Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Holy Dove dancing "Hallelujah"

Leonard Cohen
As the name suggests, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is an ode to faith, but it is also a lament to lost love. I have heard it sung in situations in which the title was appropriate, but not the meaning.

So, I was, at first, surprised to see this secular song listed in the midday worship service program for the University of Chicago Divinity School Conference, Fair as the Moon, Terrible as an Army: Sexual Beings in Religious Community, last month.

In the morning of the one day conference, we heard Margaret Farley, author of Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, describe her seven suggested sexual norms: do no unjust harm, free consent, mutuality, equality, commitment, fruitfulness, and social justice. Then, Amy Frykholm, author of See Me Naked: Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity, provided three faith-based pathways to wholeness: wilderness, Eucharist, and resurrection.

Then, sitting in the worship service, listening to Divinity School student, Andrew Wheatley, sing a beautifully wistful "Hallelujah," I came to realize how perfect the song was at a conference about sexuality and religion. And, it was begging to be danced. I sat listening. Will they really do the verse in worship that contains the sexiest song lyric I've ever heard? I kept listening.

There was a time you let me know
What's real and going on below 
But now you never show it to me, do you?
    Oh. My. Yes. They are.

I remember when I moved in you,
and the holy dove . . .
     I rose from my seat, personifying the dove.

. . . was moving, too.
    
I danced around the altar.

And every breath we drew was Hallelujah.
    I raised my arms in praise and glory. 

Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
     I joined the congregation singing the refrain. 

While I know the song very well, I didn't know which verses (and there are many) Andrew would sing next. So, as I continued dancing I was truly dancing in the moment, embodying the prayer as it unfolded, trusting God.

In his sermon, Rev. Larry Greenfield spoke of the two hallelujahs heard in the worship service: the hallelujah in the scripture, the Song of Songs, and the hallelujah of Cohen's song (for which Greenfield quite appropriately and humorously donned a fedora). The hallelujah in the Song of Songs is the enthusiasm of new love, an unachievable ideal, while Cohen's hallelujah is a memory. The Song of Songs, Greenfield said, is "for saints, not sinners." Cohen's, he said, is "closer to the reality of those we serve." 

Afterwards, many conference goers, including some of the organizers, were shocked that the dance hadn't been planned in advance. Learning of the spontaneity was powerful for them. Andrew, especially, was delighted that I had felt free to dance.

I am often tempted to dance spontaneously in worship, but I seldom do. The liturgists have a plan. I don't know what it is, so I want to respect their vision. But, at this conference about sexuality at my alma mater, a school dedicated to the life of the mind, I made the choice to integrate the embodiment that is crucial to a theology of sexuality into the worship, to put the theory into practice. As a liturgical choreographer and sacred dancer, I firmly believe that conscious movement in worship can heal and inspire our hearts and minds. I'm glad that I danced, and a lot of other people were, too!


 



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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Red in ritual


I am moved by these words in Louise Erdrich's NYTimes Op-Ed, 'Rape on the Reservation:"
"Here in Minneapolis, a growing number of Native American women wear red shawls to powwows to honor survivors of sexual violence. The shawls, a traditional symbol of nurturing, flow toward the earth. The women seem cloaked in blood. People hush. Everyone rises, not only in respect, for we are jolted into personal memories and griefs. Men and children hold hands, acknowledging the outward spiral of the violations women suffer."

It's a sacred dance. A powerful image. Deep. The red speaks. The circle grows.

I've been working on a series of oil pastels inspired by the quote from Aeschylus' Agamemmon which Robert F. Kennedy recited in his speech announcing the assassination of Martin Luther King in Indianapolis, Indiana:

"Even in our sleep,
pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until,
in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."


Perhaps, the next drawing in the series will incorporate an allusion to the red shawls . . .

Monday, February 11, 2013

Making my Lord's Prayer choreography even more communal!

The revised movements showing the full range of forgiveness.

So, my video, Movement Meditations on the Lord's Prayer, is now obsolete, but that's o.k. I'm actually kinda excited about it. The choreography I developed for congregations to pray the well-known prayer continues to evolve: it's even better now!

In preparation for the retreat I gave in January for the Northern Illinois Chapter of the Christian Educators Fellowship of the United Methodist Church, I prayed the Lord's Prayer in movement by myself. Even when we pray the prayer alone, we are praying it as part of the community of believers. Alone, I was conscious of the communal essence of the prayer: the very first word is "Our" and the choreography is to hold hands. The "give us this day our daily bread" didn't feel as communal as I thought it could be. The movement was feeding ourselves and then reaching forward offering food to others. I thought, instead, let's go from side to side: receive from the right, partake, and pass it on to the left. Part of a continuous chain. Much better. The retreat goers agreed. 

The next question was how to make the next line communal: "Forgive us our trespasses." At the retreat, I taught the movement in the video: each person individually bowing her head with arms folded over her chest. We had a good discussion of individual responsibility within groups: one woman commented that it was good for individuals to feel their individual contributions to communal sins. We tried coming closer together in our circle, with our arms around each other, hands on the center of our neighbors' backs between their shoulder blades (over their hearts). We concluded that bowing our heads in that position was very powerful, but most appropriate for smaller groups where people feel comfortable being physically close. When we moved further apart, still touching, and bowed, it wasn't as powerful. We agreed that it was better to bow individually in larger groups.
In the retreat, I taught the movements to the participants without explaining the meaning that I had intended. Instead, I asked the participants what the movements evoked for them. For "as we forgive those who trespass against us," the movement I taught is in the video: putting hands up high in front with palms down as in a blessing. A woman brought up that she was really working to forgive a particular person and putting her hands up over him felt like she was lording it over him and that didn't feel good. She suggested reaching her hands out waist high with palms up as an offering. We explored that movement and decided to begin with it and from there move into the original hands high blessing movement. 
So, I'm excited because even though my video is now obsolete, the choreography is growing and evolving and getting better and better! Thank you to all the participants for communally choreographing this communal prayer!

This was a two hour retreat that I'd love to offer to more groups. Please let me know if your church or ministry might be interested in learning to move the Lord's Prayer. The gestures are simple and easily learned. While initially apprehensive, retreat participants ended up thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to pray in a new way. As one wrote afterwards: "I needed this! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Movement is not my most comfortable way of expressing myself, my feelings, or prayers. However, I felt very safe in this space."

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Friday, May 04, 2012

Dancing Easter joy!

Mary Magdalene recognizes Jesus.

On Easter, I proclaimed John 20:1-18 - the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb as part of Pastor Zina Jacque's sermon at the Community Church of Barrington. The sermon, titled "The Story's End: Love Wins," was at the very end of the service, which had been full of lovely singing and Easter joy. Pastor Zina pointed out that we can rejoice now because we know how the story ends, but what if we didn't? Imagine not knowing. That's the state Mary Magdalene was in that first Easter morning so long ago . . . With that introduction, I told the story: the disbelief, the grief, the revelation, the joy! Then, at the end, as I was rejoicing, exclaiming, "I have seen the Lord!," Natallia Revinskaya, the church's incredible pianist started playing, "I've Just Seen Jesus" by Sandy Patti, and I danced up and down the aisle.

Afterwards, many people thanked me. I am heartened when people tell me they cried, and some did. One woman told me that she had danced to that song in that church as a young woman and when I danced, that's when she lost it. Another woman said that she enjoyed the dance because it was how she'd like to express her response to the good news. She's not a dancer but I was moving how she would move if she could: I expressed what was in her heart. I realized on a new level that the scriptural storytelling segueing into dance can be a powerful combination. It is unusual, and it is my ministerial gift.

On Holy Saturday, I also had the honor of proclaiming the story for Felician (Franciscan) sisters in the infirmary at their Motherhouse at Peterson and Pulaski in Chicago. Special thanks to Sr. Carole Mary, my liturgical consultant, for arranging it. One of the sisters cried because she wanted everyone to experience Jesus' love as she saw me expressing it and as she felt it. I'll admit I was a bit perplexed by this. Then, when I told the story at a storytelling lab for Kellogg School of Management alumni (in my other life, I have an MBA) a couple of weeks after Easter, a Jewish man told me that my telling helped him understand the Christian religion in a way he had never understood it before: my love and enthusiasm expressing Mary Magdalene's love and enthusiasm at seeing the risen Jesus was very touching. To be honest, I hadn't consciously realized the depth of my love and conviction until he reflected it back to me. It took someone outside my faith to point out to me what was going on inside of me in my faith. Distance provides perspective!

