I Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
Reverend William Portune was a white-haired, wiry, and fiery evangelist who visited Pacifica once a year during the week before Easter. He dressed all in black, except for a small patch of white peeking through a strange rectangle in his collar. We eagerly anticipated Easter vacation because there was no school. At best, we had mixed feelings about having revival services with Brother Portune speaking every evening from Sunday through Good Friday. But, there was the Easter egg hunt to look forward to on Saturday morning, and the revival services promised to bring a stimulating balance of conviction and entertainment.
Brother Portune was a holiness preacher. We could count on him to deliver a vigorous sermon each night, challenging us to consider our great need for salvation and sanctification. There were opportunities for all of us to experience either or both works of grace, since the potential for a fall from grace was also available to all. Previous experiences of grace did not preclude us from additional experiences, due to the likelihood of a return to sin in between.
I knew of one lady, Mrs. Mabel Higgins, who testified to receiving both salvation and sanctification during the first service she attended at our church. She was now efficiently credentialed, but we would have all been glad if she had continued to make some spiritual progress thereafter.
I don’t remember ever thinking that Miss Stetson or my parents or Mr. and Mrs. Cather might fall from grace. They were steady. On the other hand, I knew for certain i was sinful, and that my brother and sisters and the Cather girls were sinful. Our sins were pretty obvious. Joe and I teased the girls too much, and we delayed doing our chores, and we punched each other, and we were beginning to have thoughts we were not sure we should have.
I also knew the girls were sinful. They would fuss and fight, and they would tell on us in various despicable ways. I was really annoyed when they would whine, just loud enough for Mom to hear, “David, stop it!” especially when I was doing something nice and funny that they should have been able to appreciate. Joe and I never told on people. It was against our manly code of honor. We would commiserate with each other and reinforce the code with the simple summary statement, “Girls fuss!”
I had prayed for salvation many times. Sanctification, a somewhat more solid condition characterized by a holy life, didn’t really seem like a good fit. I don’t remember praying for it, despite Brother Portune’s annual urging. It seemed more reasonable and less presumptuous to just renew my prayers for salvation. Easter revival services provided a good opportunity for me to receive the first work of grace again, as needed. I also can distinctly remember realizing my need for salvation during scary car rides on the more dangerous roads in the area, Sharp Park and “Devil’s Slide.”
I remember fighting with Joe in the back seat of the car on a curvy road, and Dad took his eyes off the road long enough to stare back us and scare us sufficiently to cause an immediate mini revival service right there in the back seat. Joe and I begged Dad to pay attention to his driving, and we replaced our punching with praying. We knew we were not ready to meet our Maker.
The real highlight of the revival services was not the preaching or the prayer time. It was the dancing. It was a blessed irony that in our Holiness church, which frowned on all secular dance, dancing was not only allowed during revival services, it was strongly encouraged. Brother Portune challenged us to dance as an authentication of our sanctification. People could even dance with each other, as long as the partners were of the same gender. At any time, especially during the song service, Brother Portune would rouse himself or be roused, jump up out his seat on the stage, and lead the faithful in marching and dancing to the Lord.
The requirement to dance seemed another reason not to seek the second work of grace. The last thing I wanted to do was to dance in church, and it seemed safer to aspire to a lesser spiritual condition in order to reduce the pressure to dance. Joe and I never discussed this, but I think he had reached this same conclusion. If Joe had gotten sanctified and taken up dancing, maybe it would have become more palatable for me. The fact that my Dad seemed to dance only with great moderation under the urging of Brother Portune was reassuring. I knew that my Dad was a saint, and if he only danced slightly, then surely God wouldn’t expect much of Joe and me.
We certainly did not want to join the dancing, but we delighted in watching it from the pews. Usually, the form the dance took was a sort of hybrid between a parade and a line dance. The dancers could choose their individual moves, but more often than not, they moved together in a circle around the chapel. Miss Stetson’s dance seemed pure. Her face was radiant, her eyes lifted up, and her right hand, cupped open toward heaven, pumped gently above her, as she glided gracefully around the chapel.
