part of the dance – let’s face it, dancing is fun, but when it’s the host or the server who is unapologetically sour or brusque or even rude, the difference is that the people don’t tend to return. You see this in restaurants, and unfortunately, we’ve seen that in too many American Catholic churches, too.
In a well-executed dance, everyone knows their role – giving and receiving energy and grace. Preparations are made. Proven tools are selected and used by people who are working together to reach a goal. In a well-executed dance, there’s a shared knowledge that everyone in the room is a part of it, and that it’s good, and that each one will be fed in the way that they need. In a well-executed dance, the servers will be cared for as well as the customers in a kind of a circle. Each one will leave that place full and invested, and they will want to return again and maybe bring someone else with them next time, too.
And I wonder, can we think about our faith communities in this way? Can we think of any community that we’re a part of in this way? These days, it can be too easy to enter into an environment solely seeking to have our own needs met and totally forget that we each have a part to play. If you’ve been to an exceptionally joyful mass or a wonderful restaurant experience, then you know the difference between dancing and…not dancing. I guess it’s my hope that with some intention, we could identify our connection with each other, see our shared humanity, be the Body of Christ that we actually are, and bring our best selves to use the short time we’re given to break bread with each other and enter into the dance that God has been calling us to all along. Friend, what do you think?
Thanks so much for being with me today. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites, at Substack at kerrycampbellwrites.substack.com, or on my website at kerrycampbell.org. Thanks so much for rating, reviewing, subscribing and most importantly, sharing this podcast with a friend. That really makes a difference in growing our community, so thanks. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a couple of ways for you to do that in the show notes, along with some resources related to today’s episode, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, you’re holding out your hand and you are inviting us to dance. Help us to see and accept your invitation, and God, let your Church be a place in which your Spirit moves freely in and among us to join us together in the dance you planned from the beginning.
In the name of Jesus and wrapped in the mantle of our mother, Mary, we pray, amen.
Thanks so much for listening today, friend. I’ll see you next time.
This week I’ll compare the experience of a mass to a meal at a restaurant, and I’ll ask us all to consider the part we play in making any communal event into a dance. I hope it’s a blessing to you.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram, at my website, or on Substack. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s a way to do just that on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow.
Thanks as always to my friend, Peter Vaughan-Vail, for providing the beautiful harp music you hear in this and every episode.
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Song: I Hope You’ll Dance, by Beverly Mahood
2. What I Learned This Lent: An Owl’s Surprising Appearance, Raised Catholic episode 118
3. Song: Lord of the Dance, by The Irish Tenors
4. Scripture: Zephaniah 3:17
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.
5. Journal questions:
What small thing can I do today to make an everyday interaction into a dance?
Where is God asking me to be lighter and more playful? Where is He inviting me to dance?
What did I notice today about how people were serving me? How can I return an act of service to someone else?