On that note, I'll leave you with an insight from another Felician sister. She said that when Jesus told Mary not to cling to him, or as one translation poetically states, "Touch me not," he was asking her to take her love for him out into the world. It's a bit counter-intuitive: to get closer to Jesus, go away from him.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ribbon banners welcome all

Kay dancing the Pentecost tongues of fire!
It was truly the Holy Spirit at work. I was asked to lead ribbon banners for the entrance processional and ending recessional at the Inauguration and Installation of the Rev. Dr. Frank Yamada as the Tenth President of McCormick Theological Seminary. McCormick is Presbyterian but the inauguration took place at the Apostolic Church of God at Dorchester and 63rd Street in Chicago on Thursday, February 9th. (Long ribbons of varying lengths attached on a swivel hook to fishing or banner poles swirl beautifully in the air.)
   I brought all the poles that I have: three 12 foot banner poles and two short 2 foot ones, and, what do you know, there ended up being five of us -- one for each of us! I also brought all the ribbons that I had in all the colors I had.
   I am always concerned about sight lines when dancing in churches. On the ground floor, the shorter banners would not be visible to those seated in the back. So, we kept the three taller banners on the ground floor with the two shorter ones going up onto the raised stage-like altar area.
Kay and I had fun with the short banners. Her big smile exuded joy. We have a similar movement style, so for people who had not moved together before, we were well coordinated. And, the three tall banners looked great, gracefully moving up and down the aisles. The video begins with the entrance procession to the song, "All Are Welcome," by Marty Haugen. The banners appear in the video at 5:30.
   Another issue to work out was the ribbon colors. We made one of the tall banners in blues, one in greens, and one in lavenders. The two short ones were red and orange.
   I feel strongly that if the ribbon banners are bracketing the service in the entrance and exit, they should also emphasize a high point in the service itself. So, Kay and I brought the short red and orange ribbons out during the scripture acclamation, "Preparing for God's word," seen on the video at 21:15. And, the red worked great because the gospel was the story of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21). The photo of Kay really brings the Pentecost fire to life, doesn't it!

My prayer for dance in the church.



   After his inaugural address, the Rev. Yamada did something that he admitted was "unconventional." He asked people to share their dreams, hopes, and visions of theological education in the church via whatever method they felt comfortable: tweeting, journaling, talking out loud, praying silently. His prayer invitation begins at 1:51:50 in the video.
   I often feel moved to dance during worship services but I seldom act on it unless I've been invited, but this time with his invitation to pray in the form in which we felt comfortable, I acted on my impulse. My danced prayer that dance be part of future theological education is at 1:55:40
   The banner bearers appear again in the video for the ending song, "Going Forth in Song" at 2:04:15. I want to thank Mark Bowman of the worship planning team for inviting me to minister for this momentous occasion. I enjoyed ministering with such wonderfully gifted people: great music, and preaching, and praying! A good beginning for the new President Yamada!




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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Making Room: Mary and Joseph

I ministered with movement as part of the sermon at the Community Church of Barrington in Advent this year and last year. This year I portrayed Mary; last year, I portrayed Joseph.

Last year, I danced Joseph and the Angel from Matthew 1:18-25: the story of the angel advising Joseph to marry his betrothed, Mary, even though she was already pregnant. Here's what I wrote but didn't post:
The whole experience was such a gift. So much talent coming together. First, the Pastor Zina Jacque had a vision of a dance expressing Joseph's struggle. She said Joseph doesn't say anything in the story but we know he must have been tormented with the whole situation. She began her sermon by asking us to imagine that struggle and then suggested that we'd have an opportunity to see it. That was the incredible pianist Natallia Revinskaya's cue to begin playing the darkly dramatic introduction of the 1st movement of Sonata #8 by Beethoven as I came down the center aisle in visible anguish. The chancel of this church is very small. There isn't a lot of room for movement, but there, as Joseph, I writhed in disbelief of my predicament finally coming to the conclusion to send Mary away. At that moment the music shifts into "All Is Well With My Soul" by Horatio Spafford in 3/4 time, and I pick up a white scarf and become the angel. When the angel leaves, the song the congregation had sung earlier in the service, "Emmanuel" by Bob McGee, begins, and here is where I had a lot of revelations. I had originally thought that Joseph would walk out alone but no he walks out, of course, with Mary. But, I also realized that after the angel appeared, he must have felt awful that he was going to abandon her. He would ask her for forgiveness. I have such reverence for Mary but it was a gift to embody her husband and imagine how he might have felt. The reverence and pride and fear that he would have had for her. To embody that male love. At the end, as I was walking out down the aisle, Zina invited the congregation to sing a verse of "Emmanuel." You can listen to the sermon which includes the music here and read it here

The theme for Lent this year was making room, and the title of the sermon in which I ministered was: Making Room: The Innkeeper's No from Luke 2:1-7: the Christmas story of Mary and Joseph being refused accommodations in Bethlehem. Working with the pastor, Rev. Zina Jacque, and the church organist and pianist, Natallia Revinskaya, is a liturgical dancer's dream: Zina understands the importance of integrating the movement seamlessly into the service, and Natallia is a gorgeous pianist. You can listen to the sermon which includes the music: here and read it here.

Let me share with you the evolution. Originally, Zina asked me to dance Mary's response to the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38). The Annunciation is my favorite gospel passage, and I realized that I had never danced it. So, I was excited (and daunted) by the task. I went into the gym to move the passage, and I got into the idea of throwing stuff out to make room. I tossed and dug and tossed some more. (I can really identify with the need to get rid of stuff!) But, then it occurred to me that Mary may not have done that. She didn't have any time to throw anything out before saying yes. She just expanded herself, was just more of her beautiful self. There are two different ways to make room: in a fixed pie, you've got to throw out something, but if you can enlarge the pie, you can keep everything. That's what Mary did.

Then, I realized that the Christmas story about making room is the innkeeper who did NOT make room. So, what a contrast: Mary unquestioningly making room, intuitively knowing she could do it, and the innkeeper just not getting it at all. This contrast, I recognized, could be powerful in a dance.

So, the next time I went to the gym, I brought my double-sided cape: one side is dark olive and the other, shimmering silver.
    Part I: I walk in down the center aisle. Very tired. very pregnant (cape is under my dress making a pregnancy puff). It's been a long journey. Music is dragging. I can hardly get to the front of the church. Natallia later chose "Bethlehem Road" by David Paxton for this section.
    Part II:  I pull the dark green cape out and become the Innkeeper. No. NO. No. No. NO.  The music is crashing chords. Angry. Dark. Natallia chose Prelude Opus 32 No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff
    Part III: I become Mary again, and the silver side of the cape becomes the swaddling clothes. The music morphs into that beautiful "Emmanuel" by Bob McGee. I am the happy mother cradling my infant, fussing over him, letting people in the congregation take a peek as I walk him out down the center aisle.

So, I sent Zina a note with this new outline with a bit of trepidation: The gospel had morphed into the Navity (Luke 2:1-7). I somehow managed to skirt around dancing the Annunciation. To depict the Innkeepers response, I needed to establish the exhausted, very pregnant tired Mary: then, I could show how awful the "No" really was. Zina said she's learned that when she asks someone to co-minister with her, she needs to trust where the spirit leads.

So, a week and a half before the Sunday, I went out to Barrington to rehearse with Natallia, and on the Metra train back from the rehearsal, I realized that the "Dong. Dong" of the recorded message: "Dong, Dong. The doors are about to close." are the first two notes of "Emmanuel." I was singing it all the way home: "Emmanuel, Emmanuel. His name is called Emmanuel. God with us. . . "  I often, for some reason, have trouble remembering the next line but then it came to me: "revealed in us." And, it just gave me the shivers. I'm making Jesus out of the negative innkeeper's cape: Jesus is revealed even in our "no"s. He can find our essence in our darkness. How powerful that that is the song Natallia played as I introduced the infant Jesus to the congregation.

