To Really Dance with God

“This Kenosis thing is hard to do,” a friend said recently to me. Kenosis, hmm? Not wanting to appear ignorant, I mumbled something and told myself that I’d have to look up the word sometime before I saw him again. My Greek was never that good. My research on Wikipedia reminded me that Kenosis is the self-emptying of Jesus’ own will so he could be a vessel and instrument for the will of God. It means to “Let it be”, or to die to self. Jesus and others perfected that way of life.

And yes it is hard to do. So maybe we can’t DO IT. It may be that all our spiritual exertions and exercises are not the point here. Maybe life itself offers a lot of opportunities to let it be. I know life gives plenty of opportunities to “die to self”, to let ourselves BE. Isn’t the ability to die to self a gift and a grace that comes from God who shows us how to “let it be”?

Here’s a Story:

I was on the lam from the Episcopal boy’s school I attended in Western Mass. With a book of essays by Thomas Merton, the Monk, I read a piece by him as I rode the bus from Lenox to Boston called the General Dance. I was 18. Merton wrote that “God did not create humans to punish them. God created humans because he wanted a partner to be a companion in the dance.”

Now this was revolutionary in 1961. But since that time we have been using the idea of the dance to talk about God and yet we don’t dance.

Five years later I was in seminary and the tweens in my Youth Group in Dorchester, MA, an inner city neighborhood of Boston, wanted nothing more than to dance. The African American and Caribbean youth would bring the newest Motown sounds on their 45 records, a record player and set it up in the parish hall and they would move.

But I had no idea how to move to the beats of the drums or the high falsetto’s of the singers. I sat and watched on the sidelines along with one of the other boys. When I was their age, I was embarrassed into dance class. I learned how to do a halting waltz, a tripping and toe stomping fox-trot, and a jerking cha-cha. No one ever told me how to dance to the faster pace of Rock and Roll and soul. I couldn’t even do a decent Twist.

After all White boys don’t dance, and neither do some Black boys. After a couple of weeks of sitting and watching, 12 year old Hope Neil took me out on the floor of the parish hall and taught me some steps. I was dancing.  It was fantastic. I watched the young Dennis Ambrose as he moved like a wild child around the floor. The boy was one with the tumbling beats of drum and rhythms of bass and lead guitar and the vocalists. His arms, hands, head, torso, legs and feet and hips were all a whirr of motion. I had to dance like Dennis. In no time I was in the dance and I started to lose my self in the movement. I wasn’t self-conscious any more; there was nothing else between me and the music, me and my partner, me and the sweetness of God. Over the years the young ones have learned that at Weddings, I can keep up with some pretty tricky moves. I was learning Kenosis, dying to self. Letting it be and letting God be in the moment.

All I had to do was step onto the dance floor and a little child would lead me.

Abraham in the Hebrew Bible we read this morning is troubled by the ancient question for those who start on the path to God, “What is the most precious gift can I give to the One who gives so much to us, the food we eat, the sun, the air, the water, the loping Moose, the Monarch Butterfly?  Where have you gone, Monarch Butterfly, I await you and you have not come? What can one do to repair the destruction to the creation we have wrought and the harm we have done to one another?

Basically it’s a question of “How can I buy God’s love, mercy, abundance?” What offering can I present unto the Lord? And what the story shows is the evolution in consciousness of what it is that God wants of us. God doesn’t want us to sacrifice our most beloved child! No!

God does not want to punish us for our sins! No!

God doesn’t want us to fret and struggle over how to pray and find a way to God’s heart! No!

God wants to dance with us,

God wants to play in the fields of the creation with us,

And God wants to be in a holy, merciful, joyful, compassionate, steadfast relationship with us.

God says, “May I have this dance?” I imagine God as a little more formal than “d’ya wanna dance?” Which is OK too? And we either can reach out and become enfolded into the arms of God or sit on the side trying to decide what to do. Whether I can risk that kind of relationship with One who seems to know me very well and one who asks nothing from us except our loving and open hearts. And we look on while others around us seem to have enjoyment without measure, a cup overflowing, flying around the room, letting it all BE.

Our dear friend said to a group of us last Friday that she has a place in her heart called the “Grand Ballroom”. In that room of the heart there are many entrances and from one side enters joy, from another grief, from another the friend, then another the enemy. There is love and fear, jealousy and forgiveness, betrayal and steadfastness, the secular and the sacred, all and more come into the grand ballroom dressed in beautiful gowns and elegant formal wear, dressed in beauty to visit and take each other in their arms and swirl and waltz and dance together in the heart and eye of Christ’s love and mercy, grace and forgiveness. Here Sarah and Hagar dance together as do Ishmael and Isaac. Here father is reconciled with the son, and mother with daughter. In the heart of Christ’s love there is no opposite which cannot be included in this great room. There is safety here, Kenosis, where we have died to self. And where we can let it all be.

