I once organized a weekend dance retreat where we had over 80 students of all ages participate in workshops designed for sacred movement. The talks and demonstrations which were presented by three local dance teachers covered topics such as suitable clothing; working with sacred props, dancing with candles and water; dancing the seasons; working the Sacred Space; and a several other topics. The whole retreat culminated with this service.
This is a flexible service which you can break up into small components for smaller gatherings. You can have the attendees assume the positions, you may have actors assume the positions, have dancers choreograph a short routine for each of the sections. Your imagination is your only limitation.
Are you ever restless? Does your heart get hungry? Week after week, when you go to the church, do you ever feel there should be something more? Nice churches, nice people, nice town, nice neighborhood, nice music, nice friends, nice preacher, nice this, nice that. But, who the heck wants everything nice all the time? Some in the church are restless, dreaming of something more. Are you ever restless that in the church all is not good? All is not well?
Bowing (Please bow)
If I could not bend low, how could I embrace a child? If I could not bend low, how could I tie someone’s shoes? If I could not bend low, how could I make someone’s bed? If I could not bend low, how could I give someone bath? If I could not bend low, how could I lift the fallen. If I could not bend low, how could I take bread from the oven? If I could not bend low, how could I comfort the suffering? How could I acknowledge my profound reverence before God if I could not bend low?
Sign of the Cross
We make the sign of the cross at the beginning and end of the Mass. The sign of the Cross is made on us at the beginning and end of our lives. At the beginning and end of all we do stands the sign of the cross, saying: this place, this space of time, this life, this child, these people, this corpse, all belong to the Lord. For, he bears in his body the marks of that same cross.
Can you hear it through the ages, like a mighty trumpet call, the call to leave your nets and follow? It’s a call to joy and gladness. It’s a call to life and birth. It’s a call to plant the seeds of love. It’s a call to joyful expectation.
Make the sign of the cross. It’s a blood stained invitation to a life of sacrifice. It’s a call to face the makers of destruction and of war. It’s a call to be the lowly. It’s a call to be the least. It’s a call to join the suffering and to bear the weeper’s load. It’s a call to death and dying. It’s a call to live like fools. Take your cross in hand and follow, for this place, this space of time, this life, this child, thesepeople, this corpse, all belong to the Lord.
(lead them up the center aisle) Processing
We skip and limp and march and run and shuffle and stroll. Over peaks and valleys and sand and stone and mud and grass and dust and streams.
What is a procession? It is a journey distilled. Why journey? We journey to discover the source. We journey to discover the ground. We journey to discover the companion. We journey to discover the way. Like Melchior, in days of old, we journey to find a treasure in the most unlikely of places. Some people ask, why do we need to go somewhere? Why do we need to go on a journey or follow a star? (gesture to the building) Can’t we find all the God we need right here?
Kneeling (please kneel)
Here we are, on our knees.
The wrestler, forced to his knees
the lover, proposing on his knees
the plaintiff, going down on her knees
the victim, flinging herself to her knees
the beggar, groveling on his knees
the loyal subject, falling to her knees
the loser, brought to his knees
the worshiper, taking to her knees
Before God, we are all of these.
Standing (look to Paul)
Just as a lawyer stands beside his client during the sentencing, we stand with the Lord as we are called to stand side by side with the weak, the poor, those imprisoned, those falsely accused, or the outcast.
Does the power of the Lord bring you to your feet to stand beside a man dying of AIDS? Does the power of the Lord bring you to your feet to stand before a woman contemplating an abortion? Does the power of the Lord bring you to your feet to stand against giants or governments of war and persecution? Does the power of the Lord bring you to your feet to stand before those considering suicide? Does the power of the Lord bring you to your feet to stand beside those imprisoned by guilt, beside those imprisoned by pride, beside those imprisoned by sorrow, beside those imprisoned by loneliness, beside those imprisoned by age? Awake, Jerusalem, arise! The power of God’s holy Word rallies God’s people, it brings us to our feet.
The middle child of posture. Not the complete abandon of lying down, not the height of power, standing in full stature, but somewhere in the middle, between action and rest.
Jesus sat with ordinary people. He sat down to table with even the disreputable. Public opinion was never a problem with Jesus. He never had anything to lose because everything he had he shared. He served through his teaching, his healing, and his liberating people from evil influences. He was a genuine human person, a real brother to the poor, the weak, the sick, the alienated. He was not a benefactor, or a patron, or a philanthropist – but a brother.
In this lies the greatness of Jesus. To have real power and influence one does not control or manipulate. One serves and builds and loves. When we sit still, we are willing to listen, ready to be beckoned, waiting, receptive, open. In this posture of sitting, the Word of the Lord may begin to be heard.
