A New Earth: Reflections on Isaiah 65: 17-20 and Psalm 150

A New Earth: Reflections on Isaiah 65: 17-20 and Psalm 150 May 3, 2016

IMG_4222September 2, 2015 was Acoma Pueblo Feast Day. I doubt many know of this event much outside of a 75-mile radius around the pueblo, sitting atop a 500 foot butte, west of Albuquerque, not many miles off of busy I-40. A community has existed on this striking spot since at least the 11th century. It was probably inhabited when the battle of Hastings was fought in what is now England in 1066CE. It bills itself as the oldest continuously inhabited place in the continental US (though I have heard this claim made for other sites—see the Taos Pueblo, NM as an example). Whoever has bragging rights to the moniker of “oldest,” what I witnessed yesterday was a spectacle far more impressive than just an ancient throwback to a forgotten time.

I saw dancing, dancing that lasted all day (I succumbed to the heat after about 3 hours). But I knew, as I made my way down the steep mesa (by shuttle, I admit, rather than by shank’s mare) back toward the air conditioned car that had brought me there, that the dancing was ongoing and would only end with the setting of the sun. The dancers were old men and women, middle-aged men and women, very young boys and girls, all arrayed in fascinating costumes, pine tree saplings held onto arms by colorful bracelets, square cardboard head pieces for women, with elaborate designs, tails of many actual animals for the men, young and old. Many danced, over and over with short breaks in between, an hour or so for lunch. But the drums soon called them back to the dusty plaza with their determined and serious faces, where hundreds of tourists, white, native, Latino, and African-American sat in rapt attention, searching for welcome shade, wiping the sweat from brows of many hues.

I admit that as the first dance began at 10:00AM, I settled in on my comfortable camp chair, and watched the slow parade, the simple rhythmic steps, the sounding of the drums, the singing of the men in a language I did not understand (a form of Acoma dialect, I was told), anticipating the mystery that called forth …something. Something I was not a part of and never would be, I thought. Dance after dance ensued, slightly different in beat, slightly different in steps, slightly different in song and word, though I could barely discern that there were in fact differences at all. The sun rose higher in the sky, and shade was reduced to increasingly narrow bands. I was now mainly in the sun, and my discomfort level rose with that sun.

IMG_4224Then a miracle. My wife, Diana, engaged a woman in dialogue about the meaning of what was happening. I heard nothing of the conversation, being intent on survival in the heat. Suddenly, Diana announced to us, me and our two friends, that we had been invited to lunch by a resident of the pueblo. Georgia had prepared a lavish buffet of tamales (native style, she said), barbequed beef, roast chicken, many salads and fruit, topped off with banana pudding, chocolate cake, washed down with fruit punch, iced tea, or water. She asked for no money, but introduced us to many of her family as they moved in and out of the simple adobe house. All the food was delicious, but what was more delicious was what Georgia said about this annual feast day. “We dance,” she said, “for all people, for all animals, for all the earth, for all of you, too.” This native woman, so generous to us complete strangers, married, we discovered to a Latino state senator, had set my mind spinning, beyond the heat, beyond tamales, beyond iced tea.

That dancing, those rhythms, those eager participants, were an announcement of a different world than I regularly inhabit. They danced to proclaim that all were connected, that peace is the reality of things, that community was real, as little as I was able to see it in my own usual world. Then my spinning brain was reminded of the Christian year, that cycle of days that the church has announced for many centuries. In that year, New Year’s Day is hardly Jan 1, but the first Sunday of Advent. The reenactment of hope is not July 4, but December 25 and Easter Day, whichever date it happens to fill in a given year. The moving Christian calendar says plainly that the expectations of the calendars of the world, sold in stores and read on electronic devices, are in the end not the ones that finally count. Like the Acoma dancers, there is a deeper, truer reality in our world, a place of hope and peace that bubbles up to the surface regularly and mysteriously. The dance at Acoma and the calendar observed by us Christians proclaim that God, the divine reality, holds the world, not capitalism or socialism, not Republicans or Democrats, not Nike or IBM or Microsoft. I will never forget my day at Acoma, and I will know that even though I am little likely to be there next year, or the year after, when they dance, they will be dancing anyway for themselves, for me, for the whole world, as they have danced for 10 centuries and more. And I will be very glad.

The poet of Psalm 150 demands that each of us who claim the name of God must praise that God with every means at our disposal: trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, strings, pipe, cymbals, and, most of all dance. The poet does not suggest we praise or imply we praise; the poet demands that we praise. All the verbs of the song are imperative. Dance for God, commands the poet, and the people of Acoma dance.

The result? A new heaven and a new earth, promises Isaiah 65, a place of hope and joy, a place where old are never as old as they can be, where young do not die a second before their allotted days, where men and women live together without fear, without tears. In a second iteration of this fabulous vision in John’s mysterious Revelation in the New Testament, the revelator describes a new heaven and new earth, this time envisioned as “the holy city of Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:2). This is no vision confined to the end of time, as so many have misheard what John is saying. This “coming down” is in Greek a continuous present tense, meaning that the Holy City, the new heaven and earth, are “always” coming down. Even now God’s new city is coming down for those whose eyes are open enough to see.

That is finally what the Acoma dancers said to me. Because they dance for themselves, for the earth, for all of us, their moving steps and chanted songs proclaim God’s new heaven and earth, ever available to those who can see and grasp God’s continuous gift of the new. In early September, 2016, they will dance again, and God’s presence will be made known. And I will be very glad.

 

 

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