Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ushering In

The liturgical dance class at Wesley Seminary this semester is embracing wonderful conversations on the forms dance can take within the context of Christian worship.  We discuss, we practice, we question, we explore; the experience of being with these students is enriching my life and thought.

I am methodically taking the class through an overview of liturgical dance, drawing from my own experiences but enhanced and deepened by our wonderful, primary resource: Introducing Dance in Christian Worship.  Gagne, Kane and VerEecke lay out the forms liturgical dance can take in as clear a way as I have come across and, what I find so compelling, emphasize that any dance done as part of worship must be tied to the ritual structure of which it is a part (see especially, pp 99-111).  I have found this to be true for every piece I have danced in worship over the last 20 years.  Most of my dances have been tied to a particular service.  Some are tied to a season within the church year (Advent, Lent, Easter, Pentecost) but most have a fairly narrow application. Context!

With these teachings as a backdrop, our class recently explored dance as Procession and I found myself wanting to reflect on this form as we lean into the season of Lent.

Liturgical Danced Procession:  To take oneself and others on a journey from point A to point B.  To be a vehicle for a holy shift – helping to shift the internal landscape of the human heart or the external environment of the physical space.  To usher in.  To make ready.  To lead out into the world.  To ritualize.  A function of transformation.  And the prayer is, always, that the Holy Spirit accompanies the liturgical Procession.  It is my understanding that liturgical dancers have the anointing to usher God’s Spirit into a space.

Processions are happening all around us, all the time. Procession – through dance or walk (or any locomotor movement) – can be a powerful metaphor for how we administer the beginnings and endings in our lives.

I am drawn to the idea of Procession as a way to enter the season of Lent (lining up to receive the imposition of ashes); as a way to walk with Jesus during these 6 weeks (taking on a discipline, letting go of what holds one back); as a way to dance into new life (the promise of Easter).  Lent can be a dark time for the soul.  The yearly journey we take with Jesus is a kind of stripping away of what does not serve our relationship with God.  Though difficult, we are invited to Process with Jesus into Jerusalem, to walk beside Him on the way to Calvary and, ultimately, to let Him be lost so that we might be found.

During Holy Week this year, the Wesley community’s Tuesday chapel will include embodied prayer and also a danced Procession.  This beautiful group of students will dance Were You There? (...when they crucified my Lord) at the end of the service, propelling the community forward into the remainder of the week.  As I create and teach this dance, my prayer is for all the beginnings and endings in our lives; for the courage to move through them; for the grace to dance in Love.  May it be so and Amen.

by Kathryn Sparks, with thanks to my students in Liturgical Dance, spring 2014

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