Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp. - Psalm 149:3
The last Monday of each month we focus on a spiritual practice. This month is the eloquent and divine human movement we call dance.
Who doesn't love a dance party! I have some great memories in which my family and I danced together humorously in our kitchen. It was carefree, fun, and created much laughter and smiles. It got us creatively moving to the music creating space for connection, which surpassed words and moved straight to our hearts.
Dance has the ability enliven our body and souls, break down barriers, and free our bodies of worry if we let. The multi-sensory and emotional way it moves through our body creates moods and communication patterns. Its both an inward and outward experience connecting our mind and body together. I find it funny that this practice physically and emotionally changes us and yet there is often very little of it happening in church. Maybe its the stiff dress clothes, tradition of being proper, or just the thought that others would judge us.
None of them seem like good reasons in my opinion for us not to engage in something that can connect us with the divine.
So how can we use dance as a spiritual practice? In what ways can we incorporate dance in our religious and spiritual settings?
History of Dance
Dance is believed to be around before humans had written language. Many people believe it was used to pass the oral tradition of stories from one generation to the next. Dance Facts and History indicate the first "proof of dance" was discovered in paintings inside a 9,000 year old cave in India. It became common for dance to be used in religious ceremony or rituals in sharing the stories of others or to celebrate a certain time of the year. It eventually evolved into other forms of social life but remained in the religious realm as well.
"The ancient Greeks believed that man took delight in active movement. A person was considered educated if he could dance, and his moral code was defined by the dances he performed. Men and women in Greek society danced, though what they performed might not be considered dance today. It was an ordered form, integrated with music and poetry as part of rituals, religion, and social life (Human Kinetics)."
During the renaissance dances moved into forms of entertainment and display. It also had a major place in the social aspect of society. During this time dances were written down in detailed forms separated by categories. This time period had an explosion of art in the form of dance. Dance has continued to evolve into various other dances such as the floss as we have below.
Dance And Our Spiritual Life
Dancing is moving spirituality! It puts our emotions and feelings out for everyone to see. Sometimes you are even surprised at what comes when you allow your body to move. Dance is freeing and allows us to go directly to God with both mind and body. So how do we use it as a spiritual practice? How do we use it in our current settings? First check out the music video "God's Great Dance Floor" by Chris Tomlin.
1. Find Your Rhythm - When we find the rhythm of the music we can choose to be free with it. When we make this choice we allow the love of God to move freely through us. However we must each find the rhythm that works for us. Try different kinds of music, different dances, or just be free in your creative expression. Don't know what to try, try this!
2. Don't Care - Be like King David dancing and leaping before the lord. Our perceptions of what other people think stop us from using our bodies to move freely in dance. When we throw out those thoughts and judgments we open ourselves up to the divine. It doesn't matter if you have never danced before or if you are experienced. Dancing is for everyone!
3. Learn New Steps - Dancing can be incorporated into worship if we allow it but it means we have to do the first two things already listed. Sometimes it is easier for a group of people to be instructed first through choreography and other steps. It lessens the fear factor and allows them to feel like everyone is at the same level.
4. Dance With Others - Dancing with others allows us to be creative and free with someone else. Dancing can connects us physically, emotionally, and spirituality. It invites them into an intimate relationship where we express ourselves openly.
5. Find Time - Give yourself time each week to dance. This can be at home, out somewhere, or even in church. Dance can happen anywhere as its just allowing your body to react to the moments in your life. For churches they can intentionally schedule dance ministry or times in the service for dance to happen. Be creative!
So get out there and dance!
Thank you for all the kind words and support!
Take some time and dance this week by yourself or with someone else!
This month our spiritual practice focus is on labyrinth's. Many people may get confused thinking a labyrinth is a maze however in this context labyrinths are an ancient symbol relating to wholeness. It combines the imagery of a circle and spiral into a journey from outside to in and back out again. Usually there is only one entry into the path and people choose how fast, slow, or way to walk it. The practice provides a direct experience of walking a path as a metaphor for life's journey.
The first labyrinth I walked was 15 years ago. It was a movable cloth which could be transported and used anywhere. Headphones and a recorded CD was provided which lead you through the path. The journey took roughly one hour as the meditation stopped at various points along the journey where you interacted with materials previously set up. There were moments for reflection to dwell on your personal life and your internal thought processes. There were specific movements and actions asked of me which opened up my heart. The journey came to the end and I remember feeling completely relaxed and present in the moment. The journey was nothing I had ever encountered because it intentionally made me take time and focus my attention on the state of my heart.
Labyrinths can be incredible experiences combining movement and action with meditation. Let's look closer at labyrinth's and how they may fit your spiritual needs.
The History Of Labyrinth's
The Labyrinth Builders indicate the first examples of labyrinths come from neolithic and bronze age with images carved on rocks. Coins from Crete appear with the symbols around 1 BC. The design later became popular with the Romans who would put them on the floors of their homes and would use the design for horseman to practice riding. The imagery eventually developed and led to churches using them in their construction.
The first evidence of a religious use of labyrinths is from the 4th century where Basilica of Reparatus in Orleansville, Algeria was built. The most famous one is the Chartes Cathedral in France which was built in 13th century. Chartes Cathedral is widely known to have individuals pilgrimage there to partake in the labyrinth. Here is a picture below of the cathedral floor.
