You put your right foot in, You put your right foot out.
You put your right foot in and you shake it all about.
You do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around.
That’s what it’s all about.
Now you may think that’s just silly but the Hokey Pokey actually has an interesting, and somewhat controversial, history. Some say it was written to satirize the Catholic Mass, especially the consecration, which when spoken in Latin, had the phrase Hoc est enim corpus meum, (this is My Body) from which we get the derisive term “Hocus Pocus”, or, twisting the knife even more, Hokey Pokey. Others claim it was a fun song written from a Shaker tradition. Still others say it was about ice cream vendors, sometimes called hokey pokey men before the invention of cones. A few people even claim that it is written about cocaine use. Perhaps we will never really know. But I think there is a bit of wisdom for us in the last verse of the song that today’s Scriptures actually tap into. The last verse, you may recall, goes like this:
You put your whole self in. You put your whole self out.
You put your whole self in and you shake it all about.
You do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around,
That’s what it’s all about.
In today’s scriptures, we hear the stories of two widows who “put their whole selves in”. When Elijah asks the widow to share, literally, her last meal, she ‘puts her whole self in’. She risks not just a little bread with Elijah, but her life and her son’s life, in order to be generous. So too, in the gospel. Jesus, taking a seat in the temple and observing what was happening as he was wont to do, watches a poor woman putting all that she has into the collection basket. His response comes from two places, it seems. First, he is critiquing a religious system that oppresses and takes advantage of the poor, demanding that she give all that she has just to pay the temple tax. Which, in our day, is not unlike some of the budget proposals for our country that would balance the budget by cuts to the most needy in our midst. But I also think we can detect a note of admiration that Jesus has for the elderly woman’s faith. She is trusting God to take care of her and so she “has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”
Both of those stories makes me wonder: “What am I putting my whole self into these days? What am I willing to risk my life for?” Though in our country, we are seldom asked to risk our lives for our faith, yet, in the choices we make, we reveal our meanings and our hopes. What causes or people or situations are so vital to our world or to us that we are willing to put our whole selves in?
We see examples of this all the time.
- I always look with admiration on people who pick up everything and go help after a natural disaster. There are people who have uprooted their whole lives to help the folks in New Jersey and New York to recover from the Superstorm Sandy. Or down in Joplin Missouri, partly because they can. They have some freedom in their lives to do that. I had that freedom my senior year of college and the first two summers of grad school – to spend three weeks in Northern Ireland, doing volunteer work there. We may not have that freedom, but still we are invited to put our whole selves in.
- I see it with grandparents who, because of a divorce or loss of job, ending up housing their children and raise their children’s children out of love and necessity. Their lives are turned all around to accommodate the unexpected need of their children.
- I see it in people giving their lives to educate children who are behind and troubled.
- I see it in those among us, like the members of the Vincent De Paul society, who spend hour after hour trying to feed the hungry and connect them to resources that might give them a hand up.
So the question remains. “Where might God be asking you or me to commit more of our whole lives and selves? To put our whole selves in?” Call it the Hokey Pokey moment of faith. Call it the gospel imperative. You and I are indeed called – after the example of Christ himself – to put our whole selves in. And if we are not doing that, then it’s time to turn ourselves around…
(Pause on the way back to the chair…) By the way one last tidbit about the Hokey Pokey. It seems that Jimmy Kennedy, the artist who popularized the song in the U.S. died recently. He left very specific instructions for his burial and funeral, which the mortician tried to follow faithfully. Everything was going well until it came time for the mortician to put the deceased man into the casket. Here, the instructions started with, “You put the right leg in…” And things got a little difficult from there.
(ps – Thanks to Fr. Joe Kempf and Fr. Jeff Vomund for allowing me to shamelessly steal this homily idea and much of its content directly from them…)