Reading Luke 2 a couple days later, it hit me that the birth is in a different physical location than the inn. One of the gifts of liturgical dance/movement is being able to show the movement, the traveling from place to place: that there are distinct locations where the events of a story take place. (Showing the locations for the Passion story, for example, is particularly powerful.) At any rate, the sanctuary is very small, so the only other place I could think of that would provide decent sight lines for the congregation is the pulpit, which became the innkeeper's inn. Then, Mary went over to the center of the chancel to give birth.

And, then the night before the service, I read the gospel again. (It's amazing how much information is packed into a few sentences.) I had been making the innkeeper out to be the villain, not wanting to put up lowly people, but then reading the gospel, it struck me: There were lots of people going to Bethlehem to be registered. The inn may have truly been already beyond capacity. In addition, it was the first registration, and we all know how chaotic the first time for anything, especially something large scale like that, can be. So, the innkeeper may have truly been at wits end before this pregnant woman and her husband showed up.

This dance (and I use that term loosely - it is probably better described as physical theatre) was the most emotionally exhausting I've ever done. Zina had the inspiration to change the closing song to "Emmanuel," which gave everyone a chance to participate in reinforcing the message. Many in the congregation were moved to tears and thanked me afterwards.


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Friday, August 28, 2009

Videotaping Movement Meditations to the Lord's Prayer

Sunday, August 30, 2009, 10:30am,
Sunday Worship with Congregational Movement to the Lord's Prayer
Learn to move through the Lord's Prayer and help others learn how to pray the Lord's Prayer through movement. Immediately after services, everyone is invited to be part of a videotaping of simple movement gestures for the Lord's Prayer. The video will be distributed on the web. Participants will be asked to fill out a release form and will be named in the credits
The church address is 7115 W. Hood Ave. -- that's just east of Harlem, North of I-90, North of Peterson, South of Devon.
From the city: Take I-90 toward O’Hare airport. Exit N at the Harlem Ave. exit, go N. 1.5 miles one block past Peterson to Hood. Turn right (East). New Hope is at 7115 W. Hood Ave, at the southwest corner of Nickerson and Hood. It looks like an old fashioned country church painted white. NOTE: there is another much larger church also at that intersection so make sure you go to the right one!

I will teach the movement during the children's time, which is toward the beginning of the service. Children can then go to nursery care and Sunday School during the rest of the service. We will have snacks after worship and videotape more immediately after the service. I'm not sure exactly how long all this will take, but we should be done with most of it by 12:30. There's a park across the street so children can run around, and I hope we can videotape some versions outside, too.
Production of the video is supported by a grant from the Community Arts Assistance Program from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

Michele Marie Beaulieux
http://www.deepenworship.org
312-421-6725

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Reflections on the Art of Testimony

So I had two very different experiences with testimony in a week last month.
February 1st, I went to a Worship Alive! workshop with Lillian Daniels, who wrote Tell Is Like It Is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony. Her focus was on bringing testimony, a practice common in evangelical churches, to mainstream denominations. She defined testimony as a lay person telling a story about God in his or her life. It occurs to me that faith-sharing is also closely related: in small faith groups or retreat environments, people share their stories of faith in a safe, intimate, supportive environment. Giving testimony is a public version.
I am reminded about a discussion I had about a "dialogue homily" at a church. I was upset when I heard some people speaking disparagingly about a woman who had taken a personal risk and shared a very intimate struggle during a dialogue homily. I brought it up during a liturgy meeting and suggested that perhaps some guidelines needed to be stated upfront to provide safety in the sharing. But, what came out of the discussion was that a homily is different from faith-sharing, and faith sharing wasn't really appropriate in that context. A homily or sermon is breaking open the word. So, during a dialogue homily, everyone who speaks needs to consider him or herself a mini-homilist and make comments that reflect on the scripture.
So, testimony is a challenge: it's an opportunity for a lay person to share publicly. Lillian said people will listen to other lay people in a way that they won't listen to the pastor who is seen as a "super-Christian." She said it takes a confident community to "risk testimony." Testimony is risky to hear as well as give.
Lillian's workshop focused on figuring out how to integrate testimony into a traditional worship service. She is the pastor of the First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn, and she asks one person in advance to prepare a testimony for a service. While Lillian didn't necessarily recommend it, I think if I were coordinating testimony in services, I would ask the lay people to give a testimony based on the gospel (or scripture) of the day. It would make the worship experience more coherent. Here the differences between homily/sermon and testimony can be very nuanced. It's interesting to think about and consider.

Then on February 7th, I attended REV 12:11, a night of up close and personal dance ministry. The evening started slowly, and I thought that I made a mistake, that I should have gone to the Wheat Ridge Ministries dinner where my friend Lisa Wagner-Carollo, founder of Still Point Theatre Collective, was being honored that night. But, now I know I was where I was meant to be. The format for the evening was very simple. After a group opening dance, eight dancers each gave a verbal testimony and then danced to a song that expressed or inspired the testimony. Many of the testimonies were incredibly honest, brave, risky and powerful. The women were courageous to be so vulnerable, and it was the ones who risked the most who gave me the most and, I'd venture to say, probably got the most out of the experience as well. It's one thing to say "there were challenges in my life" and another to confess to everyone there, friend and stranger alike, to drugs and abortions and to tell of murders of loved ones and empty wombs.

As a dancer, I hate to admit that it was the words rather than the movement that really touched me. The dances (all to recorded music), which followed the testimonies, served as meditations on the personal stories. So, this is an interesting question: can testimony be told through movement? Or is movement too abstract? If the most touching testimonies were the most specific, can movement get specific enough? What is/can be the role of movement in testimony?
The most effective combination of words and movement for me was by Myah McKinnie. She told of a mistake she made because she didn't listen to God (I don't feel comfortable going into specifics about it even though the event was public.) and how, with God's help she has worked through it and is now finding joy in her life. It may be that because Myah is a friend of mine that her story of transformation was particularly moving to me. It also helped that I liked her song the best, a very upbeat number, "Identity" by Israel Houghton. Her dance was so joyful: she looked 20 years younger. If I had a photo of her dance, it would be the image for this posting.
The fact that I was particularly moved by a friend's testimony, brings up another issue. Who makes up the appropriate community for hearing and witnessing testimony?

Hats off to the Founder and Artistic Director of The Spirit Moves Performance Ensemble, Glynis James-Watson, who had the vision for the event and created and coordinated it. She wisely had two pastors at the end provide some perspective. In the invitation to discipleship, Rev. Orlando Dallas said something very simple and, as simple things often are, profound: "In order to have a testimony, you have to have a test." (I could write another whole posting on that and maybe I will.) And, then for the benediction, Min. Pamela Sullivan suggested that we could each hear a bit of ourselves in each of the testimonies. And, so I thought, Yes, that's why we share our testimonies, to learn we aren't alone and help others heal, to find and express universal truths. I am reminded of what my spiritual director once said to me, "Helping others helps us heal." Rev. Pamela also suggested that many of us sit on our testimonies. How true, I thought: I certainly am. I'm trying to figure out the forum and format for expressing a testimony of mine (Don't we all have many?). So, this beautiful night gave me lots of ideas and insight and prayer. Thank you!

The evening also brought up a question I keep coming back to: What's the difference between performance art and ministry? I have gone to performances where "artists" have shared very personal stories, and I was very turned off because I felt like I was (unwillingly) attending their (much needed) therapy session. It was too raw and unprocessed. And while in this night of testimony, the women shared incredibly intimate trials, I didn't feel uncomfortable or resentful. On the contrary, I was drawn in. I think there were two differences. The first was my expectation. At a prayer service, we are engaged in a different way, we are asked to fulfill a different role than an audience member is. We are active participants. As Catholic liturgists often quote, the congregation is called to "active and conscious participation." And the second were the presentations themselves. The dancers had done a lot of processing of the events they were retelling. They had prayed and considered how God had been moving in their lives, and those were the stories they were sharing. They had some perspective on the events. They weren't raw. Just as in good performance art, artistic framing can provide the necessary distance and perspective, for testimony, prayer and reflection can provide the mediating presence.

So, this has been a long post, but these experiences provided a lot of food for thought.

BTW, I will be presenting my choreography for congregational movement participation in the Lord's Prayer at another Worship Alive! workshop: Worship Wellspring: A Sampling of Innovative Worship Experiences from Chicago Area Congregations on Saturday, April 25, 2009 from 2:00 – 5:00 pm at First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge.

