by Andrew Gale
Her steps were light and effortless, as if gravity somehow had no control on her body as it does on the average person. Her hands lifted and bowed as the music swelled and calmed. It was pure grace. I am thankful that our church welcomes people to worship in many different forms. Being close to a university we have string quartets and choirs join us on a regular basis. Among all these forms of worship, one of the most beautiful moments is when a young lady from our church dances. She is in college and studying dance. Her moves seem to make the words of the music come alive. It may be a song we have sung a dozen times in church, but the words somehow seem different as they are expressed in movement. My daughter, Eleanor, is four and she loves it when dance is a part of the service. She sits, mesmerized. She can’t sit still most others times; not even food keeps her this entranced. But when there is a dance, Eleanor is motionless. Her eyes, unwavering.
Watching dancing certainly brings my daughter joy, but so does actually dancing.
One of the great things about our church is that it was constructed with old church architecture. For instance, it has transepts. For those unfamiliar with this term, if you were to look down on our sanctuary from above it would be in the shape of a cross (entering from the bottom of the cross with the platform at the top). On either side, toward the front of the sanctuary, is a transept. These make the crossbar of the cross-shaped room. Transepts are especially wonderful for families and we tend to congregate there with other families with young children. As a family the transept allows us to feel like we are part of the service (not relegated to the back row or hushing our kids just outside the sanctuary doors). But we are also not in the direct eye line of everyone in the sanctuary (as sitting up front often leaves you). And though I don’t think people should care if there is a little extra noise on a Sunday morning, I also realize that my daughter’s cuteness can be distracting. But in the safety of the transept Eleanor can dance and move and squirm.
And so she dances. She loves to imitate the moves she sees from the dancers on stage, swirling and twirling, arms floating like they were tied to strings on the ceiling. Spinning in one direction and quickly turning the other way. Looking up to the sky and then bowing her head quietly. Kicking her leg out in an uncontrolled fashion. She truly feels the movement of the music and her body expresses each note. And, at least in the safety of the transept, she is free.
At some point in time we lose the ability to live free of inhibition and we begin to care deeply about what others think.
Or maybe it’s simply that up until a certain age we don’t realize that others would even take the time to think about us. Like many toddlers, Eleanor has an uncanny way of saying hilarious things. Sometimes it is the way she says a word, like butter-thigh instead of butterfly. One day, while watching a morning TV show, the woman on the screen talked about being an astronomer and encouraged kids that they can grow up and be whatever they want. The astronomer ended by saying, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Eleanor responded without a breath, “A unicorn!” Other times it’s the way she puts a phrase together. This morning she couldn’t come up with the word graham cracker. She knew it wasn’t just a cracker, those aren’t sweet, but the modifier wasn’t presenting itself to her. A few nights ago she experienced the wonder of fire-roasted marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers, a treat we call s’mores. So, without a thought, she asked for a “marshmallow cracker.” Her brain works on overdrive to manipulate words and phrases and create sentences and it is an impressive sight to watch. It is often as funny as it is cute. Though we try not to make it obvious that we think what she says is funny, at times it is nearly impossible.
Recently, while having conversation at dinner, Eleanor’s wheels started turning. She asked a question of my wife and me that struck us as funny. We tried to be inconspicuous, but this time Eleanor’s face went down. “Oh,” she said, realizing our laughter was in response to her question. Though she may not have understood why what she said was funny, she clearly understood our reaction. I quickly explained why what she said struck us as funny and that we were so happy she asks questions. She was content with the explanation, but it was clear that she understood what had happened.
One of the challenges I can already tell will be a struggle for me as a father is the desire to protect my child from any pain. I wish there were transepts throughout her life that would allow her to live just outside of the purview of others so she didn’t have to care about what others thought. A place where she could dance through life without a care. But, of course, that’s not feasible, nor is it healthy. The views of others, even when they are difficult for us to accept, strengthen us. Even so, I do want to defend her ability to express her faith. Though many areas of her life will be challenged by derisive chuckles or eye-roll glances, I want to protect her faith from being one of those areas for as long as possible. I want her to grow up in a place that allows her the space and freedom to express her child-like faith in a truly child-like way for as long as those days will last. I want to be challenged by her carefree spirit to realize that God calls us to a relationship, not to the dogma and doctrine with which I can become inundated. I want her to enjoy the spins and twirls, to feel the air whiz by her face, to act as if her arms are weightless, and to experience joy without inhibition.
God, may our lives reflect a love for you that knows no bounds, that is lifted from the confines of our rigid faith to experience the graceful movements in which you wish us to dance.
Andrew and his wife Autumn and daughter Eleanor reside in Anderson, Indiana where Andrew works for Global Strategy, a Christian global nonprofit organization. He is an ordained minister in the Church of God (Anderson, IN) and when he is not hanging out with his family he can be spotted clutching a cup of coffee while working on his doctoral dissertation.