Lonely and creative in a narrow, evangelical town, Eliza feels deeply the conflicting signals that surround her. She tries to find breadth and meaning by steeping herself in myths and by celebrating different holidays. When it is time for Eliza to leave for college, she declares, "I set out for my kingdom."
Of course, the journey will not be straightforward.
Once at college, Eliza finds a professor who soon becomes the muse for her poems. His gray hair evokes for her the angel of silver (Michael) and the god of quicksilver (Mercury), both of whom are guides of souls. Eager for such a guide, Eliza soon "fall[s] halfway toward love"—and then completely.
Much of this new world seems at first paradisal. Many of her poems remark on their lunches together, where they commune as they drink from their dragon teapot. While her muse is obviously attracted to her, however, he is hard to read: he is, after all, not only a much older married man, but also a Baptist deacon.
As the years pass, Eliza follows her muse through not only a metaphorical Eden, but also through hell and purgatory. She will have to fight if she wants to come out on the other side, where the world is green again.
"Dancing with a Baptist" portrays one human's struggle to integrate the mythic and the mundane and, finally, the ethical. In this parable of desire, the hero lives for herself the lesson that the longest way round can be the shortest way home.