Let it all be, while God holds us in arms of love.

Maybe the next step in this path of Kenosis, of dying to self, is to reach out our own arms to Jesus, to the Holy Spirit, to God and say, “Okay, I’m ready, I don’t know why or how, but it’s right to ask you. “Do you wanna dance?, Can I hold you in my arms as you weep over the world. Can I presume to comfort you at the hurt you must see?

And slow dance the night away.

Hope Neil from the youth group in Dorchester went to Princeton and became a Doctor. Dennis Ambrose died in the first on-rush of the AIDS epidemic and so in a way I dance between Hope and Grief, between Joy and sorrow as I remember my two youthful teachers in the dance. It is the divine movement between tears and joy, laughter and delight and sorrow. It is all held in the heart of love where all that lasts, lives and moves and has its being.








“What Do You Really Believe?” Trinity

“Do you want to know what the Trinity is: God laughs and creates the Son. The Son laughs and creates the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit laughs and creates us.” Meister Eckhart.

The three Women, Trinity

The three Women, Trinity

Thomas Merton and more recently Cynthia Bourgeault describe the making of the Trinity as a flow of divine love. Both of them describe the Cappadocian “brothers”; Basil, Gregory of Nanzianzus  and Gregory of Nyssa, as the keys to the formulation of the idea of the Trinity as a divine flow of love and energy between the three “persons’ of the Trinity. They were not primarily trying to prove anything about the divinity of Christ, but rather the flow of energy between the three.

“Indeed the word hypostasis in Greek does not mean an individual at all but more a state of being… The Cappadocians were interested in how this movement or change of state, takes place. They saw it as an out pouring of love from Father to Son, From Son to Spirit and from Spirit back to Father. The Trinity in this sense is really an icon of overflowing and self-emptying love.  The three person go round and round like buckets on a watermill constantly overflowing into one another. As  they do the mill turns and the energy of love becomes manifest and accessible.“ (The Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault, pgs 71 and 72,)

Both authors describe this process of divine relationship as a dance. Merton writes about it in his “Seeds of Contemplation”, as the divine seeking to play in the dance with human beings, God reaching out God’s loving arms to take us into the sacred dance of life.

Seen in this way the Trinity is the flow of love and laughter between the three beings of the divine and describes our own relationship with the Holy.  The divine laughter that delights in the creative and imaginative relationship between all the three persons of the Trinity in turn becomes a design and template for our own spiritual life. The Trinity is an icon of the holy, of the divine dance of love exchanged between three manifestations of the Divinity. That is why one becomes “seduced” by life in the spirit. It is filled with laughter and delight. One begins to see with the eye of the heart as if for the first time. Everything becomes a doorway to the sacred, there is no door that is locked and bolted.

Still one of the great questions raised for my generation is that of Bonhoeffer who asked, “What do you really believe, believe enough to stake your life on it.” In the 70’s a group of us went to work to write our own creeds, they changed frequently, they were imaginative and inclusive, they envisioned the Holy as One and Compassion, as within and beyond. One creed penned by Richard York and John Pairman Brown stated, “ Bread means revolution and the bread is rising.” The author’s described a time when our youth were in a war and when our fathers had returned or not from two other wars. The time now was to raise questions about who we are and to emphasize counter-cultural words and lives of Jesus and the prophets. Sometimes the times do not change.

Back then we intoned the creeds. A chord was played in a descending and ascending order and the people would sing it in parts. Taize and African American and Latino rhythms were teaching us to chant and sing and dance in new ways. The Creeds are meant to be sung and danced and laughed. They are not meant to serve as a litmus test for what one believes, because the edges blur in song and poetry and in the dance. “I believe in One God, The Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth” can deaden the spirit when treated as a statement of rule and law and not an opportunity to enter into the mystery and the numinous and the unitive relationship of lover between the Father/Mother, Son and Holy Spirit.

And yet to the young and more literal mind, the Creeds are something to which to hold on for dear life in the swirling tides and eddy’s of the many spiritual voices that surround us. For all the creeds problems with history and with its abuses it is still a song to be sung as we stand together and recite the ancient words, the best formulation that the gathered church has yet imagined.