Also, I will once again be leading the opening and closing rituals for the Third Annual Women's Spirituality Conference on Saturday March 21st 9am-3:30pm in Northfield, Illinois.
I wrote about my experiences last year on my blog.

Finally, I'm on the board of the Lakeshore Chapter of the Sacred Dance Guild and we have an excellent workshop coming up which I highly recommend: Tools and Fuels for Sacred Dance: A Choreography Workshop for your BodySpirit on
Saturday, March 28, 2009 9AM-4PM
.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Commemorating 9/11 w/Dance

I went to the Joffrey Ballet concert in Millennium Park on 9/11. It was billed as a "tribute to the victims and heroes of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center." (I might add the Pentagon and the other plane, too.) So I was interested to see how a secular dance company was going to make a concert a memorial. The concert began with the Artistic Director coming out on stage and giving a welcoming statement, acknowledging the day. We were told that at the end of the concert there would be a moment of silence. A woman came out and sang the "Star Spangled Banner" a cappella. Beautiful. Then, the concert proceeded like any other dance concert, except that there was a lighted flag on the side of the stage which was somehow most noticeable for me during Gerald Arpino's "Round of Angels" from 1983, an exquisite dance about parting and death.
The program stated "Through the medium of dance, one of humankind's most fundamental means of creative expression, The Joffrey's performance this evening celebrates the loving connection among us all. It is our hope that this performance also expresses our shared capacity for all that helps us heal from the worst of tragedies -- the human traits of compassion, spirituality and ability to find joy again as we reconcile great loss through memory, ritual and the power of art." So perhaps the connection need not be explicit.
But, the final dance, another one by Arpino called "Trinity" from 1970, was quite profound and appropriate for the evening. It begins with the dancers dressed in loud bright colors walking in with lights that are like candles. Only a couple of the lights remain on stage for most of the dance, but at the end, the dancers bring the lights onto the stage, set them down, and leave them there. It was very profound. We shared our moment of silence, but then the dancers came out for their curtain call. I really didn't feel like clapping, not because they weren't deserving, but because it broke the mood. And, I think most people felt the same way because the clapping was half-hearted. It would have been so incredibly powerful if they had forgone the curtain call. It really would have made a statement that everyone would have remembered, internalizing in his or her own ways as we left the park in silence.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Be like Mary Magdalene

I wanted to add a few thoughts to my last posting about dancing John 20:1-18: the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb on Easter morning. I didn't wax poetic enough on Dan LeMonnier's song, "Begin Again." What a wonderful synergy to collaborate with a musician who I had just met who happened to have written (and recorded) a song inspired by the same passage that I was dancing!

I absolutely LOVE the line, "Be like Mary. Do not cling to what has been."

Let's take it a sentence at a time. "Be like Mary." There has been a lot of scholarship directed toward reclaiming Mary Magdalene as a woman of faith and clearing her reputation. There is no scriptural evidence that she was a prostitute, but there is evidence, in the Gospel stories of Easter morning, that she was a disciple to the disciples, seeing the risen Lord and spreading the good news. So, what is a disciple, but someone to emulate or be like? So, yes, "Be like Mary." Be a disciple. Spread the good news. When I enact the story, I am Mary, but in real life, I can be like Mary.
"Do not cling to what has been." is inspired by the line in which Jesus said to Mary, "Do not hold on to me (which is sometimes also translated "do not cling to me") for I have not yet ascended." And, what is he really saying to her, but do not stay in the past. I am going forward. Come with me into the future. Thanks, Dan, for this song! I could go through the rest of it line by line like this: the whole song has great theology, giving new twists and lots of insight into the story.

My whole adventure of going to the Biblical Storytelling Festival was partially supported by a Community Arts Assistance Program grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency. Thank you!

And, a reminder about the upcoming retreat:
Saturday, October 4, 2008, 9:30am-4pm
Moving Through the Mysteries of the Rosary
Portiuncula Center for Prayer, Frankfort, Illinois
The rosary is a traditional Roman Catholic meditative prayer form that combines prayer intentions, scripture stories called “mysteries,” and repetitive prayers. In honor of October as the Month of the Rosary, we will explore how the full cycle of the mysteries of the rosary – Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection – is relevant to our contemporary life journeys. After grounding ourselves in movement-based Lectio Divina (scriptural reflection) and faith sharing, we will develop our own moving meditations to the natural rhythms of the spoken rosary. Our movement might focus on any one of the three intertwined elements of rosary prayer – the prayer intention, the scripture meditation, or the repetitive prayers themselves – or it might flow between them. Our leader, Michele Marie Beaulieux, dances the rosary as a private movement meditation, and, as a retreat leader, she guides other people, whether they consider themselves dancers or not, in experiencing how they can deepen their personal prayer by moving to the rhythms and stories of the rosary. The rosary is so rich, so full of layers that it provides a plush opportunity for exploring movement. People who participate in Michele’s retreats find their personal rosary prayer deepened: they expand their movement beyond their fingers to their entire bodies. No rosary, dance, or movement experience is required, merely a desire and willingness to move and pray. Please wear comfortable clothing. If weather permits, we may pray outside. Rosaries will be provided.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Beginning Again with Mary at the Tomb


This summer, I had the opportunity to tell and dance the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb from John 20 on a labyrinth, not once, but twice!

First, I danced for the Feast of Mary Magdalene as part of the early morning worship service on July 22 at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality in St. Paul, MN. I was intrigued when I learned that the worship service would take place outdoors on a labyrinth. I have told the story many times in churches, using the altar as the tomb and going up and down the aisles to show Mary's movement to and from the tomb. If you're not familiar, a labyrinth is not a maze with right and wrong turns, but a unicursal (singular) path to the center and then back out again. So, how wonderful to represent Mary's journey to and from the tomb! This innovation represented an opportunity to expand the traveling movements, adding dance interludes to my storytelling, so I asked about a musician. Erika Schwichtenberg who is on staff at Wisdom Ways is a cellist, and the cello seemed a perfect instrument to express Mary's lament: it's so emotionally expressive. Unfortunately, she hurt her hand and couldn't play. But, a wonderfully talented violinist, Kathleen Olsen who plays with the Minnesota Philharmonic, stepped in the morning of the prayer service. She overcame our intense anti-anything-but-cello bias, putting our prejudices to shame. It was fun to work together to figure out musical sounds that would express the very different emotional tones of each of the trips back and forth to and from the tomb.
People responded very favorably to the scriptural enactment/dance/storytelling. My twin (a tough critic even though or maybe because she shares my DNA) said that I made Mary Magdalene "real," bringing her to life. Very human with real emotions, not just a far-away bible character.
I realized, in the middle of it, that I was recounting a story that had originally taken place in the open air: the tomb was outside after all. So, that made the prayer even more extra special.
On another note, I had always been confused by the "stage directions" in the story which have Mary "turning" two times, which doesn't make sense. A woman commented that that was evidence that the story had been pieced together from different sources. Of course! Why hadn't I put that together? Need to do more biblical research . . .

So a couple of weeks later, when I arrived at Simpsonwood, outside Atlanta, for the Network of Biblical Storytellers festival in August, one of the first things I did was check out the advertised labyrinth to see if it would work to tell the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb. The labyrinth is in an absolutely magical setting in the middle of the woods, so the answer was "Yes!" (Photo by Simon Camilleri is of me telling the story there.) I recruited Dan LeMonnier to play for me, and his instrument is, of all unlikely candidates: banjo. (After having my heart set on the cello and being blown away by the violin, who was I to know what musical instrument would best convey Mary's story?) After I told the story, ending with "I have seen the Lord" and encouraging everyone to join me in those words and movement, Dan and his banjo broke into the catchy, joyful song that he wrote about Mary Magdalene at the tomb, "Begin Again" (available on his CD available through his website and on iTunes). His banjo music is so contagious, many many joined me dancing around the labyrinth in sheer joy. It was wonderful to dance with a lot of other celebratory people. Dan's music helped me feel the incredible happiness that Mary felt after she had seen Jesus again in a way that I hadn't really understood it before. Just sheer utter joy. That's the power of music. And, that's the power of dance . . . to understand on a kinesthetic level. And that's the power of great literature, such as the bible: every time you read a story, you can get something else, new, out of it. And, most importantly, that's the power of love!

The whole adventure of going to the Network of Biblical Storytelling Festival was partially supported by a Community Arts Assistance Program grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency. Thank you!

