Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Holy Dove dancing "Hallelujah"

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!


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."