By Michelle Francl-Donnay
Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm; for stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are a blazing fire. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away. – Song of Songs 8:6-7a
We ran across the sign -literally – on the sidewalk in Ardmore one Friday evening on our way to celebrate our anniversary. “Tango lesson, next Friday 7-8 p.m.” Victor and I looked at each other, and without a word, followed the arrow and climbed the narrow stairs to check out the studio. We signed up.
The next week, as we filled out the information form before class, we scanned the list of reasons to take the class. “An upcoming wedding?” Nope. Eighteen years married, our wedding waltz is amazingly clear in my mind, but been there, done that. “Want to develop a stronger lead?” I nudge Victor, who laughs. Let’s just say, that unlike Ginger Rogers, I’m not always good at following my partner’s lead.
We had a great time and decided to come back for another lesson. What I had yet to realize was that the class would provide instruction in more than the Argentine tango. It turned out that learning to dance with my husband had much to teach me about learning to dance with God.
It shouldn’t have caught me by surprise. I know that the Catholic Church teaches that a married couple’s mutual love is “an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves” His people. So what have I learned so far, besides how to do an ocho?
Our instructor keeps reminding us that the tango is not a jumble of fancy steps, but just a walk. A measured walk, on the beat, with the potential for flourishes, but fundamentally, it’s a walk. Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer similarly advises us to keep our focus off the fancy footwork and on the ordinary: “We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good … How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?”
In tango, the follower is not a puppet, her partner does not push her from place to place, but subtly signals the next move, which she then takes up and makes manifest. We are created to live in the freedom of God – and called to make Him manifest here and now, each in our own way.
Don’t worry about which way to go, says the teacher, just keep facing your partner and you’ll land where you need to be, no matter how fancy – or simple – the steps. The path only becomes confusing when I forget where to face, when I forget what the psalmist so firmly holds in the 121st Psalm, “My eyes are lifted heavenward, from which comes my help.”
We move awkwardly through our ochos and our turns around the floor, but the instructors remind us that it does get easier. “It’s all about the embrace. Stay within the embrace. The closer you hold each other, the more effortless it becomes.” Can I stay within the embrace? How closely am I willing to hold God?
I don’t hold a rose in my teeth as Victor and I dance to the simmering warmth of the tango tunes, but I can sense the Holy Spirit held between us – on fire with a love that nothing can quench, nothing can sweep away. And willing to let us be the image of such a love for the world. It’s hard to imagine a finer anniversary gift than this reminder of what being married means – to us and to the Church.
Father, to reveal the plan of Your love, you made the union of husband and wife an image of the covenant between You and Your people. In the fulfillment of this sacrament, the marriage of Christian man and woman is a sign of the marriage between Christ and the Church. – From the Nuptial Blessing
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr. She can be reached at: email@example.com.