I began to dance some 25 years ago. This inspiration came to me at a time when I was mourning the sudden death of my mother. It was a period of intense loss.
On hearing this sad news, I immediately flew to Singapore to be with my family navigating through the funeral services and celebrating the life of my mother.
After a month at home, I returned to San Francisco thinking that all was well and that I needed to go on with life. I realized that my journey of grief accelerated. I was deeply impacted by death and I found myself spiraling back to overwhelming emotions. My grief turned into deep sorrow, isolation, and at times confusion.
One day alone in the backyard of the convent, I saw the morning sun rising beyond the horizon. I watched the beauty of the sunrise and mystery of light unfolding before my eyes. Wow! Only God can make a sun rise.
I prayed through my tears and immediately began to lift my sorrows towards the sun taking in the energy of light, love, and warmth. I kept watching the sunrise, seeing the sun’s golden rays giving color to the clouds. What a beautiful sight.
Sunrise leads to epiphany
At this moment, I was drawn to movement, gazing towards the sunrise, raising my hands, eyes lifted to the heavens and stretching forth with open arms in embrace.
This was an “Aha” moment. I experienced an amazing grace, a deep sense of interconnectedness, inhaling and exhaling the breath of life and not death. My burdens seem to have been lifted; and my body felt lighter. Nothing else mattered except that I was ONE with God, together with mom and my beloved family. I would get up early and wait for the sunrise to awaken the dawn of a new day.
Many days and weeks passed. I felt consoled, at peace and once again found “my home” – close and personal. I wanted more of this experience because healing was happening through dance, one day at a time.
Engaging in this daily ritual, I noticed that my prayer intention took me beyond to another space – a place where heaven and earth met. This was the beginning, where I found purpose and meaning in liturgical dance.
Sacred movement is prayer
Sacred movement is prayer. When I do not have the words to say, in my powerlessness, I simply dance. My heart expresses the emotions because it feels right in the sight of God. I am grateful and humbled because dance is a natural gift from God. It is a “calling.” To respond to this call is to spread the gospel in storytelling gestures of sacred movement. I cannot keep it for myself; it needs to be passed on and
shared with others. And this gift shared with others keeps me humble because “I must decrease, and God must increase.”
Seeking guidance from Spirit
Before I dance, I spend time in contemplation/meditation. I sit still, seeking guidance from the Spirit. Then I let guidance flow into my rhythm and movement. When I am fully alert in spirit, mind and body, God does more in me that I can ever imagine or accomplish. Liturgical dance is not a performance or competition, it is a prayer expressed from deep within my soul.
For the Inter-Continental Assembly, I chose the song “Sacred Mystery” by Monica Brown. I was inspired by the ICA experience and our chapter theme logo Drawn by love, passionate for justice.”
The movements of this dance had a sacred intention, a blessing and healing for our global community. The dance conveyed the multiple crises of the pandemic, together with the social and political unrests in our country and around the world. It was a pivotal moment of transformation. Dancing to Sacred Mystery kept me in solidarity with our suffering world.
Scripture comes alive in me
I do Yoga/Tai Chi daily, and I sit twice a day in meditation. These practices integrate and enhance more deeply the spirit of dance. All three spiritual disciplines promote a healthy and active lifestyle. Health and spirituality go together. I believe in holistic living which integrates mind, body and soul.
The words of scripture come alive in me when I am performing a worship dance. “I live and move and have my being in God.” (Acts 17:28)
I am totally free and move gently with love when I dance. It is a breath of fresh air. This is what it means to praise God. Silence is the language of God; it is love without words.
I am often surprised at how God’s spirit works in my life. When I can let go and simply be, I become my best self. Dance allows me to be creative, imagine possibilities, and form friendships in new ways.
I embrace lightness and stability grounded on earth, making room in my being to gather the fragrance of the earth and to lift all to God.
I lean into all of this, a symbol of breath prayer in motion. It is as one would say, to have a direct line of communication with God. This sacred moment fills me with mystery before an awesome God.
Dance reveals the soul
Dance also provides a connection with the heartbeat of the universe which reflects God. It becomes a cosmic experience that cannot be explained. I genuinely believe that dance reveals the soul. I take refuge in the aspirations of St. Mary Euphrasia “May every beat of my heart be a prayer.”
Movements are expressions from deep prayer and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Even after many practices, when I dance, the movement, gestures and my whole being evolve into something new – creation spirituality. Dance brings me to a deeper place within my soul. New personal insights emerge, and I can create a more humane world. My cultural ancestry, my Indian heritage, does contribute to my expressive form of liturgical dance.
Praise through dance
I have several scripture passages that refer to praising the Lord. In the book of Exodus, we read that Miriam the sister of Moses, took a tambourine and led the women of Israel into a dance after witnessing the parting of the Red Sea.
Other Biblical records of dancing occurred after David slew the giant Goliath and the women sang “to one another in dance” (1 Samuel 29:5). King David also danced before the Lord, as he brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 6:14) And in Psalm 150: “Let them praise God’s name in the dance: let them sing praises unto God with the timbrel and harp.”
My favorite image is that of the encounter of two women, the visitation of Mary and Elizabeth. Mary brings salvation and joy to Elizabeth’s house and both women praise God with their whole being. “My whole being proclaims the goodness of the Lord.” (Song of the Magnificat)
For me, sacred movement is described as joy-filled, and a graceful prayer meditation. It becomes effortless and fluid when I am present in the moment. It brings me to stillness, to listen with the ear of my heart and to have a heightened sense of interconnectedness to all the cosmos. I am who I am through dance.
My liturgical dance groups
I am involved in three liturgical dance groups.
- Dancers of Universal Peace – we meet monthly in the Bay area. It is now a virtual gathering. I love this ecumenical group because the dance movements speak to the many diverse faiths and spiritual traditions of the earth. The participants come with many gifts, and we share the rich heritage of diversity, cultures, and language.
- St. Agnes Church Dance team. We dance four times a year according to the Catholic Liturgical season e.g. Pentecost, Holy Thursday, Christ the King, and the feast of the Epiphany.
- I recently started a dance prayer group with a Felician Sister for women religious and lay. This is an inter-generational/inter-congregational group of women who meet weekly on Sunday mornings. There are 12 of us in this group. We have three dance leaders who take turns leading the dance. We incorporate scripture, prayer and personal/communal intentions before and after the dance. This group started as a new movement since the pandemic.
We welcome anyone who would like to join us. We try to create a space that is supportive and non-judgmental. No previous experience is necessary. Just bring your precious self and come as you are. We are united in mission with our global community. Please email me at [email protected]
Visit YouTube at https://bit.ly/3kOdZq0 to watch Sr. Jean Marie and other dancers with the St. Agnes Church Dance Team offer a Pentecost liturgical dance.
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