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Monday, September 01, 2014

the human touch

The beautiful sanctuary at St. Columba's
On the last night of the Scotland visit, our group was invited to a Ceilidh (pron. 'kayley'), put on by our host pastors and their congregations, and hosted at St. Columba's church in Glenrothes.

From what I understand, a ceilidh is at least a folksy group dance kind of "emceed" by a Scottish band (this is my description, not the technical one). In more traditional ceilidh's, there can be more of an open mic kind of thing, with swapping of tunes, stories, and more. It's pretty much just awesome folk culture. It bears a strong resemblance to American "square dancing" - I would not be surprised to see that square dancing has some roots in the ceilidh!  It is mostly group and partnered dancing, with instructions called out and a standard set of steps/moves (i.e. "swing your partner round and round"). In fact, one of the ceilidh tunes was a medley of American folk tunes and the dance was the "Virginia Reel."

And of course there was traditional Scottish fare served: haggis with neeps and tatties, and a side dish of stovies (you can Google those things); and a generous table-full of desserty goodness.

That's all just background to what was the most meaningful part of the night for me. Members of the various host congregations came out for the ceilidh, and all (except maybe the Americans) were keen to get out on the dance floor. And we quickly warmed up to it as our hosts pulled us out onto the floor. The nature of the ceilidh is not that you spend the evening dancing with the one who brought you, but that over the course of the evening, you dance with pretty much every person in the room. There is hand to hand contact, lots of patience and good cheer, and lots of "one more time!" after learning a dance.

Some familiar faces dancing in the ceilidh.
Photo: Lori Raible
What stood out to me at one point came when a new dance was introduced for groups of threes. Men were invited to find two ladies, or vice-versa. I found one older lady who had been patient enough to teach me a step earlier and invited her and the lady next to her to join me (acknowledging to them that I had no idea what I was doing). In this case, the three of us did stay together for the whole dance, but progressed through pairings with other groups of three until we had danced with everyone... twice; then we did it again!

I remember seeing the delight in the two ladies' eyes when I asked them to dance. I remember that feeling from middle school and being asked to dance. I remember it from being alone later in life, and being included. I have seen it time and again as someone reaches out to another or chooses to welcome and sit with someone alone at church. And I have seen it most poignantly each week when one elderly widow in our congregation finds her way slowly to me after each service to kiss me on the cheek. Her husband of more than 50 years died a few years ago and she has lived alone since then. He was also a pastor, and she has told me how much human contact means to her at this particular stage in her life.

All that flashed through my spirit when the two ladies smiled and came to dance with me and I thought, "What a beautiful picture of the community God desires the church to be!" 

In ways similar to my reflections about bluegrass music community, the ceilidh has much to teach (or at least remind) the church about humanity and community. May we have ears to hear!

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