This week a news story stopped me in my tracks.
(Which is hardly abnormal these days.)
But this story made me pay attention, inviting questions about what really matters. Let’s be honest, in today’s din, that’s not easy to do.
After 30 years of preaching, the Rev. Howard-John Wesley stood in front of his congregation (Alexandria, VA) and admitted: “I am tired in my soul.”
“I feel so distant from God,” he continued. “One of the greatest mistakes of pastoring is to think that because you work for God, you’re close to God.”
“It’s time for a break,” he tells them.
It’s time for sanctuary. Time for healing.
We do get anxious and discombobulated. Or, just plain tired. So, this kind of honesty is liberating. Because every single one of us could use some healing.
So. What’s the medicine? While working as a family physician in a Native American hospital in the Southwest, Carl Hammerschlag was introduced to a patient named Santiago, a Pueblo priest and clan chief, who asked him where he had learned how to heal. Hammerschlag responded almost by rote, rattling off his medical education, internship, and certification. The old man replied, “Do you know how to dance?”
To humor Santiago, Hammerschlag shuffled his feet at the priest’s bedside.
Despite his condition, Santiago got up and demonstrated the proper steps. “You must be able to dance if you are to heal people,” he admonished the young doctor. “I can teach you my steps, but you will have to hear your own music.”
Dance as healing. Well, they didn’t teach me that in seminary.
Attending a conference on religion in Japan, Joseph Campbell overheard another American delegate, a social philosopher from New York, say to a Shinto priest, “We’ve been now to a great many ceremonies and have seen quite a few of your shrines. But I don’t get your ideology. I don’t get your theology.”
The Japanese priest paused as though in deep thought, and then slowly shook his head. “I think we don’t have ideology,” he said. “We don’t have theology. We dance.”
So. Today, shall we dance?
The question for many of us is all well and good if we’re alone in our living room boogying YMCA with the Village People full blast. But here’s the deal: Putting on my dancing shoes is not about impressing anyone or trying to win some reality show called, “so, (middle-aged-white-guy) you think you can dance?” This is where we get derailed.
“Why am I afraid to dance, I who love music and rhythm and grace and song and laughter? Why am I afraid to live, I who love life and the beauty of flesh and the living colors of the earth and sky and sea? Why am I afraid to love, I who love love?” Eugene O’Neill
“I have come to realize that a mother lode of strength lies waiting in all of us, unmined gold yearning to gleam in the sunlight,” Former Trappist George Fowler writes. That’s worth re-reading.
Today, it’s not that we “choose” to dance, so much that we “choose” to give up living afraid. We give up living afraid by responding to this melody (the love of the Beloved, the voice of Grace) that tells us we are more than our labels. We are more than our pain. And our dance is the interplay with that voice. Because we are enough, our hearts are alive.
How does it begin? What allows us to put on our dancing shoes?
This is not easy because our instinct requires instructions.
I teach writing. And the first lesson is the most difficult: Write. Write, without editing, censoring, rewriting or revising. Simply write.
At my workshops, I have heard this comment, “I wondered when you were going to move on from the laughter and move on to the more important stuff.” And I tell them, “Just so you know, that was the important stuff.” Because that’s just it isn’t it? Our dance–a wholehearted interplay with life–happens when we give up our need to quench the spirit.
When we see with our heart.
When we taste with our imagination.
When we touch this moment (the sacred present) with our delight.
When we laugh from the gut.
Dancing uncovers the joy that is buried deep inside. And joy spills light, making space for others to find their dance.
When we dance, the voice of Grace is our music.
We are not afraid of vulnerability.
We honor our shared humanity. That we are indeed on this journey together.
“You must be able to dance if you are to heal people,” Santiago said. “I can teach you my steps, but you will have to hear your own music.”
Give yourself a gift. Watch War Dance, a documentary about war refugees in Uganda, who demonstrate the primal healing power of music and dance. The story follows children from the Acholi tribe, now war orphans representing the Patongo Primary School in a national music competition, where the children compete and celebrate the power of music and dance to heal our deepest, emotional wounds. transmute fear and pain into profoundly cathartic spiritual affirmation.