On another note: a not to be missed event

It turns out that one of my favorite storytellers from the Network of Biblical Storytellers festival is coming to the Chicago area this week. So, if you’re available, please consider coming to one of the following performances of “Elijah” by Simon Camilleri who is touring the states from Australia. The story of Elijah is found in the Jewish Bible (Tanakh or Old Testament) and is significant in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The script for the show comes directly from account of Elijah from the books of 1 and 2 Kings.

Thursday, August 21 @ 7PM
First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge
418 Touhy Avenue
Park Ridge, IL 60068
847-825-3144

Friday, August 22, 7:00 PM
Westminster Presbyterian Church
8599 Columbia Avenue
Munster, IN 46321
1-219-838-3131

Saturday, August 23, 11:00 AM
Workshop on Ensemble Storytelling
Westminster Presbyterian Church

Sunday, August 24 @ 6PM
Wheaton Christian Reformed Church
(this performance will be incorporated into Sunday worship)
711 E Harrison Ave
Wheaton, IL 60187
(630) 668-6054

All performances ask a free will offering. I’ll be going to the Thursday night performance. If you opt to go to another one and let me know, maybe I'll go to that one, too. I helped arrange these Chicago area presentations because I wanted to see the whole show. This is the bible come to life! Truly wonderful.

While I'm plugging storytellers from the festival, let me put a plug in for Ed Kilbourne who told great stories, in his very understated way, imagining Jesus on earth today.


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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Ritual Lamentation

I went to a one day workshop last Saturday at the Theatre School at Depaul University: "Deep Song: Ecstatic Voice and Lamentation; Exploring the Ancient Art of Ritual Lamentation" taught by Marya Lowry, a professor of Theater Arts at Brandeis University. I was in very learned company: voice teachers at DePaul, etc. and was in a bit over my head, but it was insightful and interesting, nevertheless. Hearing what these people could do with their voices was incredible. Listening and watching, I was transported to different ancient cultures and fragments of childhood memories.

Lamentation is a lost concept today. I've only heard mention in the bible. My parish for a long time was Holy Innocents (the children Herod ordered murdered in his attempt to do away with Christ) so I danced and prayed and enacted the shadow side of Christmas and was familiar with the haunting passage, “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for children, and she would not be consoled for they were no more.”

I've been through a traumatic time the last couple of years. And, while the trauma itself has been difficult, the lack of support from friends has been really painful. In the workshop, I realized that part of the problem is that our society doesn't provide any structure, any sanctioned social mechanism, for people to provide that support. Traditionally, lamentation was such a vehicle. It created a space for people to grieve with communal support. When lamenting, the community allows a person (usually a woman) to give full vocal expression to her grief while, at the same time, keeping her safe. There is an ebb and flow. The supporters provide a background "harmony." If the person who is lamenting is going into dangerous territory, the others will rise up with their voices, supporting and validating her grief while at the same time overpowering her, bringing her back to equilibrium. The community encourages, endorses, and protects all at the same time.

Today, psychologists recognize that we cannot process our emotional upheavals solely verbally. Talk therapy doesn't work for trauma. We need to integrate the right and left brain, to do full brain processing. Wailing was an ancient mechanism for achieving that. The community was given an opportunity to support a grief-stricken person nonverbally. There are times when words are just not effective. Friends don't know what to say, and when they try, they often stick their feet in their mouths. By empathizing with the feelings through sound rather than words, people can acknowledge a person's pain without having to articulate logic and reasoning. It's easier and healthier for everyone. Today, we say, "Don't cry" and people don't. So, there's all this suppressed pain in our society that hasn't been given an outlet. Marya said that there's a "flattening" - a narrower and narrower range of acceptable emotions; not being allowed to grieve also diminishes our ability to feel the opposite.

So, in a small group in the workshop, I experienced that supportive role: letting someone wail and then rising up to catch her. It was incredible. Marya also encouraged us to try "chest beating and hair pulling" - actions I've only heard described in the bible. These are lost gestures in our civilized society. And, so in that circle, I tried beating my chest, providing a drumbeat with my body. The combination of beating my chest and vocalizing was very powerful. Traditionally, Catholics "strike their breast" three times during the Penitential Rite, "I have sinned through my own fault . . ." which is at the beginning of Mass. It's not taught anymore (except in very traditional churches) -- why are we stripping all the movement out of our worship? (Because we don't want to dwell on the negative?) I had never felt the primal power of "striking my breast" when I did that highly ritualized version of the gesture, but at least it was there. Now, even that remnant of the ancient practice has been sanitized out . . .

It's clear that lamentation has been suppressed because it's so powerful: through lament, people can rouse themselves to action. The workshop was also referred to as "dangerous voices." Lament can empower and lead to protest. The voice work moved from laughter to grief fluidly. Emotion moves, evolves, transforms.

Marya is interested in lamentation from a theatrical perspective. The workshop was not a place to deal with raw laments. It wasn't a therapy session. But, how would one create a lamentation circle in our current society? People today are not trained in such vocal support. In ancient times, it was part of the culture so people learned it from their parents and grandparents. It's a lost art. How can we reinstitute such a powerful and important ritual today?

Monday, April 14, 2008

On getting out of the way for Mary Magdalene ... and Emma, too!

I went to Chiesa Nuova to see my good friend, Lisa Wagner of Still Point Theatre Collective, perform Deep Listening, a one woman play about death, dying and end of life care from the perspective of a doctor, health care providers, and a dying woman. It sounds depressing, but it really isn't. Lisa gave a wonderful, convincing performance. Afterwards, someone asked her secret to acting and she said that she just tries to "get out of the way and let the people speak for themselves."
Wow, I thought, that's what I was trying to get at in my last post about the mystery as to why my leading the prayer at the Women and Spirituality conference went so well. Three different elements converged so that I just got out of the way, and in that case, was able to be myself, trust myself to be myself. There's a magic that takes over in those moments; it's almost an outer body experience. I attribute it to the Holy Spirit.
It happened again last Saturday when I proclaimed the first three Glorious Mysteries for the rosary after Dennis and Victoria Mervar's wedding. For the fifth mystery, Victoria had had the idea of she and Dennis reading Mary's and Joseph's Yeses from Luke and Matthew. Juxtaposed. She often comes up with a solution to a dilemma that I never would have thought of. Brilliant. Anyway, right before the rosary started, she told me she forgot to bring the script, so I asked the wedding coordinator to find a bible and I was madly writing out the script for them, trying to make my notoriously bad handwriting as legible as possible. Anyway, I think that distraction helped me "get out of the way," because I didn't have time to think. When my cue came, I put the bible down and I was on, telling the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb. I did the best proclamation of the story I have yet to do. So, thank you, Victoria, for forgetting the script! I was especially grateful that I was able to do such a good rendition for Victoria and Dennis on their wedding day. They're a great couple.

Oh, and about Emma . . .

Friday, April 25, 2008, 11AM - 3PM & Sunday, April 27, 1PM - 3PM

Arbor Day Celebrations

In a diversion from my typical church gigs and in an intersection with my "other life" as a marketing consultant to the Illinois Emerald Ash Borer Wood Utilization Team, I will be Emma the Emerald Ash Borer for the Arboretum's Arbor Day festivities. To impersonate the bad bug that's been destroying the ash trees in the Midwest, I will be wearing a totally great costume made by the multi-talented Edith Makra.

Morton Arboretum, Lisle, Illinois

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Easter, Rosaries in Motion, Reflections on Women & Spirituality Conference

Oh my, it's been a while since I've written. I've got a number of new events added to my calendar. And, one removed. Due to changes in plans, I won't be dancing on the Feast of the Annunciation for the Felician sisters but we're talking about doing something in May. While I'm disappointed not to be able to dance on my favorite feast day, I'm also relieved because I've got so much else going on as you can see below. Below the upcoming events are some reflections on the Women & Spirituality Conference.

