Monday, March 29, 2010

Dancing with the devil on your back

Friday marked the first day of Holy Week here in Puerto Cabezas. It's called Viernes de Dolores, or Friday of Pains. As far as I an tell, it's like a pre-party to the crucifixion in the Catholic Church. In the rich bacchanal culture of Puerto, it marks the beginning of a week long celebration on a strip of the beach called La Bocana, which Lee alleges means “estuary.” As co-religion teacher at two catholic schools, I of course dutifully took my place with my dance group in the mini- carnival that marked the beginning of the week's festivities.

We started with a parade around the major streets of the city with all seven dance groups riding in pickup trucks. My group got to ride in front on the fire truck, which was awesome but a bit noisy. We all disembarked at the BICU, a lo cal university, and danced in the street from the BICU down to the stage on the beachfront, where we all performed. Dancing Palo de Mayo around the bend in the road and seeing the ocean in front of us and all the people waiting and all the cabanas that had been built for the festivities has to be among the more amazing experiences I have had. For second, I thought is this really my life? For serious? I think I've been caught in some kind of wormhole that spit me out halfway around the world. Then I realized I had, and that wormhole was called Cap Corps.

The celebration was a beautiful way to let out the frustration that had been building up in me all week. I usually split the religion class with Rumalda, the religion teacher at Maureen Courtney. With Semana Santa approaching, however, her normal inclination towards the didactic swelled into a feverish pitch that lasted for the entire class. With the celebrations in the Bocana paralleling the highest holy days in Christianity, she had to make her preemptive strike on behalf of temperance before the vices had fully arrayed their forces. She railed against alcohol and dancing. She employed a particularly vivid story about a past Maureen Courtney student who had disappeared from La Bocana, to turn up four days later further down the beach with his throat slit, as a cautionary tale against the evils of vagrancy. And of course the coming holiday brought out theology that I found problematic. Rumalda asked the fourth-graders what the two most important days of Holy Week were. “Ummm...Resurrection Sunday?” suggested one student.

“No,” she replied. “Thursday and Friday. Thursday is important be cause it is the day Jesus was arrested. Friday because it is the day he was crucified.”

When we were coming back from dancing at La Bocana, I saw the Catholic procession observing the stations of the cross, as they do every Friday during Lent. Among them was Rumalda and a few other teachers, all solemn and reflective, and there I was still in my bright, rather revealing dance costume. Ever the coward in the face of potential religious recrimination, I hid behind the dance building until the procession passed. I knew it was unnecessary. Not being catholic, I am considered out of their jurisdiction. Any potential moral turpitude on my part is someone else's problem. And I could always explain that my tradition doesn't observe the Friday of Pains, and that would stand as valid. But I just felt beaten down by the week's tirades, and I couldn't face the moral disapproval that, in that moment, the procession represented for me. I think that's why a lot of people aren't Christian here. It's not that they don't believe in God. They just can't bear to be that moral. As one of my tutees, who I'm told is also a gangster, explained,

"Christians can't hit people in the face when they offend them. I want to hit people in the face. It's much better."

Maybe it helps people to know there is redemption to be found in so much suffering, rather than from so much suffering. I can't do that much meditation on pains. I don't even plan to attend Good Friday worship this year. Normally, I am a fan of the observance. It is a day for me to meditate on the ways in which crucifixion still goes on in the world, and how Jesus still suffers with us. Here, I see so much crucifixion, in every begging widow and every tale of children raped. I don't think my spirit can take a day devoted to it. Sometimes every day feels like Good Friday. I can't escape the glorification of violence that I see on Good Friday. I don't think the filter in my head that keeps disagreeable theology from wounding my spirit will be able to keep out the elevation of crucifixion as the act that saves us, rather than resurrection. this Good Friday, should dance practice take place, I will dance, as I do every day. I will dance even more strongly than ever, because I know that Jesus does not stay dead. It is at the song says:

“I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black. It's hard to dance with the devil on your back. They buried my body and they thought I'd gone, but I am the dance and I still go on.”

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