On Sunday, as the basket passes, we offer money. Money means a lot to us. We may be proud or embarrassed by the amount of money we make. It defines the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, the food we eat, the community we live in, the car we drive. That is the spiritual reason for offering money to God, because it bears so much of our personal identity. The real gift to God, though, is ourselves.
As the priest prepares the gifts to be sacrificed to God, he drops a little ordinary water into the wine and silently prays: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” In the preparation of the gifts, the water symbolizes our ordinary human nature and the wine symbolizes the divine nature. A little of the water mixes with the wine, gets lost in and becomes part of the wine. Just as the prayer says, “May we come to share in the divinity of Christ.”
What is your offering to God? What do you offer God? $5? $10? $50? How much of yourself do you want God to have? Will you live a life of sacrifice? Will you oppose the makers of destruction and of war? Will you stand with the lowly and the least? Will you join the suffering, bear the weeper’s load or live like a fool? Do you want to participate in the divinity of Christ? These can be hard questions. Will God settle for money?
Speech must die to serve that which is spoken. (60 seconds of silence)
The Lord is in this holy temple: let the earth keep silence and adore.
There is a beautiful Taize chant that reads: Stay with me, remain here with me. Watch and pray. Watch and pray.
Immanuel, a name which means “God is with us.” It does not mean that God solves our problems, shows us the way out of our confusion, or offers answers for our many questions. It means he is with us, willing to enter with us into our problems, confusions, and questions. We, do not aspire to suffer with others. On the contrary, we develop methods and techniques that allow us to stay away from pain. Hospitals, nursing homes, rest homes, funeral homes, they all often become places to hide the sick, the suffering, and the dead. Suffering is unattractive, repelling and disgusting. The less we are confronted with it, the better. It is something we want to avoid at all cost. Among some people, compassion is not among our most natural responses. But, in times of trial, if someone were to say to us, “I do not know what to say or what to do, but I want you to realize that I am with you, that I will not leave you alone,” we have a friend through whom we can find consolation and comfort.
What really counts, is that in the moments of pain and suffering, someone stays with us. More important than any particular action, or, word of advice, is the simple presence of someone who cares. They show solidarity with us by willingly entering the dark spaces of our lives. For this reason, they, like God, are the ones who bring hope and help us discover new directions. From the Beatitudes, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Not because mourning is good, but because they shall be comforted.
Please Fold your Hands in a Praying Position
St. Vincent de Paul writes: “If a needy person requires medicine or other help during your prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer that deed to God as your prayer. Do not become upset or feel guilty because you use your prayer time to serve the poor. God is not neglected if you leave him for real service. You should prefer the service of the poor to making your prayer. For, it is not enough to love God, if, your neighbor does not also love God.”
Here you are, you press against your own skin and bone and feel the pulse of your blood. Do you feel the warmth or cold, the tension or relaxation, the roughness or smoothness? These hands touch the ones you love, hold the things you treasure, perform the constant countless motions of your living. For now, these hands do nothing, they are not useful held this way, kept by each other from all movement of living and serving. Pressed to each other, there is no space for holding anything or anyone. For the moment these hands, are empty (and useless) and still.
Outstretched Arms (the orans position)
The tiny child, tired and frustrated by its own weight, frustrated by its own helplessness, stretches out and up, wordlessly seeking, hoping, vulnerable but trusting, pleading eloquently with frail arms. Standing quietly before the Lord, alert, watchful, ready and grateful, hopeful and expansive, with arms raised in joy, hope, desire and confidence, lift your hands to the poor, the tired, embrace the weak, embrace the suicidal, embrace the prostitute, embrace the beaten, embrace the dying. Meet God’s embrace, vulnerable and waiting.
(Wait for the end of this meditation to make…) Sign of Peace
For a moment, there is hesitation or even reluctance to enter the space between strangers. Reserved and cautious, we choose some appropriate sign of Christ’s peace. Over aisle and empty space – a smile or a wave. To those within arm’s length – a clasp of hands. Among family and friends – an embrace or a kiss. The bounds of propriety prevail.
On Sunday, while we are in our nice churches, with our nice friends, and our nice music, before our nice flowers, in our nice communities, who is smiling at the belligerent teenager addicted to drugs or alcohol? Who clasps the hand of the hungry and poor? Who embraces the man with AIDS? Who welcomes the prostitute? Who is there to kiss the homeless? Who acknowledges the shy and lonely? Is there a restless stirring among us? Is it the peace of Christ freeing us to touch, to embrace, to kiss even the stranger in our midst? Indeed, the peace of Christ is with us. But, are you ever restless?
In the words of St. Vincent de Paul, go forth and serve your fellow man, and offer it as your prayer to God.