Upcoming Events Sunday, March 23, 2008, 9am & 10:30am Easter Services
I will dramatically proclaim the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb from John's gospel. I haven't ministered on Easter for a number of years, and I'm grateful this year to have the opportunity to focus on the resurrection.
In a switch from the typical, the 9am service is the contemporary service and the 10:30 is traditional. We are doing some creative things on the contemporary. Don't want to tell for those who might come. The traditional service uses the readings from the common lectionary and the pipe organ. My proclamation of the gospel will be the same for both services, but the settings for it will be very different. I'm excited to be able to do it in both contexts. I'm looking forward to seeing how it works in both.
First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge, Illinois

Saturday, April 5, 2008, 6:30pm Glorious Mysteries Rosary
I will proclaim and interpret the first four glorious mysteries - Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, and Assumption - for prayerful discernment and reflection for those who come to pray the first rosary that my dear friend and fellow rosary dancer, Victoria Liu, and Dennis Mervar will pray as a married couple. We will also teach everyone simple movements to the "Our Father." Everyone is welcome to this rosary prayer, which will follow St. Clement's Saturday 5pm Mass.
Lower-level Chapel, Saint Clement's Church, Chicago, Illinois

Sunday, May 4, 2008, 10am Confirmation Sunday
I will dance with the ribbon banner, blessing each of the confirmands with a swoosh of red ribbons overhead representing the Holy Spirit.
First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette, Illinois

Saturday, October 4, 2008, 9:30am-4pm Moving Through the Mysteries of the Rosary
I am happy to be able to offer a Rosary in Motion retreat in October, the Month of the Rosary. We will explore how the full cycle of the mysteries of the rosary -- Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection — is relevant to our contemporary life journeys. After grounding ourselves in movement-based Lectio Divina (scriptural reflection) and faith-sharing, we will develop our own moving meditations to the natural rhythms of the spoken rosary. No rosary, dance, or movement experience is required, merely a desire and willingness to move and pray.
Portiuncular Center for Prayer, Frankfort, Illinois


Reflections on the Women and Spirituality Conference
According to a recent survey of religious affiliation by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, more than a quarter of adult Americans have left the faith of their childhood, either choosing a new one or easing into a life of no faith. (February 26, 2008 New York Times Poll Finds a Fluid Religious Life in U.S.) Against that backdrop, the Women and Spirituality Conference, sponsored by Transformations ~Institute for Psychological and Spiritual Development, is particularly significant.
I had a wonderful time leading the opening and closing rituals for the conference. Toni Saunders had the vision of a circle dance in the atrium of the North Shore Senior Center, where the conference took place. And, we were able to make the vision become a wonderful reality. I insisted that we have live music, and Toni found a very talented female pianist, Andy Schweitzer, and an equally talented singer, Colleen Hewitt. It's great to work with people whose talents complement my own. I'm just amazed by the things they notice, think of, are concerned about, things I'd never think of or notice. So, I'm so glad they were there. They were changing notes, adding measures, and I don't know what all. Just wonderful.

It was a challenge to create a circle dance easy enough for a group of people of all different abilities to learn and then dance on the spur of the moment. So, I kept things very simple. Don't have to have to remember left foot or right foot. I said that we're operating from the philosophy of the African proverb: "If you can talk, you can sing. If you can walk, you can dance." So, I just had fun with it. Women, afterwards, said they thought I was funny. I wasn't trying to or meaning to, but upon reflection, I think my mime background came out. I exaggerated the movements, taking big exaggerated steps, for example, and I think that helped give the women permission to just try it themselves: you won't be made a fool. I already am. Just have fun with it. I am. I can identify with the difficulty people have learning new dances because that's not my forte. So, I brought a "hey, we're all in this together" attitude.
Several comments afterward touched me. One woman said that she had hurt her ankle so she was apprehensive that she'd be able to participate, but she did and she could and so she was very happy. Another woman told me that when I was dancing in the center as I was leading everyone, I looked so blissful. It was clear that I was doing what I love to do. I don't doubt that I was radiant, but I wouldn't have realized my joy was so transparent.

The opening prayer went magically well. At first, I couldn't quite explain how. Upon reflection, I offer three explanations.

At the conference, I attended Judi Geake's workshop, Journaling as Soul Conversation, in the afternoon, she gave us "writing prompts" and one was to write about a scripture text that has "lit my path." While I love the Annunciation, but as much as I'd like to be able to claim that it has "lit my path," I don't think I can honestly say that. Maybe one day . . .

For me, it's Matthew 10:16-19 that I feel really tells my story, and I've felt that way for a long time. I remember telling my sister that I'd like it read at my funeral, and she was horrified because it's describes such an ugly scene. My focus, however, isn't the ugliness but the ability to navigate through it.
"See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak , but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." (NRSV)

And, I realized that, yes, it happened again that morning when I led the opening prayer. It was not me who spoke but the Spirit of God speaking through me. I became a conduit for the Holy Spirit. It's magical when that happens. I surprised myself. I do think that the preparation is important. I spend time putting together a very detailed outline, which is helpful for thinking through all the little things that could go wrong. It may appear obsessive, but it means that I can be relaxed once I'm in front of everyone.

I also took a workshop with Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founder of the Urban Bush Women, the day before the conference at Columbia College. She spoke about different types of work that she does: stage performances, how what started as what people told her was "community outreach" has now involved into what she calls community participation and community engagement. It's interesting because, as a liturgical dancer, I'm in a very different relationship to community. But, she talked about "entering, building, and exiting community" in these various different types of work. That her biggest failures have been commissioned works in which she was so focused on trying to get the project done in the weeks allowed that she skipped the "entering community" piece. I had attended another workshop that she gave at Northwestern a couple of months ago, and I didn't realize the significance of the "community mapping" that she led: it's a way of "entering community." She creates different categories of birth order, childhood home, or love of chocolate, for example, and asks people to go to different corners of the room depending on how they self define. Then the groups in the different corners come up with and agree on one advantage and one disadvantage of being first born, for example. Sometimes, the maps are more truly spacial maps, like where you live relative to where you are at that moment. Sometimes, it's choosing a side of a dichotomy. And, then sometimes, it's forming one straight line with our eyes closed and no talking, of height or hair color from dark to light.
But, the interesting thing that Jawole had us do was line up based on economic privilege from our childhood. People were a lot less talkative for this one. Talk about breaking down barriers, navigating through barriers. When we debriefed it later, she said that it's important to own and be our authentic selves, to own who we are to others and ourselves. That's how we can dance our authentic selves. And, so I think a little shift happened inside of me. I got permission to just be myself. Be who I am. Trust myself.

And, the third thing that helped is that Toni's husband and brother-in-law picked me up at the train station and took me over to the conference. They were a such a great comedy team, that they got me out of myself, out of my head. And, that was a good thing. I couldn't stop laughing and smiling. Thank you!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Ash Wednesday, Annunciation, Women Spirituality Conference & More

I'm ministering at the following upcoming services and events:

Wednesday, February 6, 2008, 7pm

Ash Wednesday Service

I will proclaim and interpret the Hebrew Testament reading, Joel 2:12-18

I am grateful to have the opportunity to minister on Ash Wednesday and prepare myself and others for the season of Lent.

First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge, Illinois

Saturday, March 8, 2008, 9am-4pm

Women and Spirituality Conference ~ for adult women of all ages and beliefs

I will lead the participants in a simple circle dance for the opening and closing ritual.

Transformations ~Institute for Psychological and Spiritual Development

North Shore Senior Center, Northfield, Illinois

Monday, March 31, 2008, 4:45pm

Evening Prayer on the Feast of the Annunciation

I will most likely dance the Magnificat. I am delighted to have the opportunity to dance on this, my favorite Feast Day.

Motherhouse of Felician Sisters Mother of Good Counsel Province, Chicago , Illinois

Sunday, May 4, 2008, 10am

Confirmation Sunday

I will dance with a ribbon banner, blessing each of the confirmands with a swoosh of red ribbons overhead representing the Holy Spirit.

First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette, Illinois

As you can see, I'm still not booked for Holy Week or Easter or Pentecost, so please let me know if you're interested. Also, I'm working on a rosary retreat for this coming October. Details forthcoming soon.

