lenten journal: jesus in 3/4 time


    One of the classes I’m teaching this semester is European History. How that came about is a story of its own that is still unfolding, but it’s also a story for another night. When they asked (and by asked I mean told) me I was teaching the class, I fashioned the course around twentieth century Europe and then backed up to the nineteenth century to get the kids to take a look at some of the antecedents to what happened in the last millennium. And then, as a good student of my favorite professor Wallace Daniel, I set out to do more with history than give an account of who beat whom in what war. I divided the class into Team Literature, Team Art, and Team Music and set them searching for the thoughts and themes and feelings that defined Europe in the 1800s. They gave their presentations today using a very cool web site called Prezi.com.

    The music group began with a Brahms waltz and my mind and heart kept swirling around the room, one-two-three, one-two-three, while I did my best to pay attention. I love a good waltz in whatever form from classical to bluegrass to, well, you name it. Somehow the rhythm of the waltz feels like a heartbeat, like the rhythm of life. J. D. Souther has a song on an album from the Seventies called, “Jesus in 3/4 Time” that isn’t his greatest song (though I love the line, “Blessed assurance is one thing to know and another to sing in a song”), but he’s on to something. One-two-three, one-two-three carries a symphony of emotion in its simple count somehow; grief and joy dance together, as do melancholy and hope. Here are a few of my favorites:

    “Waltzing for Dreamers” – Richard Thompson

    one step for aching
    two steps for breaking
    waltzings for dreamers
    and losers in love

    “Last Chance Waltz” – David Wilcox (this guy does a pretty good cover)

    won’t you please waltz me free?
    the turns of our steps are untangling me,
    free from some dragged around memory
    and the rusty old remnants of fear
    after ten years I’m melting the shackles with tears

    “The Waltzing Fool” – Lyle Lovett

    but the waltzing fool
    he’s got lights in his fingers
    the waltzing fool
    he just don’t never say
    the waltzing fool
    he keeps his hands in his pockets
    and waltzes the evening away

    I’m not enough of a dancer or a musician to talk coherently about what is happening to both our hearing and our hearts when we move to three beats a measure, but sat in the room as the music swirled around the students even as it set my memories to moving, one-two-three, one-two-three. When the psalmist said that God would turn his mourning into dancing, he must have had a waltz in mind because it is a dance that grief can do. It is the rhythm of life, the rhythm of Lent, the rhythm of what it means to be together, perhaps (is this too much of a stretch) the rhythm of the Trinity:

    one-two-three, one-two-three.



    1. Had never thought about the appeal of 3/4 time before – merely accepted its soothing. I found myself swaying by the end of your post. Swaying is a soothing motion for us – rocking is basically swaying. Swaying and rocking (which can be extremely self-soothing during times of stress or grief) are done in 3/4 time.

      I think you are onto something. Three-quarter time, the rhythm of life. I think you are right.

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