Embrace the dancer inside
Ted Shawn, a young seminarian called to the ministry, was stricken with polio. Somewhere deep inside, he heard another, although very unlikely voice, calling him to dance.
So. That’s what Ted Shawn did. With great difficulty, he quit divinity school and began to dance, and slowly and miraculously, he not only regained the use of his legs, but went on to become one the fathers of modern dance. (With his wife Ruth St. Denis, Shawn co-founded the Denishawn School in 1915, and later became famous for his company of male dancers performing works that embodied a vigorous, masculine style. In 1933 he founded the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Mass., as a summer residence and theatre for his dancers.)
In his book, The Exquisite Risk, Mark Nepo points out the compelling power of Shawn’s story: Studying God did not heal him. Embodying God did. “The fact of Ted Shawn’s miracle shows us that Dance, in all its forms, is Theology live. This leads us all to the inescapable act of living out what is kept in.”
Ted Shawn’s story is not about the absence or loss of belief. It is about the movement of being; from our head to our heart. Embodying is the accurate verb here. Dancing, Ted lived from the inside out, tapping into the passion at his core, allowing him to live each day fully human and fully alive.
It is tempting to park my emotional energy on the assumption that there’s another life waiting for me, other than the life I have today. Say, a “new normal”. Meaning that whoever I am now, I bury it. Or, keep it in.
But I’m a storyteller. And I love stories that keep my hope alive. And I love that passion is not the tenure of a gifted few, but the reflection of living with a whole heart. Gratefully, the dance enables our best selves, gives voice to parts that have been buried or forgotten or hidden for shame.
Dance as the doorway to live out loud, and at home in my own skin.
Dance, not a skill set for the few, but an affirmation that life is remarkably precious. And an affirmation that this preciousness is at the core of every single one of us. When I embrace the dancer in me, I now see, notice, am empathetic to, and invite the dancer in you.
I don’t want to lose track of the dancer.
So. Today, let us live this embodied. To live “embodied” will mean turning the way we process (or see) reality on its head, seeing our life as a journey, or a movement toward continual healing (and wholeness). Here’s the way it translates to me: we no longer see any obstacle–or complication or hurdle–as a derailment. You know, something to get past or over… before life “really” begins. Maybe, to be whole–or to live embodied–is to love whatever “gets in the way.” (Maybe even calling us to dance…)
This doesn’t come easily to me. Because I do allow obstacles to irritate me. To derail me. I am assuredly a candidate for some kind of remedial course on Zen. (Or some kind of course on inner-peace-for-ADHD-multi-tasking neurotics?)
Case in point. Some years back, on retreat, I decided to open my email. Saw 90 unread. I growled and whined. My friend says to me, “Why do you let it bother you? Just think of it as moving energy.” “Why don’t you move your own email!” I said… compassionately.
Okay, they had a point. As long as I see any obstacle as something to be overcome, I am embattled. I am stuck. I am at odds with myself. All of my energy goes into the eradication of the setback. And I cannot hear the “voice of embodiment,” which is the voice of grace. And numb, I am not really available for the people I love. Because I have no bandwidth for things that matter to the heart: gladness, desire, intention, compassion and wholehearted fire.
Now I see what is easy to miss. Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s reminder, “(When I am not grounded) I believe that whatever I seek in miracles, the sacred, intervention of the divine is not in a place where I am now–in a place other than this moment. They have this in common: we don’t look at the world around us as places where God lives.”
Ted Shawn’s story is our invitation.
In what ways can we live out what has been “kept in?”
In what ways do we embody our passion (at home in our own skin)?
In what ways can we live today, fully human, fully alive?
Gabrielle Roth reminds us that in many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions.
When did you stop dancing?
When did you stop singing?
When did you stop being enchanted by stories?
When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?
I love that the shaman didn’t ask, “When are you going to quit worrying?”
Yes. Here’s what I know: today, our world needs dancers. And borrowing from Hafiz, “The earth braces itself for the feet of a lover of God about to dance.”
Hoarfrost on the ground this morning. I know many of you have snow already, but this is still pretty chilly for our neck of the woods in October. The sheep are wearing their winter wool coats. So, they didn’t mind the weather, or that I didn’t have much to say. Although (speaking of all in) I tell them I voted yesterday. And that it did my heart good. In a cynical world, it’s important to remember that everyone has a voice.
