Monday, December 12, 2016

altagracía

There was a boy, dressed in an Aztec dancing costume, dancing before the altar. Dancing with drumbeats and various shaking rhythms, dancing a la the video Deandra showed us of David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant. In fact, the dance moves were strikingly similar. As he danced before the altar, I thought of David. And, as he made his way to the front of the Basilica, the boy bowed before the altar. A simple reverencing towards the sacred. But his bow, in the midst of his dance, was full of grace.

We cold, stiff Midwesterners watched as they danced. The stinger of our hive instinct, that this dance is supposed to incite, apparently, plucked from our bodies through centuries of Puritan ancestors, good solid Protestant religion, and the gnostic fumes of American spirituality.

I thought that my Latin American students, who love the feast of Our Lady of Altagracía, and who appreciate any mass with a little more zest and movement than the average, would love this. This dance felt warm, alive, like it had just stepped out of a land soaked in sun. It was certainly born far from the cold winds of the Indiana plains.

I loved this dance, because it reminded me of many joyful liturgical celebrations with my students. It reminded me of Masses where I was the guest, welcomed into their culture. Where I was caught up in the hot joy, shedding my cold Midwestern skin.

-El Señor esté con ustedes.
-Y con tu espiritu.

As the words rolled off my lips before I knew what I was saying, my muscle memory had already jolted me back to daily mass with my abuelitas. I remembered what it was like to be a guest there, too. And there I was welcomed into a tradition not my own, and found my place in it, and it has found a place in my body, my memory, my language.

I remember it felt warmer and homier than all these stiff-backed sons of German immigrants watching the Aztec dance.

I, too, am a stiff-backed son of German immigrants. And I was as unsure and awkward as the rest of them.

But then the boy bowed before the altar. And I was sure. That was gesture I understood. A simple reverencing towards the sacred. His bow, in the midst of his dance, was full of grace.

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