I have recently taken up dancing lessons, which is not anything I haven’t tried before. I danced for many years: in my childhood and early teens, I did ballet, up until I got pointe shoes and decided I’d gone as far as I wanted to go with it. In college, I regularly went swing dancing, often going early for the hour lesson beforehand. The highlight of my trip to Argentina in 2008 was the tango lessons. The highlight of many an evening out on various and sundry continents in the last decade has been the dancing, where I coiled my vertebrae with the music, any music, all music, ignoring fatigue and sidelong glances in favor of the union I felt with the pulsing air.
But all of this has been explicitly solo dancing. Even with the partner dancing I’ve done, the partners were friends or strangers, and I learned briefly from them or in spite of them; never with them. In ballet, my classmates went through the same exercises I did, but there was no sense that my classmates were an extension of myself, that we two made a whole.
And now I’m attending dancing lessons as half of a larger whole, and it feels very different. I had attempted it briefly once, but the male in that equation couldn’t hear the beat, not at all, not even a little bit, and so his lead was off-kilter, jarring, a slap in the face of the swelling music. No amount of dance classes could connect the music to his body, and so he operated removed from it and removed, therefore, from my own rhythm, from the years I had spent honing my ability to pulse with larger meaning.
But Collin hears the rhythm, and although in some cases he concentrates harder to learn the steps than I do — I already know many of them — when he takes my hands, faces me, and we practice a complex move until it flows naturally from one to the other, it feels how dancing was intended. It feels like we are playing at something bigger, acting out something bigger, deeper, his eyes on my eyes, our movements matched but asymmetrical. He is strong enough that my strength here is not a terror or a curse to him. His own talent can enfold itself around mine, can direct without losing both of us.
Later, I remark upon how ritualistic dancing with him feels, and he says yes, we play at god and goddess, at what has existed since the earth began. And I remember the words of C.S. Lewis: “It is here no impoverishment but an enrichment to be aware that forces older and less personal than we work through us. In us all the masculinity and femininity of the world, all that is assailant and responsive, are momentarily focused. The man does play the Sky-Father and the woman the Earth-Mother… what cannot lawfully be yielded or claimed can be lawfully enacted. Outside this ritual or drama he and she are two immortal souls, two free-born adults, two citizens.”
I have always wondered why C.S. Lewis, an overtly Christian author, chose to compare these male-female roles with pagan ones rather than Christian ones. And suddenly, it came to me: because despite all the Christian talk of marriage being a picture of Christ and the church, it seems innately wrong to think of male and female roles as being mirror images of Christ and the church. To say so would mean that what is male is divine, and what is female is sinful — saved only by the divine, which is male. Christ and the Church means Christ and the guttersnipe. She’s a rescued guttersnipe, and she’s been given a fresh bath, but she still has the origins of a guttersnipe.
It is therefore quite apparent why certain Christians are so hung up on male protection and female modesty and heavy-handed gender roles. They have taken the marriage imagery of Christ and the Church quite literally, and in so doing they have denied women’s moral strength, women’s free-born adulthood, women’s immortality, women’s divinity. Even typing “women’s divinity” makes me feel a bit strange, because all my life I have heard that God is male, that God is masculine; that to claim divinity for the feminine is to evoke the pagan gods, to depart from orthodoxy. And yet even in the Old Testament, there is rich imagery of God having female characteristics. God is said to have borne and birthed Israel, to be like a protective mother bear or eagle, to comfort like a mother. One of the many names given to God is El Shaddai, “the breasted one.” I actually remember hearing this in church, and it was so strange that I thought the pastor must have been mistaken — because if God is male, how could he have breasts?
But it does not seem like a mistake now. All that is female plays out in a woman’s strength, in her grace, in the divinity of her life-giving. All that is male plays out in accord with it, and his lead in their pairing comes less from him than from the music, from the air, from the pulse of greater life.