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Dancers enjoy varying degrees of intimacy and exhilaration that depend upon their relationship.

But another dancer has captivated my imagination, that found in the Medieval Advent Carol, Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing-Day. The anonymous poet has Jesus, as dancer, anticipating his incarnation, within my true love—humankind. The eleven quatrains barely hold his desire.

 Tomorrow shall be my dancing day:
I would my true love did so

To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance

Then, He narrates the legend of my play, in which he invites us to dance with His experiences of baptism, the desert, His conflicts with Jewish authorities, His passion, and death—as we encounter similar suffering in this existence. He clearly wants company, and each brush with the untoward deepens intimacy, together with joy and focus.

There does follow resurrection and ascension:

Then up to heaven I did ascend,
Where now I dwell in sure substance
On the right hand of God, that man
May come unto the general dance

We have William B. Sandys (1792–1874), a collector of antiquities, to thank for the discovery of this carol and its publication in Christmas Carols: Ancient and Modern (1832). From his study of Tomorrow… he surmises its integration within the Medieval mystery play of the Incarnation, with the actor singing the role of Jesus, and the peasants standing along the roadside, singing the refrain.

Up to my true love and the dance.

Such dancing enlarges hearts, flourishes belief, and serves the needs of others.

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus,
Steal away, steal away home,
I ain’t got long to stay here.

So opens the Negro spiritual sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers from Nashville’s Fisk University. Within its plaintive melody glints the souls of the oppressed.

The spiritual was first heard around 1862, sung by the enslaved Wallace Willis, sent by his Choctaw freedman owner to work at Oklahoma’s Spencer Academy, a boarding school for the forced assimilation of Choctaw boys. The listener was the school’s superintendent, the Presbyterian minister Alexander Reid, also a trained musician. He perceived this spiritual and others “Uncle Wallace” had composed as far superior to the repertoire that the Fisk Jubilee Singers were taking on tour at that time, and he later sent them copies. Acclaim met their performances in this country and abroad.

Whatever the origins of Steal Away, its lyrics speak of huge yearning for deliverance from oppression, only found in the saving power of Jesus.  

Whether the spiritual had been previously used by enslaved blacks as a code for escape or for secret meetings, whether remembered by “Uncle Wallace” from his experiences confined to his Mississippi plantation, I was unable to discover.

Still the heart-cry echoes of the afflicted around the world:

My Lord, He calls me
He calls me by the thunder
The trumpet sounds within-a my soul
I ain’t got long to stay here

Barbs of disease, desertion, divorce, and death have always ripped the fabric of our humanness like a moth-eaten horse blanket tossed into an ash pit: solitary, smelly, and useless. Bereft of initiative and energy, we wallow in grief’s madness.

Stories from our long-ago shadowy past abound with versions of this madness, including its critical separation from our Source. Whichever story we draw from, our psyches sting and clamor for deliverance. The uproar, now global, continues.

Despite protective measures, Zoom, and other approaches for keeping together, disease and death still stalk us: their numbers featured in news outlets, together with wrangling over shortages of the vaccine. Desertion and divorce also fuel the statistics. Were it not for prayer, the critical thread to our Source, grief would totally engorge us in despair and more loss of life.

Jesus reminds us, Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted: the paradox of grief stitched into Baptismal garments of Kingdom living. It continues teaching me to let go of the fabric of my life as I’ve experienced it, over eighty-five years. At some future time, my terminal illness will cut its thread and I’ll be home. A hospice patient, I’m not eligible for the vaccine.

I’ve heard the thread is silver.

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