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!


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