My son loves to dance. As soon as Zachary learned to walk, he began to dance. He would spin, hop, and slap his feet on our hardwood floor. Beethoven or the Beatles, he’s not picky about the music. Now almost seven, with his arms in the air, he looks like a cross between a Pentecostal Revival preacher and a Native American shaman. His air of abandon is palpable.
This past autumn brought a remarkable gift to our island, here in the Pacific Northwest; an October with almost no rainfall, October weather that not one old-time Island resident could recall. It meant pleasant daytime temperatures; dry leaves crackling under foot and cool clear evenings. Our deciduous trees do not have the vivid and oft-photographed-famous autumn colors of the sugar maples or oaks of the east coast. But we do have Big Leaf maples. Big Leaf maple is the actual name; and it fits, as a single leaf can span fourteen inches. Each leaf looks as if it has been manufactured for affect; enlarged for classroom demonstration or to accommodate middle-aged eyesight. In autumn color, they stay true to their northwest sensibility and offer, shall we say, an understated palate ranging from Dijon mustard to a weathered barn red.
Zachary created his own big leaf dance. With a maple leaf in each hand, each looking like a giant fan, he gallops, skips and hops in a circle, incanting. After a few minutes, he interrupts his dance to remind us that this is not a dance to be performed solitaire. He begins his instructions, “Okay everyone, this is the leaf dance, get your leaves ready. This is how you do it.”
For Zachary, leaf dances are a communal event, and he insists that his mother and father join him. I can tell you that this is not a dance for anyone squeamish about public opinion. Any onlooker would have wondered, snickered and in all likelihood called for a sobriety test. Which may be appropriate. I know now that leaf dancing can be intoxicating.
I’ve been asked–often–what I believe. Or for my “doctrinal statement.” This is an occupational hazard for anyone who cavorts with fervent religious folk, those who find serenity in doctrinal purity. Catch phrases become de facto passwords into the fold of many religious organizations and communities.
Here’s the odd part. I have never once been asked about what nourishes my soul.
Or, to make a list of what moves me.
Or for stories about what warms my blood, sends gooseflesh up my arms or makes me want to dance, laugh and cry all at the same time.
I’ve been asked about what is appropriate, but not about what is important.
We teach children how to measure
and how to weigh.
We fail to teach them how to revere,
how to sense wonder and awe.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel
(Note: The story about Zach first appeared in my book Sacred Necessities in 2004).