All Souls, All Saints and Zumba

I’ve continued thinking about last week’s feasts of all saints and souls, once clearly delineated between the officially canonized, and others who’ve died. Now I’m not so sure about that hard, fast distinction. I’d prefer to think of heaven as those singing slightly off-key belting out tunes with Maria Callas, Mozart conducting the orchestra. Or my dad, who specialized in the Russian novel, having earnest discussions with Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky about their themes. Dualistic thinking is bad enough in this life; let’s not project it onto the next. The Communion of Saints is a broadly inclusive concept referring to all people in this life and eternity. As Thomas Merton put it in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander: “the gate of heaven is everywhere.”

In this time and space, I sometimes wonder if Zumba class is a gate or a preview. All these women, with various shapes, ethnicities, ages and sizes are dancing and whooping together: from Asia, Afghanistan, Africa and all over the US. Muslim women shed their burkas in the dressing room, and enjoy what may be a rare chance to exercise freely. Our Ukrainian teacher, on their Independence Day, wears her distinctive blue and yellow t-shirt, socks and cap, weeping as she plays their national anthem. We may not all know each other’s names, but we energize each other, commiserate during the strenuous numbers, and would in a minute help anyone who fell or flagged.

It’s an improbable chorus line, usually moving right or left together, but no guarantees whether we’ll stick out an arm or a foot when cued. Having been trained too long in perfectionism (trudging grimly, carrying the whole burden), I like the playful, shared sloppiness of it. As my favorite author Richard Rohr points out, when we don’t realize we’re part of a larger whole, we take our small part too seriously. It’s not about figuring it out alone, or doing it perfectly by myself. All I gotta do is participate in God’s life.

What a relief! This may be a long stretch from Zumba, but I’m greatly comforted by the idea that “My holiness is, first of all—and really only—God’s, and that’s why it is certain and secure. It is a participation…not an achievement or performance.” (A Spring Within Us, pp. 289-90.) I guess this is why I value teachers in the company of saints (e.g., all of us) who are positive and uplifting, not ranting and finger-pointing. After hearing too many condemning sermons, I’ll take my spot with the awkward Rockettes, dancing, elevating their heart rates, laughing at mistakes and doing it again next week.  

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