“The structure of certain Irish dances makes it impossible not to come face to face with everybody else on the floor at some time in the evening. Then it’s harder to maintain a feud after you’ve been dancing together.”
This quote from Fr. Dara Molloy from the Aran Islands is one of the many little nuggets that I picked up from reading Alastair McIntosh’s stimulating book Soil and Soul a number of years ago. The interconnection and interdependency of the Ceili dance and its contribution to community life fascinated me. Last weekend as I experienced a Ceili put on in Fitzroy I became convinced that Fr Dara was on to something culturally significant for our times.
Fitzroy had put on Ceilis some years ago but hadn’t for some time. This year various people made the suggestion and my staff got it together as part of a wider Festival in the Holy Lands, the area our Church is situated. What happened on the night was not planned or expected. What I as a pastor surveyed on the night has had me surmising for days.
For a Church of Fitzroy’s size I suppose my initial impression was the low numbers that attended. However, when the evening got going I realised that big numbers at a Ceili in a hall of our size would have been a disadvantage. There was just about the right numbers to fill the dance floor. It was when that floor was filled that I saw something very profound and indeed quite moving. By no grand design the hall was an eclectic mix of people. The age range was the most notable thing. From 4 year old children to 70-something maturity and everything in between, there they were linking arms, holding hands, shifting partners. There are not many places in a Third Millennium culture where such generational engagement happens. Add to that the variety of visitors and suddenly the pastor realised that this was all that I dream of happening amongst us. There was community building, mission and even the work of reconciliation going on in the most joyous of atmospheres. Everybody needed everybody else and when everybody else engaged with the enthusiasm that was evident then everybody experienced the full potential of the evening.
As an antithesis of our Ceili I heard today about the new concept of the silent disco. At such an event there is no music played by the traditional DJ. You play your own music on your own iPod or iPhone through your own earphones. It is genius. It is so obvious. It is a sign of the times. It is fiercely individualistic. Everyone living to their own soundtrack is a clue to why community is breaking down. A self obsessed world is the inevitable result. We experience such a breakdown in community on a daily basis as everyone lives for their own self indulgence.
Not that this individuality or community breakdown is a new phenomenon. In the first century the apostle Paul was writing to a Church in Philippi and seeking that they would put away their self obsessions and start looking out for others. he wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” He went on to show Jesus as an example of such a life, giving up his rights and comforts for others.
I call it peripheral vision. A great soccer player has peripheral vision. It is this ability to see the team, know where the team are at any given time. It is about looking outside of yourself to see what would be best for others and the whole. Again, as in Ceili dancing, we see that interconnection and interdependence is vital, energising and a fulfilment of the potential. And so in life, whether Church community or the wider social order, living life like it is a Ceili will better humanity much more than dancing to your own soundtrack.