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Balance in Motion

by Mary Domb Mikkelson, Senior Editor Connecting Voices

     “Please leave your cell phones ON!”

     Had I heard right?  Leave my phone on during the Christmas Eve service? 

     I had…and I did, along with the other 999 folks – oldsters, youngsters, teens, families, people of every age and possible background – in that huge auditorium in Folsom, CA.  999?  At least!  And this was but one of ten services!

     The phones were put to good use, too…several times, to transmit input from the congregation.  Which carol from a list of four should we (singers, guitarists, drummers, keyboardist) offer next?  Which of four aspects of the Christmas story should the sermon tackle?  The big screen bar graphs fluctuated wildly as the results poured in and the service was custom-built.

     The stage was brilliant with light – a forest of sparkling Christmas trees, blazing electronic flames in a massive fireplace, two outsized monitors capturing holiday scenes and moods, assorted stage lights and dozens of pearly white smiles.  Music – sacred and popular (“O, Little Town of Bethlehem” meets “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”) filled the air.  It was loud, almost thunderous at times – and it was GOOD – Christmas Eve in bold capital letters and glorious Technicolor.   And the service had yet to start…When it did, a marvelous balance of old and new, bold and beautiful, human and holy, humor and evangelical fervor pulled us in, enveloping us in the mystery and magic of the season.  The evening ended with red and green glowsticks for all (instead of candles), a grand finale which had the little ones entranced and everyone swaying to “Silent Night.”

     The evening left me thinking about balance, specifically Albert Einstein’s bon mot that “Life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance you must keep moving.”  How am I and UCC doing? 

      Fast forward to Lent and Holy Week.   Well in advance (thank you!), my pastor sent me the information needed to do PR for the season – from Mardi Gras Sunday through Easter – with the request that symbols of balance be given prominence.  I thought of cairns and gyroscopes – and Robert Heinlein.

     Cairns are delicately balanced piles of random stones used as markers and memorials.  In Joshua 4:4-7, for example, we hear that “Joshua called out the twelve men whom he selected from the People of Israel, one man from each tribe. Joshua directed them, ‘Cross to the middle of the Jordan and take your place in front of the Chest of GOD, your God. Each of you heft a stone to your shoulder, a stone for each of the tribes of the People of Israel, so you’ll have something later to mark the occasion. When your children ask you, ‘What are these stones to you?’ you’ll say, ‘The flow of the Jordan was stopped in front of the Chest of the Covenant of GOD as it crossed the Jordan—stopped in its tracks. These stones are a permanent memorial for the People of Israel.’” (The Message)  One for each of the tribes of Israel – a memorial not only to a miracle but to balance and doing together what none could do alone.

     Gyroscopes, as I visualize them, are balance in motion – mesmerizing and, when captured with high-speed photography, quite beautiful.

     As for Robert Heinlein, what brought him to mind?  Well, in Time Enough for Love, the lead character, Lazarus Long, speaking of what was needed to colonize a new world, declared that “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.”

     That, too, is balance in motion – and a daunting challenge.  I can do nine of them, some better than others (I’ll leave you to guess which), understand the concepts of a few (to a greater or lesser degree) and haven’t a clue about a couple.  What about you?

     As I add exciting new dimensions to my life and the church seeks to integrate old and new, past, present and future, I find myself thinking more and more about balance.  There are many definitions of balance – from “an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady” to “a state of stability between competing forces.”  For me, this definition from the world of art – “Balance doesn’t necessarily mean symmetry… Asymmetrical (“informal”) balance occurs when elements are placed unevenly in a piece, but work together to produce harmony overall”- is the most compelling. 

     We sang an old African-American spiritual in church recently.  “I’ve Got Peace Like a River” – title imagery derived from the Old Testament (Isaiah), as was that of most such songs.  A melodic paean, it speaks to the needs of the soul – peace like a river, joy like a fountain, love like an ocean and faith like an anchor.  Speaking of balance – for individuals or churches!

     In the fine print at the bottom of the hymnal page was a suggestion, “Congregations or individuals may wish to add additional verses of their own making.”  How about “hope like a feather” (think Emily Dickinson), “light like a diamond” (Rihanna) and “grace like an avalanche” (Hillsong United – yeah, I know avalanche has an extra syllable but what wonderful symbolism!)? 

     Peace, joy, love, faith, hope, light, grace – works for me!

     What would you add?

     How can we as a church achieve asymmetrical balance?

     What will we look like when we do?

     What will we be?

     I look forward to finding out.

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