The Trinity in the Creed helps me focus and perpetually continues to remind me that here is a song to be sung and danced and laughed and not a pledge of allegiance. The allegiance comes when the heart is opened and comes with lightness and gentleness. When we lose sight of its wonder, I begin again to fret about my friends who don’t see things my way. Even the most beautiful of poem can become the instrument of evil.  Invictus, for instance was used as a clarion call for the bomber who killed many in Oklahoma City. We singers and laughers and dancers are called to be vigilant about the abuses of the words we say and pray and believe. After all is said, “I believe we are all One flow from and to the divine and back again. And I know I’m not always in that flow. ” And I’d defend anyone who didn’t see it that way. I crave the beauty of dissent much more than thoughtless conformity.






The Fire Bird and the Hawk: Pentecost

There had been a vision forty years before. During an Aurora Borealis on an Island in Maine, a dark form had appeared in the midst of a pulsing and vibrating vault of fire and gold. The darkness at the center took the shape of small bird. And then the bird expanded towards me, swooped at unfathomable speed and as I stood transfixed and rooted to the ground, the bird passed over,almost as if great wind had passed. Then it burst in a flash of golden light and fire, a fire that did not consume. I was relieved.

An Icon by Robert Lentz that depicts the Holy Spirit as a Falcon

An Icon by Robert Lentz that depicts the Holy Spirit as a Falcon

No one else saw this visitation at the time and I didn’t need anyone at the seminary questioning my sanity, so I never talked about the vision until maybe seven years ago in a parish I had already been the priest for ten years. I write about this in my blog dated 2013, The Baptism of Jesus. This bird was no dove. It was something more fierce than that, more passionate, more potentially destructive and with healing power in its wings. As it turned out, I saw the bird that visited me that night in an icon imagined by Robert Lentz.  It was a golden falcon, the symbol of the Holy Spirit for the Crow people.

It was now forty years later. I sat alone in the old 1835 rectory. My wife had left me for a woman who I brought into the parish. I was out of inspiration. I was both angry and relieved to dimly know what had happened to the marriage. Bob Dylan’s words, “You just kind of wasted my precious time” played on the radio. And yet the twenty plus years with her had been for most of them good years. She had been a good wife and mother to our three children. She had been the fierce lioness of protection and advocacy for our two children with special needs. But she was worn out and she discovered that she was in love with a woman.

I was worn out too, dead in the water. No inspiration came for the sermon I wanted to give on the Holy Spirit. I was dried up no words would come. Often towards the end of week, by a Friday or Saturday, if nothing was forthcoming, I’d simply pray; “Okay, I give up. What do you want me to say?” I probably should have been more intentional with that prayer at the beginning, but I still had a few lingering illusions that I could say it better than God.

I was almost at that point when a loud crash came from our enclosed back porch. The back window was shattered. A thousand pieces of white and blue and green glass was scatted over table, chairs and floor. I looked to see if someone had thrown a rock or an errant baseball. There was no one. In the far corner of the porch there was movement. A hawk cringed there in shock from its impact with the glass.  It didn’t move. He or she was about 18 inches, with a wing span of about three feet. The hawk stayed perfectly still, its breast feathers an orange brown and white. I saw no blood. I spoke in a tone that I thought the creature might understand. “You rest now and I’ll show you to the door. I’ll pick up the glass while you collect yourself.” I was confident the bird understood every word and intonation. I worried that the bird might come out of its trauma and try to fly around the small enclosed porch. Slowly I approached her, I think she was a female, and encouraged her toward the door. My gloved hand gently moved her toward the opening and the deck beyond. After five minutes of gentle prodding the hawk reached the door and flew a few feet to the back of a metal chair on the deck. There it waited to gauge whether it had the energy and ability to fly the twenty feet to the branch of a Norway maple in the yard. She spread her wings and lifted up toward the branch, reached  it with care and remained there for fifteen minutes. Then she flew away.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit comes with wind and fire, sometimes with a still small voice of calm. For me that day I needed the sound of breaking glass and a loud crash to focus my attention. That Sunday the sermon wrote itself. It was about the two birds breaking through into  consciousness with their various messages about the holy. The first was a message to risk everything for the love of God. The second was a reminder that, “Hey. I’m with you. Everything will work out and you still have to write the sermon.”

I think the bird was trying to tell me, “Get out of your rut and SOAR.”

And so far, it’s been working. It’s all gratitude now.    

An Icon by Robert Lentz. It depicts a golden dark falcon as the Holy Spirit.

An Icon by Robert Lentz. It depicts a golden dark falcon as the Holy Spirit.