So, today, I worked on the Joel 2:12-18 reading for Ash Wednesday.
As always, it's useful to spend time with the scripture; repetition brings familiarity and insight. Going over and over the passage, I realized I didn't understand it at all before. I reached a deeper level of understanding. Scripture is so deep. I just keep going deeper and deeper into it. It's amazing.
So, today in the gym, I realized a person's natural hesitation in response to the very first line: "Even now, says the Lord, return to me." I read the entire (short) book of Joel in order to put the reading in its context. The people have messed up. There's a plague of locusts. But, even now, even despite that, God asks us back: "Return to me." How do I respond? Tentatively. Who? Me? You really mean it? Yes, God says, but you need to grovel. Give me everything. "your whole heart. Fast. Weep. Mourn. Tear your heart, not just your clothes." Nothing half-hearted. half baked. I require complete surrender. I want everything. Your whole being. Because why? Because I am gracious and loving. I love you. I forgive you. I will provide for you. So, how does a person respond? Sound the trumpet. Call an assembly. Gather everyone together and ask God's forgiveness today. Have the priests plead for the people. And, God hears, responds, takes us back.

That's a good start for Lent.

Blessings,
Michele


Friday, January 25, 2008

Playing God

I had a wonderful time ministering in movement at the First Presbyterian Church in Wilmette the Sunday before last. And, more importantly, it was very well received. Many people thanked me afterwards. Congregations are hungry for meaningful movement in worship. It has a gut-level impact, pulls the prayer together, gives a perspective from a different angle. We need to learn the different lessons God has to teach us with all our senses. A full knowing . . .

Pastor Sarah Butter and I work very well together brainstorming. Talking to someone else after the service, she gave me a great compliment when she said, "Michele's great to work with in planning liturgy. She understands that it's not about the dance." And, what we did that Sunday was truly not about the dance but an example of dance fully integrated into the worship service.

Sarah had the vision of "Here I am, Lord" by Dan Schutte for the installation of Rev. Autum Lum as the Associate Pastor of Youth Ministries and Family Worship. When I looked at the song, I realized that it is a duet featuring God and his/her people, a call and response. So, I volunteered to dance God, "I the Lord of wind and rain . . . Whom shall I send?" And have the youth come forward responding to the call. When I told Sarah the idea, she immediately suggested that Autum would be the first to respond, "Here I am, Lord."

Then I thought, what have I gotten myself into? playing God???
So, it was a useful prayer to reflect on: "How do I want to represent God? What does the God I want to be look like? How does S/He move??"
Yes, larger than life, but also compassionate and loving.
Sarah suggested I wear white.

When I came to rehearse in the space with Sarah, I thought it was clear that the song would be at the beginning of the installation service, but Sarah kept fussing about where exactly it should go. I didn't say anything, but I was silently impatient. What I know and need to remember in those circumstances is that the Holy Spirit is usually working. We ended up with a great solution, better than what I assumed we would do. The dance was integrated into the service miraculously, magically, seamlessly.
The song came after the questions of Autum and of the congregation and before the prayer of installation and laying on of hands. It was a way for everyone to come forward in a meaningful way, responding to the call, as part of the song/dance. Autum responded "Yes, here I am, Lord." in the first verse, and then, the youth, elders, and deacons in subsequent verses. The song ended with everyone surrounding Autum.
The laying on of hands was amazing to behold. The youth and ordained elders and deacons approached Autum during the second refrain and into the third verse and third refrain. There were so many people that they overflowed down the steps into the aisle, forming a huge human amoeba, a chain of blessing. Those closest to Autum laid hands on her and those behind put their hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them, forming a breathing chain of connection, a mass of blessing. Talk about full body prayer!
The song was song beautifully as always under the direction of Peggy Massello: the God verses as solos and the refrains with the congregation and full choir.

And, I must make a few comments on the rest of the service, which contained a number of wonderful references to movement.
In Associate Pastor Victoria Millar lesson for the little ones, she talked about installing a motor for a garage door opener. (This is the suburbs where children understand that motors help garage door openers operate more easily.) Then, she made a great comparison. Today, we're going to install a person to be a motor for our church.
A useful physical metaphor of movement, huh?

Then, Rev. Butter told a wonderful story in her sermon about a pastor friend of hers, who at bedtime and whenever his children would go out or he would leave them, would make the sign of the cross on their foreheads and say, "Remember who you are and whose you are." When his son became a young adult and he dropped him off at college and watched him walk off to his dorm and new life, he was surprised to see his son turn around and come back to him and say, "Dad, you forgot to sign me."
Wow, another powerful example of body prayer, a simple gesture in everyday life.
God is good. Let's show it with our whole bodies!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Here I am: Rosary dance insights

I had a wonderful time leading the Advent Day of Reflection for the Diocese of Joliet: "Dancing the Rosary: Moving through the Joyful Mysteries" on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception back in December. It was a wonderful group of nine prayerful, loving women.

I learn and tweak, add, subtract every time I give a rosary dance retreat. This time I choreographed very simple movements to the Our Father and Glory Be. My goal was to create movements that were VERY simple. Easily remembered and embodied. Intuitive so people didn't have to think them, but could truly pray them. I also wanted to give people a variety of movement experiences - opportunities for creative movement reflection and for choreographed unison movement, some easily remembered movements that they could take home.

The personal highlight of the day for me was Joy Sloan playing on the piano and all of us singing and swaying and dancing Anne Carter's Magnificat (which is Mary's prayer) at the end of the Mass at the end of the day. I had been leading/directing/in charge all day, but now it was my turn to be led and fed. And, there's nothing like live music to inspire the soul. And, that Magnificat is great because it is to the tune of Amazing Grace and everyone knows (and loves) the tune of Amazing Grace so all can really sing it.

I had been fed throughout the day, too, though, by the wonderful sharing. Just a few highlights:
- Clare's gestural interpretation of conception
- Gena's unexpected tears as she explained how integral Mary is to her spirituality
- Kathy's interpretation of the last phrase of the Hail Mary: "at the hour of our death" as a resurrection

Thank you, thank you all!

* * * *

On another note, next Sunday, January 13th at 10am, I'm dancing for the installation of Autum Lum as youth pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Wilmette. I don't want to say too much on the very off chance that she would read this as it's a surprise, but the song is "Here I am, Lord" by Dan Schutte and I will be embodying God - quite a challenge and a new role for me. I've embodied the Holy Spirit, the woman at the well, Mary of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene, but never God, except in so much as we all do as children of God.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Advent Dance Reflections

I danced today at New Hope United Methodist Church. I love dancing there. The people are gracious, the choir is wonderful, and, the big bonus for me as a dancer: they've got a beautiful sprung wood floor. The dance was very simple, which was appropriate, for the song, "There's a Great Joy a Comin,'" which itself is simple, and the congregation and the space, which is small. And, in liturgical dance, as in many things, less is truly more. I am reminded of the homiletics advice, that if you ask several people what a sermon was about and they all give different answers, you've failed. The same is true, I'm thinking, for liturgical dance.
Thinking of describing the dance, I'm reminded of a quote attributed to Isadora Duncan: " If I could tell you what I mean I wouldn’t need to dance.” The dance sounds even simpler on paper than in person: it showed the evolution from a child in the womb to an infant held to the gift of love spread around the world.
Afterward a woman commented that it was clear that I really put my whole self into my dance. I said that I made the dance a prayer of preparation for recognizing the joy of Christmas in my and all our lives. Then, I received the compliment I most cherish: the woman said she cried during my dance.

High school student Katie de Loys did a lovely job in her dance at the Episcopal Church of St. James the Less during the Lessons and Carols service on Friday night. Katie lit the advent wreath in a moving meditation on the coming of the light of Christ into our world. Her dance reflected the mix of joyful hope and trepidation embodied in the Advent season. She has very graceful flowing presence. As I was walking out of the church, I overhead a conversation between two women. One said, "Do they always have that dancer like that?" and the other said, "No, this is the first time." and then the first went on to comment on how lovely it was. It's great to overhear such unsolicited compliments. This was the congregation's introduction to liturgical dance, and it was well received. Thank you, Katie!

I haven't gotten the report yet on how the Advent procession went this Sunday at First Presbyterian Church in Wilmette, but the first Sunday Sunday of Advent, Ethan did a superb job carrying the candle to the front of the church during "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." The movement was simple, prayerful, and very well executed. But, my accolades carry limited weight. Ethan received the best compliment that an eighth grader can get: the praise of his peers. I'm told that they all clapped when he returned to the Sunday School classroom afterwards! I have ministered through movement for this church in the past, but this is the first time members of the congregation are doing conscious liturgical movement. And, again, it was well received. Thank you, Ethan, for leading the way. The children, indeed, shall lead us.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Advent Dances and Retreat

I've got a busy advent. Here's what I have lined up. (Please note that the dance at New Hope UMC previously mentioned here has been moved to the third Sunday of Advent.)

