The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance with is always there. Indeed we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not. Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.”— Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation
I’ll never forget the first time I viscerally felt the truth and power of this “cosmic dance” concept. It didn’t come as a revelation while in a church. Instead, it was a decidedly secular experience I had expected to be pure entertainment. What Merton calls the “cosmic dance” was called “the Force,” and George Lucas introduced it in the mystical and mythical original Star Wars movie in 1977.
I wasn’t the only person who felt that Lucas had tapped into a mystical truth – the movie resonated powerfully with many people at many different levels. Lucas presents the Force as a power and flow that permeates the world, ready for us to connect with once we learn how. As Merton says, “we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.”
Merton tells us that we can’t think or analyze our way into understanding the meaning of life. That only leads to sadness, absurdity, and despair. The necessity of connecting to the power of the underlying dance is depicted powerfully in Star Wars, as Luke Skywalker attempts to destroy the Death Star. The battle of good vs. evil is dependent on Luke moving beyond his previous way of being in the world. Several attempts proved he couldn’t hit the small target necessary to destroy the Death Star using technology or his own analytical skills. When it came down to his last opportunity, Luke was mystically reminded by his spiritual teacher (Obi-Wan Kenobi) that it was his ability to access the Force which would allow him to accomplish this feat. He let go of his thinking mind, shut off his technology assist, and trusted that he could tap into the Force to guide him.
As Merton describes, Luke Skywalker forgot himself on purpose, cast solemnity to the wind, and joined in the general dance and power of life. After Luke successfully makes the “one in a million shot,” Obi-Wan reminds Luke that the Force will be with him, always. As Merton tells us, the cosmic dance is always there, whether we acknowledge it or not. And once we have felt the experience of participating in the cosmic dance, we can never forget it.
George Lucas recognized an innate human longing – a deep desire for connection with something bigger than ourselves. We yearn for connection with God (or whatever we call a higher power) and the ability to integrate that connection into our daily lives to help us make the everyday decisions between good and evil. And in the same way that being a Jedi knight requires hard work and training, developing a relationship with God requires deliberate focus with repeated effort. Thankfully, teachers appear along the way, seemingly just when we need them and often in unexpected places. Sometimes you are graced with insight when all you were expecting was two hours of entertainment.
A Closing Prayer – for all our spiritual teachers
We thank you, God, for giving the world so many spiritual teachers, particularly in unexpected places. These teachers provide inspiration and insight as we stumble along our paths of discovery, trying to fill the desire inside us for something more, something bigger than ourselves. May we always be open to hearing your invitations to consciously join the cosmic dance. And once we taste that experience, may we be continually guided on the path of deepening our participation, so it changes us and how we act in the world. Amen.