Showing Up at the Dance of Life

From writing for my writing group – 11/1/14

Mom taught me to dance as I prepared for one of my early junior high parties. I was 14 and going to this party with a girl I liked – she played Snow White in a play we did in eighth grade, and I, a very shy lad, had a crush on her. I can remember these first dancing lessons in the kitchen with Mom. Here I learned by dancing with a broom, not Mom. And tried mastering the fox trot steps, precisely following the dance instruction book my parents bought, a book by Marge and Gower Champion (and I would remember that detail for what reason? And yes, their dance books are still available on Amazon!).

Poor Snow White! So you don’t learn to really dance by precisely and mentally “following the book!” I was lost, and from that oh-so-embarrassing experience I avoided dances throughout high school, college, and the 34 years of my married life. Dancing was just not my thing, that is, not my thing beyond the occasional slow dances in which my wife and I would dare to engage during a wedding reception or evening of social dancing.

In my sixties, Pathwork finally taught me to dance. Step 1: Throw away the book! Step 2: SHOW UP – feel into the music from your soul. Step 3: Just let go and follow the lead of your inner being. Step 4: Engage with others on the dance floor – linking your energy with theirs. Step 5: HAVE FUN – ENJOY the dance!

That seems to work well on the dance floor, but now, a decade later and now in my seventies, it seems I am finally learning how to dance in the Dance of Life! 

How so? Let me give but one example – I’ll choose one my current “dances”: working with groups in adult spiritual formation, an area I am passionate about but also an area in which I am mostly untrained. And this example is not something I’m done with. Far from it! In  fact, I am just beginning this new dance.  But it is a dance for which Pat and I feel the energy building, and we are following it!  Where will it lead?

This all began for me three years ago in getting clarity about adult spiritual education in my Pathwork community in Virginia. I began by helping a senior Pathwork teacher in starting a “graduate-level” Pathwork program at Sevenoaks. I became the administrator and promoter of the program – and avid participant. What I learned here was that “adult-graduate-level-teaching” is not about “teaching” at all in any conventional manner. In undergraduate teaching, students want good teachers who can teach effectively and clearly what is known about a subject – say calculus, chemistry, or English. In graduate teaching, especially at the adult level and especially in matters spiritual, students want teachers who will facilitate their exploration and experiencing of the frontiers beyond the known, and into the Mystery of all that Life is.

Of course, even adult “students” of spirituality may not know that this facilitation is what they are looking for, so we have to link into where potential students might be searching, consciously or unconsciously. In our Pathwork graduate-level program we still struggle with this. Who could be really ripe and passionate for such sometimes-risky slippery-slope adventures?

From Pathwork in Virginia, I now turn to the local scene here in Cincinnati. What is emerging for Pat and me? Something new began Easter Sunday when Pat and I attended church – the first time in 15 years. Why did we attend? Pat felt a need for communion, and I joined her. We attended St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Aha – I noticed in the bulletin that they had what they called an Adult Formation Class.  That title alone drew me in, and Pat joined me as we attended the next Sunday. In all we attended church and the Adult Formation Class four Sundays or so, but then the program was off during the summer. During the summer the three leaders spent time planning for the year we are now in.

With my energy strong in this area, I sent various suggestions to the leader team over the summer, but timing was not right, and we did not engage. The program started in September, but it had morphed into a more traditional bible study – not something Pat and I were particularly drawn to. But we seemed Called in some way to be here, and we went just to be with the people – about a dozen participants. We had more ideas and sent them to the leaders. Seeing our enthusiasm, the pastor and one leader met with Pat and me for two hours one Monday over lunch to explore our thoughts. Seeds were planted it seemed, and Pat and I came to understand more of their vision for St. Thomas in general, and the vision for the Adult Formation Class in particular. But there was no further action planned.

Then last Sunday after class the two leaders approached Pat and me said that the third leader had to leave the leader team and asked if Pat and I would be interested in joining the leader team. That stepped up the energy! We thought about it and then sent the two remaining leaders some of our ideas and proposed that the four of us meet to discuss the program. The response was twofold: 1) Yes, meet. 2) No to changes we suggested – the bible study format was set for the year – we were using a program called Feasting on the Word. In other words, there would be no new format; however the meeting for the four of us is set.  It is coming up next Tuesday, November 4.

But let me back up. More groundwork was being laid throughout October, though we were not conscious of this larger Plan. Earlier in September we heard that the provocative Episcopal Priest, John Shelby Spong was coming to Cincinnati the weekend of November 7-9 to offer a couple of workshops based upon his research and passion. I was ambivalent about participating in these workshops, but was mysteriously led to read a few pages of his A New Christianity for a New World that, in only these few pages, powerfully freed me from the remaining roots of Christian Fundamentalism!

Thus energized, this led me to develop a dozen fairly heavy-duty blog entries during October on my Christian Faith – most being sequels to my “Am I a Christian?” writing from the writing group the last Saturday in September. Pat, my brother Paul, a friend Al (who led me to an exciting book titled Religion by a Polish philosopher Leszek Kolankowski), my two Pathwork buddies with whom I spent several days at a beach house in North Carolina on the Atlantic coast a week ago, and a few others, all participated in my working through my own core faith issues. This “working through of some of my own faith issues” was such a needed  and important step for me.

Then Pat and I decided to actually go to a Spong pre-workshop discussion group this past Wednesday, 10/29. Twenty-five people had come, all eager to discuss Spong’s provocative ideas. Twenty-five people, all intensely interested in matters spiritual! And the discussion that followed Spong’s video at this session was wonderful, showing both the amazingly wide diversity of thinking as well as, and more importantly, the deep passion for matters spiritual. I noted to myself and Pat, So these are the kind of people who might be attracted to adult spiritual formation!”

Later Pat noticed a recent book that was listed on the back of one of Spong’s book I had bought several weeks ago. It’s title: Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity. Later I realized that I over the summer I had purchased the DVD series on which this book is based. But not remembering that, I immediately got an e-book version – and found it to be dead on for what we may explore for the St. Thomas Episcopal Adult Formation Class (open preface, which lays out clearly what 21st Century Christianity can open up to).

And significantly, during October Pat and I have been drawn into hours of deep discussion on all of this. One of our conclusions, Adult spiritual formation is not a teacher telling you what to think but rather preparing each student’s soul to awaken in Peace and Joy, and so awakened, to dance, with curiosity and wonder, the Mystery of Life and Love.

But let’s slow down and not get ahead of ourselves. We have not even met with the St. Thomas teacher team and pastor yet! That’s coming up Tuesday, as I said earlier. Let’s remember that this is now a dancea dance with Spirit who seems active with us in it, a dance with each other – Pat and me, a dance with the other leader team members and the pastor, and of course a dance with the class members themselves. The focus for Pat and me in this dance is on listening and pondering and responding and sharing from our Essence as we learn to dance this dance of adult spiritual formation together with all involved.

We are nearly overwhelmed by the pace of this past month. It seems we have been dancing with Spirit and now are invited to dance with each other and with all who get involved in this program at St. Thomas. This is the invitation to join the Dance of Life. All five steps apply: Step 1: Throw away the books. Step 2: SHOW UP – feel into the energy of the group and meet it from the depths of your soul. Step 3: Just let go and follow the lead of Spirit from within. Step 4: Engage with all other souls on the dance floor. Step 5: HAVE FUN – ENJOY the Dance of Life!

Shared in love, Gary