The best dance I remember was when Brother Portune took both of Mr. Cather’s hands in his, and the evangelist and the pastor spun about together on the stage above the prayer altars. Brother Portune was probably twice as old as Mr. Cather, but he was adequately lithe and very enthusiastic. Mr. Cather was pretty enthusiastic, but he also looked liked he might be feeling just a little silly. We understood his dilemma. As the church pastor, he had to cooperate with the traveling evangelist, but we knew there was no need to worry that we’d be pressured to dance during the other 51 weeks of the year.
My mom was off the hook, occupied either with the piano or an infant or both. I was usually the first in line for babysitting duties, so with a bit of luck, I could be holding a baby sister while mom played the piano, and I would be adequately honorable, though not dancing. Joe escaped a lot of scrutiny by passively supervising me. These were important jobs that perhaps gave us some jewels in our heavenly crowns, even though we never danced.
Cheryl Cather was an interesting example for us younger children. She was a few years older and had a boyfriend named Bob Brooks. We were pretty sure that they may have done some unauthorized kissing, but Cheryl still seemed a little more inclined toward sanctification and some corresponding dancing during revival week. It was hard to know what to make of it.
My younger sisters and their friends, Yvonne, Cindy, and Brenda Cather, were known to join the line dance most evenings. They were a little more free-spirited than Joe and I, plus they were probably more likely to succumb to the pressure to join in without realizing the theological implications. I enjoyed seeing them dance, and I’m fairly sure that I never teased them about it later. I felt a twinge of conscience for not dancing, and I certainly did not want to inhibit their spiritual development. There was much to be considered.
There came a year when we heard that Reverend Portune would not be up to making the trip out to California for Revival Week, and I think we were genuinely disappointed. While we liked the idea of more free time during Easter vacation, we knew that something good had been lost. The lack of services every night gave the adults, and especially my Mom, more time to put into the Easter egg hunt on Saturday morning and more preparation for the Good Friday and Easter services. We began to think more about neighbors from our community, and we began inviting other children to come to the Easter egg hunt. More people from our community would attend better prepared Easter Sunday services. The Good Friday service became a cooperative service involving several small local churches, even some Baptists with their strange ideas about the eternal security of the believers.
Secular dancing is still generally frowned upon in our denomination, and I don’t remember much, if any, sacred dancing happening again in our little chapel, except perhaps an occasional few moments of blessing led by Lois Stetson and another saint or two. A couple of ancient gentlemen, Brother John Fairly and Brother James McRobbie, joined our gathering in the following years, and they were comfortable with shouting out praises and marching about.
My Dad was actually a very enthusiastic dancer in the privacy of our home, and especially under the influence of the gospel music of the Bill Gaither Trio. We loved watching him dance, wearing Mom’s white plush bathrobe, to the Gaither classic “Get All Excited.” It was the real thing, but a little too wild for church. We never doubted that he really did “get all excited . . . that Jesus Christ is still the King of Kings,” and it was a relief to know that he could let us in on some of his excitement, but would not be acting goofy in public.
I still am a bit uncomfortable in my skin during church services. The songs that are designed to inspire physical displays such as hand raising feel manipulative. “I stand, I stand, in awe of You” always makes me think of all the passages where the awe of the Almighty leads one to adopt a more lowly posture. A newer song, “The Stand” has a general lack of clarity and seems intended primarily to inspire standing and raising of arms. I suppose that I should want to do these things.
At present, I’m content to follow my Dad’s example, keeping my behavior in public worship rather understated, while slipping into more freedom in the privacy of my own home. My children enjoy mimicking my dancing, and they did all they could to convince me to dance at my niece’s wedding reception. Not too long after I hit the dance floor and showed a few of my better moves, they were encouraging me to sit back down. My grown children follow Christ, and are able to hold their own while dancing at wedding receptions, but they do not participate in sacred dance, as far as I know. It’s really quite intriguing.
My daughter would like me to make a little progress in my dancing prior to a potential father/daughter dance at her wedding someday. It would be fun to sneak in some dance lessons without anyone knowing. My family would be amazed to see Emily and me moving gracefully together across the floor together on her special day. I’d enjoy setting the bar really high for her groom. Maybe in such a glorious moment, my inhibitions will fade, and I’ll discover some delightful integration of the secular and sacred in my life. Maybe I’ll just be alive, loving my daughter, knowing the delight of my wife and children, and feeling the smiles of my Dad and of my Heavenly Father.