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Dance in the dark

Reverend Otis Moss (senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago) tells a story about a time when he and his church were under attack, some years ago. They were receiving dozens of death threats every week, “We’re going to kill you.” “We’re going to bomb your church.” At the time, he was a new preacher and a young father. The situation was dire. One night he was awakened by a noise in his house and he trepidatiously got up to see what was going on. He peeked into his daughter’s room, and he describes:
“There was my daughter Makayla dancing in the darkness—just spinning around, saying, ‘Look at me, Daddy.’
I said, ‘Makayla, you need to go to bed. It is 3 am. You need to go to bed.’ But she said, ‘No, look at me, Daddy. Look at me.’
And she was spinning, barrettes going back and forth, pigtails going back and forth.
I was getting huffy and puffy wanting her to go to bed, but then God spoke to me. ‘Look at your daughter! She’s dancing in the dark. The darkness is all around her but it is not in her!’
Makayla reminded me that weeping may endure for a night, but if you dance long enough joy will come in the morning. It is the job of preachers, to send this word to us in the hardest of times: do not let the darkness find its way to you.”
(The Amen Effect, Rabbi Sharon Brous)

I carry Sojourner Truth’s wonderful affirmation in my heart, “Life is a hard battle anyway. If we laugh and sing a little as we fight the good fight of freedom, it makes it all go easier. I will not allow my life’s light to be determined by the darkness around me.”

Rev. Moss writes, “Instead of seeing Makayla as just another addition to the night’s problems, I glimpsed her as a fellow traveler. Like her frightened father, this six-year-old fellow traveler was awake in the night.
Even so, there was a difference. I was caught in a cycle of worry and anger. I was not just walking a dark path; I had let the darkness inside me. Evil always seeks to obscure the light, because once it has you living in darkness, that which should not be painful becomes so.
What we forget, faithwise, in our fear—what I was forgetting that night in my daughter’s room—is that even in the darkest night, when we see no light at all, the light is still there. The sun is still shining over Earth even when our side of Earth rotates away from it. The stars still shine above us, no matter… how thick the clouds above our heads. What we need in the darkest nights is to keep walking along the path until we can glimpse the stars again. What we don’t need is to panic and run blindly into the woods.
Makayla was just a child, but on this night, she had moved ahead of me on that path. By dancing in the dark, by doing one of the things she most loved, she was making her own light.
The enduring words of Psalm 30 struck me afresh: ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.’ The eleventh verse of the Scripture made me shout: ‘You have turned my mourning into dancing.’” (From Dancing in the Darkness: Spiritual Lessons for Thriving in Turbulent Times)

And yes, we know that “it is wiser to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” But let’s be honest. Sometimes life is dark, and definitely not fun. Adversity is real. Life can be cruel. (People can be crueler.) Suffering happens. Suffering hurts. We reach a tipping point.
It’s why I love this story. Because it is so counter-intuitive. Let me get this straight, in times of anxiety or fear or suffering or distress—when our equilibrium is catawampus—we are invited to open our heart?
We are invited to dance?
That in adversity, the medicine of dance allows us to show up to reclaim our heart.
That times of darkness can become fertile ground for generosity of spirit, mystery, vulnerability, tenderness, risk and yes, even joy.
That doesn’t make sense, because our tendency is to shut down. To let our heart constrict. Or to appear tough and self-sufficient. Or to find safe haven. Or at the very least, to find an enemy. With an enemy, at least there is someone to blame for all this muddle. The irony is that in every choice above (and they are choices), we relinquish or surrender our very ability to choose.
I’m easily lured to shut down mode. But I want to find a way to reclaim my heart. And dancing, is just the ticket.
Because our heart tells us to resonate with this sentiment to dance. (Of course, it would be easier if someone would provide us with the instructions. You know, a checklist. Because with instructions, we will learn to dance correctly.)
But here’s the deal: Even though we may not believe it, the dance, the perseverance, the light, the tenderness, the whole-heartedness, is already within us.

Seeing his daughter dance inspired Rev. Moss to share the message with his community: “Sunday, I told the congregation that we must meet the threats in our lives. We must fight for justice, for our safety, and for the right to live in a world where we can thrive. But even in the darkness of midnight we can maintain a connection to the light. When we cannot survive in darkness by using visual tools of sight, we still have internal tools of memory to remind us of our terrain. Until dawn comes, we need more than the determination to fight for justice. We need love to keep us from getting lost in distraction, love to keep us from falling into despair, love to help us restore ourselves, get back into harmony with ourselves, so we can last through that dark night.
‘Dance,’ I urged them. ‘Dance in the dark!’”
(Dancing in the Darkness)

I’m write this on Easter day afternoon, sitting outside, soaking up the sunshine. To my left my backdrop, the vibrant pink blooms on a cherry tree, now at the end of bloom season, with pink petals coolly, floating in the breeze. And every once in a while, a gust, and a confetti dance celebration of petals. It does my heart good.

Quote for our week…
Laughing with someone you love, with someone you trust, with someone who makes the world seem brighter—heals you in ways that you didn’t know you needed. Topher Kearby


Today’s Photo Credit: “A resurrected amaryllis- I almost threw it in the compost this winter. And sunrise from Celery fields in Sarasota. My husband and I are in Sarasota taking a short break from the freezing cold in the metro NYC area. I loved this mornings Sabbath Moment–as always find them an inspiring way to start the week (day).  Thank You!  The words that really challenged me was–‘Anything worth doing is worth doing badly!’  Wow, that bursts the bubble of my need for perfectionism! Keep them coming Terry. The ripples are many. Your work in the world feeds my soul! Much love.” Beth Hayward… Thank you Beth… And thank you to all, I love your photos… please keep sending them… send to 

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Letters that do my heart good…
–This morning you hit it out of the park. That scene from The Mission in particular. “Music is what poetry would be if it only could.” Then David Whyte and Emily Dickinson both bringing words to the level of music. It may take me an hour or two to come back down. Ron
–Terry–Wow. Two thoughts from reading Monday’s Sabbath Moment: I always thought of that verse, Let me hear your voice, as Our asking God to speak. For the second time in the last week, you’ve changed my perspective for the better! Also: your advice to the young woman waiting to have God speak with her: excellent! Don’t sit around waiting; savor what’s here, now. Friend, you do nice work. Bob
–Dear Terry, Thank you so much for your very inspirational thoughts, poems, prayers, music videos etc. I’m sitting in the guest room of the coop where my sister used to live, and contemplating the week ahead. My sister died recently, and there is much to do, but with the support of her friends and my friends, it has made the journey much less difficult. And your wonderful Sabbath Moment is just the way I needed to start this day! Thank you very much. Ellen
–I’m so glad you had the experience of being in Selma. It will stay with you forever and help You to teach others about the effects of Racism etc. your Sabbath emails start my day and Give me much food for thought and prayer! Thank you so much. Sr. Mary


Sleeping in the Forest
I thought the earth
remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds. I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees. All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness. All night
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling
with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.
Mary Oliver

This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
John O’Donohue

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