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Seeing the sacred in everyday movements


All of life dances

by Adriene Thorne | Presbyterians Today

Father and his two children dancing in their kitchenBodies in motion are holy — period. That’s my truth and my reset button in a coronavirus world. It’s Janet tottering to the Chinese restaurant on her walker. It’s the UPS man bringing the day’s deliveries. It’s me boogeying to Motown in my kitchen as I make the third meal of a very long day for myself and my kid who quickly learned that one way to combat the lockdown blues was to make dance parties an evening ritual. I think God approves.

As a human who has spent roughly half her life in dance studios and the other half in churches, I see sacred movement everywhere I look — on stages, in gardens, at bedsides and in last breaths. I have come to appreciate the simple beauty in bodies simply moving.

Once upon a time, though, there was just professional dance with its curtain calls and bouquets of flowers. There were blisters and pulled muscles and competition for leading roles. There was the need to jump higher, run faster, move better — be noticed. What boundary can I break? What height can I reach?

It wasn’t until after my first semester of seminary, where I met Carla DeSola, that I began seeing all movement as holy. Carla, considered by many to be a grandmother of liturgical dance, founded the Omega Liturgical Dance Company in 1974, which was based at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. Carla dislikes the distinction between dance that is sacred and dance that is not. It’s all holy. I, who traveled in elite dance circles, had to learn that. Carla wasn’t sure I could. My dance formation was self-centered and competitive. Could I step back, hold back and shine less so that the holy could have center stage? Could I believe that bodies of all sizes, with varying abilities, doing simply what the Creator made them to do, were stunning? Could I see God in a raised arm, a glance, a walk? I could and I did, and I do.

All of life is a dance and inhabiting the space of holy movement sustains me when stillness, peace and hope are hiding. This trinity emerges when I notice my feet on the freshly mopped wood of my kitchen floor. They giggle and hold my heart when I pause to give thanks for a body that can still climb the stairs to my light-filled bedroom. They sip tea with me around the kitchen table when the news comes of another person going home to be with God.

In the beginning, God moved upon the face of the waters. That’s straight out of Genesis. It suggests that movement was consecrated from the start. If I wanted to impress anything upon you about embracing the spirituality of movement, it would be to invite you to see holy movement as baked into you from the beginning — the ordinary act of stirring a pot to the coordinated flurry of bodies dancing the Pentecost story in church, to the caress of your cool hand on a feverish forehead and a convulsing body at a graveside ceremony bidding farewell to a loved one for now.

All of life dances. Consider that as you make your way to the pharmacy and place your crumpled dollars and jingly coins in a stranger’s hand. Notice that the next time you rise and make your way down your church aisle to receive the doughy bread and pungent communion wine. The way that you make your way to the table to dance with the Christ who meets you there is pleasing to God. Can Jesus have this dance? As you strut or stride or shuffle along, trust and believe that the God who moved on the face of the waters moves still and wants nothing more than to keep dancing with you.

Adriene Thorne is the senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn. Thorne’s performance credits include the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Metropolitan Opera and the world-famous Radio City Rockettes, among others. When she’s not parenting, pastoring, creating or mentoring, she is probably on the squash court or in the dance studio fantasizing about what is newly possible.

Put into practice

  • Forget all about your “two left feet”; put on some music and simply move to the sound. Take note how your body feels and how your heart begins to lighten.
  • Be mindful of the routine movements — using your hands to butter your toast or how your feet move you along to your front door as you leave for the store — and begin seeing them as holy moments.
  • Turn to Scripture and ponder the many verses that lift up the sacredness of dancing: Psalm 30:11; Exodus 15:20; and 2 Samuel 6:14 are just a few citations.

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