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.