I learned some ballroom dancing when I was a university student and one of the most memorable moments of that dancing was at the social “practice” evening. I was about eight lessons in, and had only just learned the basics of the waltz, with the pivot turn being the subject of the previous lesson, when they played a “snowball” waltz. The way it works is that a couple, who were partners on the university team, would waltz for a bit, and then they would separate and each choose a new partner from the crowd gathered around the floor. This process would continue until everyone who wanted to dance was on the floor. After a bit, I was asked to dance by a PhD student, a few years older than me, who was part of the University dance team and from my perspective, a phenomenal dancer. As we got onto the floor, the music stopped and the DJ put on a new song: this one was a Viennese waltz! I was horrified. I told my partner that I was just a beginner, and that I did not know this dance. He smiled softly, told me just to relax and follow him, that it was his job to lead me, and asked me to trust him. I struggled for a bit, trying to work out what to do, to anticipate what the next steps were and I could feel the tension in my body as it put up some resistance. That is until a few bars in when it clicked – I did not have a clue, why was I trying to work it out? He knew what he was doing, all I had to do was stop trying to control where we were going, to stop over thinking it, and to give myself over to him in cooperation and trust. So I did. The next few minutes were absolutely amazing, and forever imprinted on my soul: I learned to trust, I learned to follow, I learned to dance. We went whizzing round the floor, round and round, then slow on the spot almost, and then round and round in the other direction: I was giddy, breathless and euphoric. It occurred to me how fantastic this was, and immediately I became self aware, my right heel caught in the front of my left shoe and we both went sprawling across the floor. My partner got up and offered his hand to help me up saying:
I am so sorry, that was my fault. Please forgive me.
I tried to tell him that it was really all mine, but he would not hear of it. And then it was time for us to change partners again.
Of desolation and consolation in the Exercises Ignatius says:
He who enjoys consolation should take care to humble himself and lower himself as much as possible. Let him recall how little he is able to do in time of desolation, when he is left without such grace or consolation.
On the other hand, one who suffers desolation should remember that by making use of the sufficient grace offered him, he can do much to withstand all his enemies. Let him find his strength in his Creator and Lord.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Dancing with God, in a variety of different ways, is a frequent theme of consolation in my prayer. I have stored up many, many memories of dancing with God in my prayer life which sustain me when the going gets tough. As when dancing with the PhD student above, I have to relax, cooperate and trust, to let God lead and to follow where He leads. When I do it allows the flow and the magic happens. When I hold back, when I resist and try to control the movement, it is stilted and laborious. Dancing with a partner in this way is about relationship, communication and sensitivity; it is about call and response. In his book, The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr says:
Now we are prepared to say that God is not, nor does God need to be, “substance” in that historic Aristotelian sense of something independent of all else but, in fact, God is relationship itself.The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr
He attests that the relationship is the vehicle, and of metaphor he quotes the Canadian writer Donald Braun :
That which is belittled in plain speech finds the respect it warrants in the subtleties of metaphor.The Journey from Ennuied, Donald Braun
In the inner experience of my prayer, dance is indeed an excellent metaphor for my relationship with God.
For example, I was always very comfortable, familiar and friendly with Jesus and although there was a “God the Father”, who I just called God, He did seem very far away and formal, and the Holy Spirit, well, to be very honest, I did not really have much idea what the Holy Spirit was like at all: ethereal, intangible, mysterious – who can get a handle on the Holy Spirit really? And then on one of my annual retreats, I bought my little traveling icon of Rublev’s “The Hospitality of Abraham”, AKA The Holy Trinity, and I started to have it in front of me every day while I was painting mandalas. Over the retreat I began to realise that I did know the Holy Spirit, and that I had always distinguished between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It was the scene from the film “The Prestige” that surfaced in my mind that made this revelation to me:
Here, Sarah is not consciously aware that it is not her husband she is talking to, but his identical twin brother. Her husband is the one lifting their daughter away from the argument, ostensibly Alfred’s assistant. They are living their trick, and not even the respective loves of their lives are in on it. Earlier she had said to him:
Some days I think you love me, and some days I think you don’t.
Or words to that effect. So here, when he answers her:
No, not today.
he is being very honest, because he is not her husband. Her husband does love her.
What was it that this scene revealed to me? While Sarah might not have been conscious of it, she was able to perceive differences between her husband and his identical twin (and she did not know there was a twin). It dawned on me that sometimes in my prayer journal I wrote “Jesus” and sometimes I wrote “JC”, and I always had done, even when I kept a diary as a teenager. I realised that I was intuiting subtle differences in the aspect of God that I was perceiving from my prayer, and that I was distinguishing between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Some people I know do not experience the Holy Spirit as a person, but I definitely do. JC is what I call Him by.
This revelation made God the Father seem even further away than before: I had in mind those distant, English Victorian fathers, of the sort depicted in Mary Poppins. When I talked to the spiritual director guiding me on my retreat about this, he suggested that I ask the Father in prayer, what He would like me to call Him. When I did, He asked me to call Him by His name:
The most personal name of God revealed to Moses, and treasured as a sign of intimacy and favour.Theological Glossary, The New Jerusalem Bible
And He invited me to slow dance: He invited me into intimacy with Him. Suddenly, He was not so far away, but up close and personal as in the picture featured at the top of the post. I could sense His strength, incredible strength, and a poignant loneliness which touched me: even as He said with a deep longing:
I have waited for this moment for a long time.
Imagine, God is lonely for us! All of God is longing for intimacy with us. It is as Julian of Norwich says in Day 8 of the 40 Day Journey:
God’s thirst is to have [us], generally, drawn into Him…40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E. Dahill
In the Spiritual Exercises, through use of our memory and imagination in prayer, Ignatius invites us to experience and live with God and to grow into a deeper intimacy with Him. It is to enter wholeheartedly into the Divine Dance.
Another time I might tell you about morris dancing with the Holy Spirit, but for now I will leave you with a song that I understand God is especially fond of. Enjoy.