We just spent a week in Madrid for a Pastors’ Bootcamp. Although it sounds intimidating, it was actually a phenomenal time of training, learning, prayer, lots of eating and (a personal favourite) lovely Spanish red wine! I think Judah was delighted with the amount of food I consumed, as milk production at the mama-factory was at an all-time high.
The Spanish have quite different rhythms of life, as lunch is only eaten at 2pm, usually consists of four courses and lasts for two hours, and supper is only at about 9pm or later. We heard life outside our hotel windows well past midnight, and everything is dead until at least 10 or so in the morning. And I felt like I was on holiday, because there was no cooking, no cleaning, and no laundry! (although now I am still trying to clear the backlog)
The Spanish people are wonderful – warm, passionate, strong and gritty, yet sensitive. I got the feeling one would not like to get in a fight with a Spanish person, but if one did, it would be quite possible to kiss each other soundly on the cheek afterwards and end up at a Tapas bar somewhere drinking copious amounts of wine and slapping the table together.
Probably the highlight of the trip for me was a visit to see a Flamenco dance on our last night. It was a special treat organised for us by the church in Madrid. After a short walk through bustling streets, we were ushered into a dimly lit, large upper room of a restaurant. It seemed impossibly old with exquisite wood carvings and mosaics all around the walls and ceilings. There was a great sense of history and majesty, rather like walking into an old church, except here there was a busy hum of conversation and a crackle of something electric in the air.
Then there was a hush as a small group filed onto a high stage in the middle of the room. A guitarist, a singer and three dancers. We all fell quiet, sipping our drinks, as the guitarist began to play and the singer leaned into the microphone. He sang, a wonderful husky, haunting sound, the notes tumbling and falling over each other and mingling with the plaintive, sweet melody of the acoustic guitar, racing up and down the scales like water. Then a dancer appeared at the edge of the stage.
Poised like a lioness, she moved slowly and deliberately, her hands fluttering and fluid, and her face contorted with pain and deep emotion. Then with a flash of hands and a violent stamp of her feet the guitar broke into an agitated strumming, and the pace accelerated. The other dancers clapped and stamped their heavy shoes, as she flew and twirled and twisted and stamped. The power in her feet was incredible – their staccato on the floor sounded like thunder, and every time she twirled to crash them down, it felt like the air was vibrating with explosions. Faster and faster she went, the musicians sweating to keep up and the other dancers clapping and shouting their pleasure.
When she finished, with one final crash of her shoes to the wooden floor, her immaculate headdress was quivering with exertion, and her face was covered in a glowing sheen. The audience applauded and shouted rapturously. Then the next dancer got up, and the next. I was blown away by the strength and power these men and women showed. Tightly controlled and sensuous, with the hands fluttering and rippling around their bodies like birds trying to break free, it was as though something deep was working its way to the surface and releasing itself in the power of those crashes of the feet to the floor.
Tanya, a missionary in Madrid, was sitting next to me, and she leaned across to show me some writing on her phone about the Flamenco. Apparently it was a peasant dance originating from the Andalusian mountains, a personal expression of poor people groups and oppressed ethnic minorities. It has a wide range of influences from all over the world.
It struck me, as I watched these impassioned dancers, living and breathing this wild Flamenco, that the deep emotion they were expressing was part of the dance’s beauty. The fact that centuries of history and human experience could be so caught up in a dance was mesmerising.
It spoke to me of how much beauty can be borne out of pain, and how, channelled in the right direction, even the most negative experience can result in great depth and richness of expression. Much like many of the African-American spiritual songs sung by the slaves on cotton farms in America, there was something about the Flamenco that spoke deeply to my soul.
I thought about how the pain of having children (not only literally, as in childbirth, but figuratively, as I sacrifice many of my pleasures daily) has wrought so much character and spiritual formation in me, and also how much joy and pleasure our children bring us day to day. It also reminded me to channel my frustrations, and to find a positive expression for the deep things that lurk beneath the (sometimes) superficiality of my busy life.
I love Spain, the people, its culture and its dance. I hope to go back there someday…. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have the courage to buy some shoes and learn the Flamenco.