Uncle Walt and the Undying Dancing Man

I’m not feeling Easter-y this year.  I’m tired, generally grumpy, and I seem uninterested in many things that I used to be passionate about.  I’m not feeling depressed as much as exhausted.  It’s been a stressful year full of financial anxiety and it comes after two years  of many major changes in my personal life, divorce among them.  I’m happy to be working out contracts with two congregations, where I will be half-time pastor at each, so my underemployment and financial anxiety is about to lessen considerably, and yet, I find that I’m not excited.  I’m having a Leaves of Grass Easter this year. I seem a bit stuck; a bit lost amid the state of the world and my own personal struggeles and anxieties.  As Unlce Walt put it:

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?


And that leaves me with the faith lesson of Easter: Hope. James Luther Adams’s idea that there are enough divine and human resources to justify ultimate optimism.  My problem lately is with immediate optimism.  Today doesn’t seem as brilliant and sunny and bright as it should be for a day to celebrate resurrection, renewal, new life, and hope.  But that’s not the point. The point of Easter is that tomorrow will be. Maybe not the day after today tomorrow, or even the tomorrow that happens weeks or months from now.  Today is not the last word. Even death isn’t the last word.  I can’t prove it, and objective observation may even suggest its opposite, but I trust it is so. There is something in the core of my being that lives in the hope that the arc of the universe bends towards justice and ultimate optimism is justified.  Sometimes I don’t know what my particular role or part in it all is, but that’s alright.  I am certain that I will continue to have something to contribute and I trust my presence will be needed where I find myself.  Uncle Walt’s answer to the pondered questions of life in the section of Leaves of Grass quoted above is:

That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

This is the Easter lesson, the powerful play that is life goes on, even when it seems that life itself is finished and exhausted.  The Gospel of Mark, the first known written gospel dated to about the year 70 CE  ends with an empty tomb where Jesus was left after being crucified.  There is a young man at the entrance to the tomb who tells Mary and Mary and Salome (note there are no male disciples here) to not be afraid, Jesus is not there, he has been raised. He instructs them to tell Peter and the disciples.  There is nothing about what “raised” means.  The ending of Mark tells us Jesus sent his message to the world through them.  There is no theologizing about what resurrection means.  The resurrection appearance in Mark is a later addition and not part of the original work. There is just the mystery of the empty tomb and a brief statement that his followers went from “east to west” to tell his stories and his story. This is a thoroughly humanistic story about carrying on with a mission. My friend and mentor the Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Wintle puts it like this:


Christ, as the incarnation of God’s love in human flesh, is not just a figure of the past; he is a present reality. This living Christ is found in the Church, the community of those who speak his words, eat at his table, and become his hands, feet, and voice in a needy and often crucified world. Even those who are uncertain about God can recognize the presence of a Christ-like spirit in the people of a redemptive community. There are also those who, in recognizing his presence in our midst, know there is a gestalt of grace by which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts we contribute.

The powerful play goes and not only may we contribute a verse, we are compelled to do so because we are the hands and feet and eyes and ears and voice of the divine in a needy, needing, and crucified world.   Our verse is an important part, because as Rev. Wintle says, “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts we contribute.”  Rev. John Shea (among others) casts the ongoing powerful play that is our life of faith as a dance in his “The Storyteller of God”:


There was only the morning

And the dancing man of the broken tomb.

The story says

He dances still.

That is why

Down to this day

We lean over the beds of our babies

And in the seconds before sleep

Tell the story of the undying dancing man

So the dream of Jesus will carry them to dawn.

We continue to tell the Easter story and continue to tell it to our children, even in our humanistic churches, because the dance goes on and the dream of Jesus (not the dream of Jesus as substitutionary atonement savior, but the dream Jesus had for establishing the Kingdom of God or the Beloved Community) continues to need our participation. There is good work left to do. There always is, and it will find you if you let it.  As with all things God, it may take its own time. Let it. Contribute a verse and keep dancing. Always keep dancing.

Happy Easter.

Resource:  Who Do UU Say that I am? (A presentation on Jesus for UU’s and other religious liberals, progressives and skeptics).


2 thoughts on “Uncle Walt and the Undying Dancing Man

  1. As one who occasionally changed jobs and had new or different assignments, I think there is a certain existential anxiety about changes. When the changes pile up, we stew about them and go over possible and less possible scenarios. My mantra was often, “Whatever happens, I will find some good in it.” I like the title of your sermon on “Loving the Hell Out of the World.” I am working on doing that!

  2. My brother, Tony,
    I’m sad to learn of your divorce and ongoing existential anxiety. I do wish you the best as you work through it. Your friends are behind you in spirit and love.

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