And I tell them that I learned one of my oldest and closest friends received a very somber health diagnosis, seemingly out of the blue, a reminder of life’s precariousness and of the invitation, even in sadness and upheaval, to let life in.
Quotes for your week…
Dancing faces you towards Heaven, whichever direction you turn. Terri Guillemets
Dance is the only art of which we ourselves are the stuff of which it is made. Ted Shawn (Time Magazine, July 1955)
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–As usual all of the (ecourse) sessions were great. I always enjoy & feel good after listening to you & your wonderful stories. I especially felt touch by session four. Thanks for all you do for us, Terry. You have definitely been a joy & comfort to me. Sue.
–Again, a beautiful sunset looking right at the cabin we rented for a wonderful September month we had a couple years ago. As you have written before, turn around, wait twelve hours and note the sun coming up over the mountain. I too love the dance to “Jeremiah was a bullfrog”, even though for some reason my childhood did not permit that form of celebration, God must not have liked the movement of the body. Yet worldwide, that movement is celebrated. Terry, continue singing, dancing, and of course writing what inspires so many of us. Thanks be to God for bullfrogs. Still learning to dance. Flip
–Dear Terry, Thank you so much for the Sabbath Moment of today. It brought me back to focus on what’s important in life. I’ve been thru a big ordeal. Now I can start over. Not hating. And praying to God for the gift of Joy. God bless you for the time you spend in your ministry. In my family, we have all come to know you. Have a good day, Terry. Annette
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POEMS AND PRAYERS
Do not worry if our harp breaks
thousands more will appear.
We have fallen in the arms of love where all is music.
If all the harps in the world were burned down,
still inside the heart
there will be hidden music playing.
Do not worry if all the candles in the world flicker and die
we have the spark that starts the fire.
The songs we sing
are like foam on the surface of the sea of being
while the precious gems lie deep beneath.
But the tenderness in our songs
is a reflection of what is hidden in the depths.
Stop the flow of your words,
open the window of your heart and
let the spirit speak.
(translation Azima Melita Kolin and Maryam Mafi)
My Prayer For You
When you’re lonely I pray for you to feel love.
When you’re down I pray for you to feel joy.
When you’re troubled I pray for you to feel peace.
When things are complicated I pray for you to see simple beauty in all things.
When things are chaotic I pray for you to find inner silence.
When things look empty I pray for you to know hope.
I am so very sorry to hear about your dad’s passing. It is tough to lose our parents and become orphans.
My dad was also a brick mason. When he came back from WWII, where he was a POW, having been shot down and captured by the Germans, he immediately became a brick mason along with his brothers. My early years (I was born in 1948) were lean years as brick mason work was seasonal (we lived in Massachusetts at the time). I remember huddling up under blankets because we didn’t have money for fuel oil. My dad was an artisan. We eventually moved to Albany, NY and he got a year round job so we ate better. He bricked the entire front of our house, built stone faced flower beds and a beautiful stepped landing outside the front door. I worked as a laborer several college years during the summer. My dad told me–“go to college, you don’t want to do this for the rest of your life”. My dad talked and shared wisdom on few occasions but on that occasion I listened to him and finished college. Lugging bricks, blocks and mortar, as you know, was tough. I eventually went to seminary, pastored a church and entered active duty as an Army chaplain (served for 30 years). So–perhaps a lot of our backgrounds are similar.
My dad didn’t share much. We learned years later that he suffered from PTSD from his POW experiences. He refused to ever talk about his time in the war while I was growing up but we suffered from his unresolved anger. As we learned about PTSD in later years I began to understand my dad and appreciate what he had gone through. As a chaplain I went through jump school and became a “jumping padre” and when my dad saw me jump he began to talk about his war experience. He had been shot down and captured by the Germans. In his later years he shared much about his experiences because I believe he knew I would understand. He has been gone now for almost 20 years but I still miss him and once in a while when we are back in Albany (I am retired now in Texas), we drive by our old house and I still admire his artisan work.
Thanks for your Sabbath Moment ministry. I usually read your daily sharing in the morning while sitting with coffee on the back porch with our dog and your words minister to my soul. You are a blessing. I will remember you in prayer as you grieve the loss of your dad and relish the moments you had together.