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.

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 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. 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.

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.
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.
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.


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.