Sundays, December 2, 9, 16, & 23, 10am Advent services;
Sunday, December 2, 2007, 6pm, Hanging of the Greens
During the traditional Advent Hymn, "O come, O come, Emmanuel," young people from the congregation will bring candles to the communion table. Each week a candle will be added as the light of Christ comes closer. I am delighted to be working with youth minister Autum Lum to make this Advent vision I've had for many years a moving reality. (I will not personally be attending all services.)
First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette, Illinois

Saturday, December 8, 2007 9am-4pm
Dancing the Rosary: Moving through the Joyful Mysteries
On this Advent retreat day on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception,
we will pray with our bodies, reflecting on Mary and her tremendous
gift to humankind. After grounding ourselves in movement-based Lectio
Divina(scriptural reflection) and faith-sharing, we will pray our own
moving meditations to the natural rhythms of the spoken rosary. The
day will culminate in celebrating mass for this Holy Day. No rosary,
dance, or movement experience is required, merely a desire and
willingness to move and pray. Please wear comfortable clothing.
Rosaries will be provided.
Archdiocese of Joliet, Illinois, Romeoville, Illinois

Friday, December 14, 2007, 7pm
Lessons & Carols
Katie Deloys, a highschool student and accomplished dancer, will be lighting the Advent wreath as part of a liturgical dance I am helping her choreograph to an unusual setting of the traditional Advent hymn, "O come, O come, Emmanuel," sung by the St. James the Less choir under the direction of Anastasia Black.
The Episcopal Church of St. James the Less, Northfield, IL


Sunday, December 16, 2007, 10:30am
Worship service on the Third Sunday of Advent
I will dance to the lively "There's a Great Joy a Comin'"sung by New
Hope's choir under the direction of Liz Okayama.
New Hope United Methodist Church, Chicago, Illinois

Monday, October 22, 2007

Movement and stillness inherent in the Sorrowful Mysteries

Reading Garry Will's book The Rosary: Prayer Comes Round, I realized that I needed to get back in the gym as that is where I pray the rosary. For me, it's a movement meditation. When I got there Monday, I discovered that I didn't have a bible with me, which was really annoying, because I like to start from the scriptures -- to be grounded in the scriptures. Usually, I choose one mystery, read the associated scripture passage, and spend my whole prayer time on it. So, since I couldn't focus on one scripture passage and mystery, I decided to do a whole rosary (or five mysteries), and given everything I'm going through, the sorrowful mysteries seemed right. Sometimes, one just needs to turn it all over to God in prayer. So, as is often the case, my prayer time in the gym was very enlightening. Helpful. Wild the insights I get in that gym.
I thought of Jesus facing death and how it must have felt. 1. The agony in the garden: "Not my will, but yours be done." It really is tough to acknowledge that one's life (or a chapter of life) is ending, to truly let go, to say "Good-bye." To see death foreordained and keep moving toward it.
I had been pacing round and round the gym counter-clockwise, then clockwise, then back and forth before beginning the rosary and through that first decade, and I was beginning to want to end what had become an almost frenetic pace.
2. Scourging at the pillar: Ah, I stopped moving. This mystery is still. Jesus wasn't moving. wasn't allowed to move. trapped. The mystery requires a giving in. an acceptance of fate. I stood by a volleyball pole (my pillar). Just said the prayers in place. (Of course, if I had been identifying with his floggers, the movement would have been frenetic.)
3. Crowning with thorns. I'm on the floor, sitting regally. Again, this is still. just take the mocking. Jesus didn't respond. No point in dignifying the taunts with a response. He knew the truth, his inner truth. Didn't matter what others said. What strength Jesus had to just take it quietly.
4. Carrying the cross. now, I'm moving again. slowly though. resigned. with a large imaginary cross on my back.
5. Crucifixion. I'm against the wall now. my arms up. I keep sinking down and then revive myself, trying to hold my arms up. I have to endure ten Hail Mary's before it's finally over. A death on a cross is slow and painful . . .

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why pray through Mary about Jesus?

I went on retreat at Techny Towers this weekend, and I recommend the place. It is right on highway 43 in Northbrook, Illinois so the buzz of traffic let me know that I wasn't too far from civilization, but there was a certain joy in waking up early in the morning and appreciating the surprising, almost miraculous silence, waiting minutes to hear a car go by. A still point of calm. God rested.
The food was superb as was the bookstore, where I spent quite a bit of time. And, I bought a lot, forgetting that I had biked up there. Let's just say I was loaded down on my way home today.
I was excited to find a new resource for my upcoming retreat, Dancing the Rosary: Moving through the Joyful Mysteries, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, in Romeoville, IL: twenty greeting cards with images of the twenty mysteries of the rosary painted by various masters. Just exquisite.
Also, I finally bought Garry Will's book: The Rosary: Prayer Comes Round (I love the subtitle.) I had heard him speak when the book came out and always wanted to get it. I must share with you how he answers this question which he poses: "If our meditations are on the life of Christ, why is the most repeated prayer in the rosary said to the Virgin Mary?" He explains that the Hail Mary is a prayer for assistance in understanding the life of Christ, and Mary is the perfect model to which to turn for such help. Wills goes through the various passages in the bible that mention Mary and shows how she is depicted as puzzling and pondering what in the world Jesus is doing. So, we ask for her prayers, as she has gone before us on this quest. I'm paraphrasing the passage: his couple pages of explanation is worth the price of the book.
While I'm on rosary resources, I have the "Rosary Sonatas" by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber on what feels like perpetual order now. He wrote 15 sonatas for violin and harpischord -- one for each of the original fifteen mysteries of the rosary. Can't wait to get them.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Dancing the Magnificat w/Rory Cooney

The very first liturgical dance that I did, I'm proud to say, was "Holy is Your Name" -- the Magnificant -- Mary's prayer of social justice which she said when she visited her cousin Elisabeth after having learned that she, of all people, was about to give birth to God. Since the words of the Magnificat are not specific to her situation, it was most likely a common Jewish prayer of the day. So, in her unimaginable situation, Mary fell back on a prayer she had most likely repeated many times before. Her reliance on rote prayer in that time of trial reminds me of a Catholic friend of mine, who doesn't understand why I dance the rosary, admitting that, in childbirth, much to her surprise, it was the "Hail Mary" that came out of her lips.

Anyway, I was at Old St. Pat's on Sunday afternoon, spending much more time "rehearsing" than the piece actually required. What I was really doing was praying, praying the song in my body over and over again in the near empty church.
I knew I was off with the tempo and timing, and I was a bit frustrated. (This was before I had learned to ask the musician with whom I would be collaborating to make a recording of the song for me to use for rehearsal.) Eventually, preparations began for the 5PM Mass, and a man sat down at the piano and started playing a few notes. Seeing my chance, I went over to him and asked, very politely, if he might do me the great favor of playing "Holy in Your Name," just once through. I could get him a copy of the sheet music. He said, "Oh, I don't need the music" and then proceeded to play the most voluptuous version of the song I would ever hear, and I danced with abandon. Good music is so essential to good dance. That ad-hoc rehearsal was the worship; the later prayer service a required coda. Several of the people in the church commented to me later. It was one of those magical, Holy Spirit moments. Only afterwards did I learn that the musician was Rory Cooney -- a composer (not of that song, but) whose church music I have always loved.

Anyway, last week, I happened on Rory's blog and share links to a couple of great entries. Insightful and humorous, the blog exudes Rory's wonderful personality. I'm not a sport's fan, but I've always been interested in secular ritual. Rory's comments on what liturgists can learn from baseball games is quite pertinent. And, the entry about love and forgiveness poignant. Thank you, Rory.

Congregational singing at Wrigley

"The experience of shatteringly good ritual singing, like an assembly of 40,000 being led by an organist and a tone-deaf trio of basketball players from Northwestern, is something to which all church musicians ought to aspire. We can learn a few lessons from this experience, to wit:
  1. If the assembly knows the song, it doesn’t matter how bad the cantor is.
  2. If you don’t change the song all the time, people learn it by heart, and teach it to their kids.
  3. Rhyming is good
  4. Concrete language is good (e.g., “peanuts and crackerjack,” instead of “snacks and candy”; “Cubbies” instead of “home team” ☺)"
Love means never having to hear “I’m sorry”

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