Steve's Dance

Susan Stiles Maneck

Steve liked to dance.

When he was a toddler our mother wrote that Steve liked to dance anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

When we were teenagers my brother and I used to run the concession stand at the Youth Center every Saturday night when the bands would play. He was in charge of the concession stand, but I always seemed to end up running it because . . .

Steve liked to dance.

Even when he became too sick to work or manage many of his personal affairs, Steve still found the energy to get down to the dance clubs, something not everyone understood, least of all his parents.

But it always seemed to me that Steve's love of dancing reflected his sometimes desperate attempt to embrace and later to cling to life. Life had not always been happy for Steve. He lost three lovers to the same dreadful disease that would eventually claim his own life and a fourth lover committed suicide. I remember that as Steve struggled with the threat of meaninglessness which suicide thrusts on us all, he said to me, "Life is good, life is good. I'm going to keep dancing."

But there came a day when Steve could no longer dance. First the feet became too badly infected, then the bones would no longer bear him up. I believe then he began another sort of dance, where the Lord of Dance alone would take the lead.

There is a passage in John's Gospel where Jesus speaks to Peter and He says: "When you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go." (John 21:18)

The writer of John's Gospel believed this was a prophecy foretelling Peter's martyrdom but it strikes me that this is a very apt description of what happens to most of us before we die. AIDS is a terrible disease because it inflicts on the young the fate usually reserved for the very old, that of seeing pieces our lives slip away bit by bit, of becoming so utterly helpless that we cannot even dress ourselves, until finally we are taken where we do not want to go. This is the dance where Another must lead. There is a song I used to sing in the church youth choir as a teenager. Perhaps some of you know it, it is in the hymnal.


"Dance, dance wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance said He
And I'll lead you all wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the Dance said He"

(No ones asked me to sing in a choir since I left the church, perhaps evidence that Christians *are* more charitable than others.)

Funny thing about this song is that Jesus is never called the Lord of the Dance in the Bible. But in Hinduism there is a member of the Trinity that bears that title. It is Shiva, the androgenous, Shiva the God of Procreation, Shiva the God of Destruction, Shiva whose Cosmic Dance annihilates the world that something new may be brought into being. If Jesus is what the medieval theologians called the Deus Revelatus, the Revealed God, Shiva is the Deus Absconditus, the Hidden God, God in His unknowable Essence, the God who allows or even seems to cause unbearable suffering, who threatens us with our own annihilation, whose activity seems so incomprehensible to us.

Yet the Revealed God and Hidden God are not ultimately separate deities. The One is embedded in the Other and we are told that the only way to know the Latter is through the Former, whatever Name we give Him. Paul talked about seeing through a mirror dimly. We can't know fully why God allows so much suffering, but we know from what God has revealed of Himself, that He suffers with and for us. And even in that annihilation lies the mystery of God's abiding.

The Qur'an says "All things perish and yet abides the Face of God." The perishing, the annihilation, *fana* in Arabic and yet abides *baqa* the Face of God, the Deus Revelatus, God revealed to us. The goal of all Islamic mysticism is to annihilate the self in order to abide in God.

Only an hour before my brother's death, back in Mississippi I went to the home of a Persian Baha'i gentleman and we said prayers together. He recited a prayer in Arabic for my brother which we Baha'is call the Long Healing Prayer. The prayer is mostly an invocation which consists of a litany of God's attributes, which increasingly become apparently contradictory the prayer proceeds. He is addressed as the Ravager, then again as the Most Clement One, As the Manifest, yet Hidden, the Unseen, yet Renowned, as the One Who slayest the Lovers, and the God of Grace to the wicked. But there is a refrain which runs throughout the entire prayer. In Arabic it goes thusly:

Anta kafi
Anta safi
Anta baqi
Ya baqi'a
Thou the Sufficing
Thou the Healing
Thou the Abiding
O Thou Abiding One

It strikes me that it is only in this process of our annihilation that we become fully open to the God who would abide with us. And perhaps that is why the process of dying so often involves the utter helplessness of submitting to the lead of Another in the dance that will take us where we do not wish to go.