This week nearly all week I’ve thought about dancing in heaven. Not whether it happens—I’m quite certain it does—but what it must be like. That there is music there is beyond dispute. Performed at the funeral of the Princess of Wales in 1997 a beautiful Welsh Hymn Orig Jehovah, written by William Williams (“the Wesley of Wales”) near the beginning of the 18th century, reveals as much:
When I tread the verge of Jordan
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side;
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee.
Musing on my habitation,
Musing on my heaven’ly home,
Fills my soul with holy longings:
Come, my Jesus, quickly come;
Vanity is all I see;
Lord, I long to be with Thee!
Such hymns of praises, heavenly longings, expressed in here in song, attest to those better heavenly choirs, the anthems on high that one can only imagine. Even this less than perfect translation made in 1771 chiefly by Peter Williams (no direct relation), suggests as much. The Welsh version lives on in the best film ever made, namely the Oscar-winner of 1941, “How Green Was My Valley,” directed by John Ford. It is sung there (and virtually always) to the tune of John Hughes’ 1905 Cwm Rhondda, a rich Welsh tune once lisped not infrequently in the coal mines, mines now of yore.
But that is not dancing; that is singing. What about dancing? Somehow this week, a week drawing nigh to the sixth anniversary of the death of Elaine Jakes, who passed away on 23 May 2011, I thought all week of seeing her again in heaven. Now when I was a little lad, my mother, when she was quite happy, might do a Welsh jig in the kitchen. She would take my hands and lightly glide around the kitchen floor, just for a moment, while singing a song of the now twentieth-century “classic” composer Irving Berlin or the like. As a child, of course, I would dance along, joyously when I was quite young, and less willingly as I became slightly older. Of course, eventually this activity ceased, at least by the time I was ten or so, as my Welsh mother had become more American by then, less Welsh, was beginning to become less Jewish, and had long since ceased to be Chinese. (To understand the previous sentence, you will have to read The Curious Autobiography.) In any case, I was becoming too large and life was becoming, concomitantly, too difficult.
But of course, one does not forget these things from one’s childhood easily, and they even become quite dear over time, like cherished old black and white photographs that are now yellowing around the edges. And I found myself rummaging mentally through my “box” of such photos this week, even as I was riding my bicycle to work.
As I pushed those pedals round and round I found myself thinking of heaven and what it is like, indeed will be like, when in just a very few years I am there, forgotten here, and to some degree forgetful of this world. And that’s when dancing occurred to me. Music, yes, but dancing, too. For what could be finer than dancing a jig of joy before God, with no inhibitions, like a mother and her child in the tiny kitchen of a diminutive apartment in New Hope, Pennsylvania in 1967? I can think of no better way to conceive of an expression of sincere joy at a reunion of family members—with Elaine or Harry or Blanche or those of the deeper past, the families of Evans, of Jones, of Eynon—or even with Christ himself. Can you?
Much of the information presented here about the hymn Cwm Rhondda is derived from R. Christiansen, “The Story Behind the Hymn,” The Telegraph 2007 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/3668065/The-story-behind-the-hymn.html)