Today I need to be brave. I have a hard week ahead of me and I feel anxious and too small in body, mind and spirit for the tasks that are set before me. It’s not that any one thing is too great on it’s own but the culmination of events one after the other feels overwhelming and makes me want to run away from the situation or find ways to diminish the activity, the responsibilities and the probable outcomes. And yet I also feel called by God to not just walk through these coming days but to dance. I am not a natural dancer, I have two left feet but the definition of dance is “to move your body and feet in a way which follows a rhythm, usually in time to music.” The rhythm that I have to learn to dance with is the rhythm of the Holy Spirit at work composing a musical symphony in the deepest depths of my life. At times I can hear the music playing in my soul, I catch a glimpse of certain sounds and phrases, the rise and fall of notes, the deep sound of a drum or the sweet phrase of a flute or piccolo. Each stanza composed invites me to move with it’s rhythm, to listen to the melody, the tempo, the pauses and to take my steps in accordance with the music God is composing within me.
About seven years ago my husband made his first ministry trip to America and whilst there he visited MOMA, the well known art gallery in New York. He wanted to bring me a gift home and he chose a print of a painting by Chagall that now hangs in our lounge. It is a beautiful image of a woman dancing; her hands lifted high with a deep blue scarf swirling in the breeze that her movements create. She has a red rooster resting on her right hand, a symbol often used in Chagall’s paintings of atonement and forgiveness. She dances so wildly and passionately because she knows that she is forgiven and therefore she knows she is free and not bound or weighted down by her past. The background has almost no detail and she is portrayed as dancing the fullest expression of her true self perhaps upon a mountain top where she leaps into the beautiful soft cerulean blue that is the eternal sky with the brightness of the sun pouring forth upon her from where the rooster sings.
When Roger gave me this painting he told me that now it was my turn to dance. That my calling was to move forward from being his help mate and mother to our children and to step out into the dance that God was preparing for me. I felt frightened at this thought, but through prayer my passion and dream grew and God gave me a dream and began to reveal to me something of the steps my dance would take. This began my journey with PassionArt. For I have a dream; That the church will once again be known as a place of beauty and creative expression, of centres of belonging and love within a heart for our communities, towns and cities; that we begin to address the idea of beauty in everything we do – in our worship, discipleship and mission. That we take our place once again at the heart of our cities cultural spaces and declare the beauty of the Lord and the kingdom that is to come through the arts and creativity. It has been said in many newspaper and journal articles that the gallery and museum has replaced the church as spaces of contemplation, meaning and subliminal experience. Let’s reverse this trend.
I read a small essay by the contemporary poet Ben Okri called Birds of Heaven, where he beautifully explains our call to rise up and dance when we feel broken and wounded.
“A flamenco dancer, lurking under a shadow, prepares of the terror of her dance. Somebody has wounded her with words, alluding to the fact that she has no fire, or ‘duende’. She knows she has to dance her way past her limitations, and that this may destroy her forever. She has to fail, or she has to die. I want to dwell for a little while on this dancer because, though a very secular example, she speaks very well for the power of human transcendence. I want you to imagine this frail woman. I want you to see her in deep shadow, and fear. When the music starts, she begins to dance, with ritual slowness. Then she stamps out the dampness from her soul. Then she stamps fire into her loins. She takes on a strange enchanted glow. With a dark tragic rage, shouting, she hurls her hungers, her doubts, her terrors, and her secular prayer for more light into the spaces around her. All fire and fate, she spins her enigma around us, and pulls into the awesome risk of her dance.
She is taking herself apart before our sceptical gaze.
She is disintegrating, shouting and stamping and dissolving the boundaries of her body. Soon, she becomes a wild unknown force, glowing in her death, dancing from her wound, dying in her dance.
And when she stops – strangely gigantic in her new fiery stature – she is like one who has survived the most dangerous journey of all. I can see her now as she stands shining in celebration of her own death. In the silence that follows, no one moves. The fact is that she has destroyed us all.
Why do I dwell on this dancer? I dwell on her because she represents for me the courage to go beyond ourselves. While she danced she became the dream of the freest and most creative people we had always wanted to be, in whatever it is we do. She was the sea we never ran away to, the spirit of wordless self-overcoming we never quite embrace. She destroyed us because we knew in our hearts that rarely do we rise to the higher challenges in our lives, or our work, or our humanity. She destroyed us because rarely do we love our tasks and our lives enough to die and thus be reborn into the divine gift of our hidden genius. We seldom try for that beautiful greatness brooding in the mystery of our blood.
You can say in her own way, and in that moment, that she too was a dancer to God.
That spirit of the leap into the unknown, that joyful giving of the self’s powers, that wisdom of going beyond in order to arrive here – that too is beyond words.
All art is a prayer for spiritual strength. If we could be pure dancers in spirit, we would never be afraid to love, and we would love with strength and wisdom. We would not be afraid of speech, and we would be serene with silence. We would learn to live beyond words, among the highest things. We wouldn’t need words. Our smile, our silences would be sufficient. Our creations and the beauty of our functions would be enough. Our giving would be our perpetual gift.”
― Ben Okri, Birds of Heaven
Now is our time to dance. This is our challenge. Can we dance despite our vulnerability and fears? Can we dance alongside one another and tentatively discover new ways of expressing beauty, create spaces and places that act as thresholds to the hidden realms of the promised land, the eternal realm that is already present amongst us. Can we dare to rise up and offer a new voice, a silent voice, without words; a voice of beauty, of poetry, of music, of painting and sculpture. Can we allow the creative presence of the holy spirit to overflow through our being and into everything around us?
Its an adventure, but one that we can make together.