Dance allows us to not listen to our limitations… of Fear or Insecurity or Pain or Loss.
Or, in the words of Kitty Lunn, dance teacher from a wheel chair, “The dance inside me doesn’t know or care that I fell down the stairs and have a spinal cord injury. She just wants to keep on dancing.”
It is Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent), derived from the Latin opening words of the antiphon, “Rejoice (Gaudete) in the Lord always.” Or, shall we say, it’s an invitation to dance in anticipation of Christmas celebration. (For the color conscious, some call it Pink Sunday, with the practice of a pink or rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath.)
This week, Winter Solstice. Short days and darkness are a big deal here. So, we pay attention. And are more than eager for this coming week, to celebrate the return of the light: to bring the new year, the rebirth of life.
Quote for your week…
The way Marge Gull feels about it, anybody who thinks 95 is too old to dance can take a flying leap over a defibulator cart. I dance up a storm, Marge says. (Anchorage Daily News)
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Dear Terry, I stand indebted and enriched by you in fraternal friendship and fellowship. Thank you for being and bringing the “light of peace” to our hearts that are always in need of loving care. You are a “gardener of the heart.” Fr. Larry
–Thanks for my weekly Terry words. I appreciate you more than you will ever know. Annie
–Happy Birthday Terry! We enjoy sharing life with you each week. Glad you are not retiring. Paul
–Thanks for all you do. Monday morning Sabbath Moment really nourishes me all week long. Blessings Always, Beth
–Dear Terry: Ahhh and awe, The Wexford Carol was my moment of pause today. Thank you for sharing such beautiful music. It truly is food for my soul. Being the week of HOPE (second week of advent) I HOPE your heart is filled with fond memories of your sister. Peace, love and joy, Kim
–Dear Terry, Happy Birthday! May you continue to grow in wisdom and grace. We are blessed by your Sabbath Moment weekly practice – your words nourish our souls. Thank you! I celebrated my “Medicare birthday” six weeks ago. May we embrace our senior status with thankfulness and hope! Love, Stephanie
–It is always good to get your homily especially if I don’t get an okay one at the parish. Anne
–Dear Terry, Thank you for valuing kindness and open heartedness. Your words remind me to journey toward those love spaces. I find myself looking forward to your written and audio offerings. You guide us toward the kind of world we want to call home. With deep appreciation, Karen
–Terry, I marvel at how you never seem to run out of inspiring words. Every Monday morning I look forward to SM… a gift of encouragement for the week ahead. Thank you so much for the light you share. Jo
–Terry, A very happy birthday to you! And let me assure you that the light goes on, perhaps even gets brighter, as you get older (written by one who is 85.) Ongoing thanks for all you give us! Anne
POEMS AND PRAYERS
I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance. Nietzsche
Snapshot Memory in Black and White
Dimly lit sanctuary.
Small bathrobed shepherds herding reluctant cotton-ball covered lambs down the aisle.
Hark the herald angels shyly surrounding the stable.
Mary gently rocking her swaddled baby doll in a homemade cradle.
Joseph waving to his mom.
Three solemn kings walking toward the glittered foil star above the manger followed by giggly humpty-backed camels stumbling behind.
High school choir softly humming “Away in a Manger” from the balcony.
Ancient King James Christmas story read aloud.
Single candle flame passed from young to old.
People of faith standing together.
Small town Christmas pageant
All is calm.
All is bright…
This Advent, may our prayer be:
O Jesus, Incarnate One, you stand at the edge of our borders,
at the walls we have constructed mostly out of fear, and you say, “Cross over!”
But we say, “I can’t. I’m too afraid.” You say, “I will be with you.”
Loving Jesus, help us to be border crossers like you.
Help us to move freely from here to there, from the familiar to the new, from safety into the unknown.
Give us the strength for doing the hard work of real loving.
Help us to befriend all kinds of people–not just people who look and think as we do.
Give us the courage to invite others into the sacred space of who we are.
And finally, this Advent, we thank you for becoming one of us and showing us the way to true freedom, happiness, and oneness with you and with each other. Amen.
Melannie Svoboda, SND