Moved to Dance
If you were not raised Lutheran, even a liberal and open minded Lutheran, you may not understand the ramifications of the title of this entry. Lutherans are reserved, quiet, and unlike the Catholics who are given opportunity for redemption every week, they carry the burden of guilt (for everything) for a very, very long time. Some would say that as birds just know how to build a nest and bees dance to share the location of nectar, Lutherans pass their burden through the mystery of genetic memory, from generation to generation.
The music is slow. So slow, it is nearly playing in reverse. The organ is loud in order that everyone believes no one can hear them trying to sing. Clapping is reserved for special occasions, and in some denominations (you know who you are), not allowed at all. And dancing? A “dance” is an event where the boys are against one wall, girls the other, and the top of your shoes become terribly interesting for the entirety of two hours.
So when a Lutheran finds himself in the front row of a Pentecostal call to worship, it becomes frightening clear that the guitar services, the bell choir, and the twenty years of religious dedication to Garrison Keillor and the Prairie Home Companion did nothing to prepare for an all-out, clapping, singing, shouting, whistling, feet stomping, hand waving, crying, screaming, thank you Jesus, Thank you Jesus, THANK YOU J-E-S-U-S! Pentecostal service.
During the first Sunday, I remained at the back of the church on the Pistis grounds, hiding behind my camera and digital audio recorder, hoping no one would notice that my rhythm was sometimes a bit off.
But last Sunday, for my second visit, I sat by Jacintah and Little John at the very front, turning and running to the back (or out of the church altogether) not an option without a good excuse, which did not come to me as fast as the chairs were occupied.
While the first service was conducted over microphone and amplifier, this last was in the middle of a half day blackout, no power to most, if not all of Nakuru.
For this blackout, I am so very thankful. What unfolded was incredible.
Teacher Steve and students Hussein, Lindah, and Philice stood in front, between the pulpit and congregation standing over white, plastic lawn chairs on a concrete floor, beneath an open rafter and tin metal roof.
Those who prepared to sing smiled at each other, smirked, and hesitated for just a moment, perhaps not used to being unplugged. Then Steve closed his eyes, paused, and began. His voice was light with a subtle jazz singer’s sawtooth edge. He was after the first verse joined by Lindah whose fifteen years was masked by a maturity rich and dynamic. They closed their eyes as Hussein and Philice merged, all four swaying side to side, twisting slightly as their hands came from behind their backs to meet in front. Then one hundred people entered in perfect unison, on the first beat of the second stanza.
I immediately noted an elegant balance of complex rhythms which transcend a traditional 4/4 count and then without gesture nor cue, back again. My lack of formal musical training aside, I clearly recognized a two part harmony and classical call and response as the congregation of students, teachers, parents, and local families joined in.
It is difficult to describe the depth of this experience, for the call to worship was carried by just four people with the congregation in support, in the already musical words of Swahili, for over twenty minutes. That is longer than some entire Lutheran services, let alone the opening hymn.
The verses called for clapping, waving, and of course, dancing. And to the best of my ability, I searched for guidance of the Holy Spirit. But if it entered me at any point, it must have been very heavy for it got stuck in my feet which then refused to move. My hips and shoulders too were burdened by German Lutheran genes which resisted circular motion greater than a calculated 15 degrees.
But as I realized I could do no wrong here (and no one really cared) I let go and moved in complete contradiction to my genetic code and upbringing.
I should clarify that I am not a religious man, church no longer a part of my routine. But if there were an experience outside of a lightning strike or a bush spontaneously catching fire to invoke a craving for religion, it was the drum set which raised the powerful voices to an unbelievable, almighty roar.
A Celebration of Life
The next morning, Glady’s brother David returned from nearly a week of travel to bring closure to the death of their uncle. A process of both mourning and celebration, David explained that a funeral was a time for family to come together, for relatives to see each other again, and when required, for children to be given new homes where they would be cared for.
Gladys nodded her head and added, “When we lose someone we love so very much, we may fall on the ground, and cry, and shout, ‘God! God why have you taken this person from us?’ But then we see we are with family. We see the good things the Lord has given us. And we begin to understand. Then we say, ‘God! You are so good. You have given us so much. We thank you for everything you have given us.” And we celebrate the life of this person and all that we have shared.
I responded, “If a Lutheran saw a person lying on the ground, shaking, crying, and shouting, we’d think they were very ill and take them to the hospital.”
Gladys laughed so hard she nearly fell off the couch. I was dead serious. But when she recovered, she offered this, her voice soft with power, “When we want to receive the Spirit of the Lord, we clap our hands. When the Spirit of the Lord is coming to us, we clap our hands. And when we are filled with the Spirit of the Lord, we clap our hands and we dance. Sometimes we shake, we yell, and we cry to thank the Lord! for he is so good. And yes, we dance.”
She paused, rolling her head side to side, the music and energy of the dance in her even then. She concluded, “My brother, we do not judge someone for the how the spirit moves them for everyone is moved by the Spirit of the Lord in a different way.”
And was in that moment that a Lutheran found comfort in a Pentecostal land.