The blog Sacred Ordinary Days indicates labyrinths became a symbol for pilgrimages when those could not leave for various reasons. It was a spiritual journey they could take when the road to the Holy Land was not accessible or too dangerous for those to travel.
Meaning Behind Labyrinth's
Veriditas is a non-profit focusing on connecting individuals to labyrinths. If you click on their name it will take you to their website which has a great video about labyrinths. I encourage you to watch it.
There are many different ways and various reasons to walk a labyrinth. It may be for stress reduction, spiritual transformation, or just for fun. Whatever the reason its a good one as there is no wrong way to walk one.
Some people break up the journey into three stages which I have listed below.
Stage 1: Releasing - The journey inward is about letting go of your thoughts and concerns. It's about giving them up to be present on the journey.
Stage 2: Receiving - Reaching the middle of the labyrinth is a time of reflection. What have you received from your journey? What answers are you searching for? It's a time to sit, pray, quiet the mind, and be present in the sacred space. Spend as much time as you need in this sacred space.
Stage 3: Returning - The journey back outward is one of preparation for the world yet to come. You have journeyed to the center, opened yourself up to receive, and are ready to return to the world, possibly transformed or changed from who you were previously.
Many individuals have found amazing benefits and meaning from walking a labyrinth. I encourage you to find your own meaning and reasons as you walk your own. If you are interested in finding a labyrinth close to you. Go to the worldwide labyrinth locator.
Community Of Christ & Labyrinths
Community of Christ is always supportive ways people can connect and reflect with God in their lives. Labyrinths is just one of a myriad of ways. The Community of Christ Temple in Kansas City, MO, which is dedicated to the pursuit of peace, has a labyrinth on their outside platform open to the public just as the temple is. Here is a picture below of the labyrinth.
They have also have various resources giving direction on how to use labyrinths. First is this PDF called Introducing the Labyrinth which describes labyrinths, why people walk them, and how they connect to symbols and concepts of faith. There is also a webpage Walking the Labyrinth further describing the practice.
So go out there and try the spiritual practice of labyrinth walking!
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This week find a labyrinth near you and give it a try.
The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature. – Joseph Campbell
Placing ourselves in the environments around us can be a spiritual practice that nurtures our own spiritual growth and development. This weeks focus is using nature to assist in our spiritual development.
Spiritual practices are all about opening our hearts to find the Spirit and listening to what is going on in that moment. Sometimes it quiets our mind, other times it helps us become aware of the answers we have for the million questions in our life. Nature has a profound way of opening us up to find our deep spiritual roots. The lessons we can learn are countless if we just pay attention to the environment around us. This motivational speech about nature is a great way to start off our focus.
Attuning To Nature
In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous. – Aristotle
Dr. Roger Gottlieb, who is internationally known as an analyst of religious environmentalism, used to give his students an intriguing assignment every semester. He required they choose one tree on campus, visit it three to four times a week, and keep a record about the tree. He didn't care what you wrote it, you just had to do it.
What he found was after a few weeks the thoughts of his students toward the tree would develop. The students would notice differences to the tree causing them to wonder why changes were occurring and if it had to do with the environment. Sometimes the trees would even be given names. Dr. Gottlieb associates this change to humans having the ability to connect and attune with sacred energies that are around an within us by using our imaginations. You can check out Dr. Gottlieb talking about the spiritual practice of nature by clicking here.
Using nature as a spiritual practice shifts are mind to understanding there is a sacredness in creation. The same spirit in me is also in the environment around me. Suddenly the leaves become so much more than just a leaf. The changing seasons give way to a deeper understanding of preparation. Giving our attention and focus to nature helps us attune ourselves to our spiritual nature.
Ways To Use Nature As A Spiritual Practice
Nature is the art of God. – Dante Alighieri
How do we use nature to enhance our spiritually and meet with God? In what ways can I connect with the beauty of the environment? Here are a few ways to get you started.
1. Create Time Alone In Nature - It's great talking with others but sometimes we just need to be alone in nature. The silence we receive by taking just a short time can be centering. Listen to your internal thoughts, quiet them, and find the spirit around you. Focus on your senses to notice what you hear, smell and see? How has that part of nature been transformed? What questions do you have about it?
2. Connect With Nature - Pick out a tree or other natural object you find amazing. What is it about it that you like? Is there a view from a spot that really makes you think about life? Experience swimming in water, the grass under your feet, or the smell of evergreens. Really take the time to feel it and be thankful for it. Allow gratitude for this environment to lead your heart and open you to a deeper connection. Find God in the midst of where you are.
3. Find Your Place - It can be really helpful to find a place where you can go in nature to call your own. Your thinking spot, or place in which you can connect with what's around you. Attune yourself with the environment, notice the changes, and identify what speaks to you.
4. Bring Nature Indoors - Decorate your living area with plants and flowers to make the space come alive. Sometimes just a little greenery in a space can enhance the vibes and relax the room.
5. Try A New Outdoor Activity - Sometimes we struggle to go outdoors. But trying and learning new activities may be just the thing. The more we are outside the more opportunities we have to connect with the beauty around us.
6. Experience It With Others - If you can't stand being alone take someone with you. Enjoy the outdoors and use it to invite others to join you. Take the time to build relationships with others while using nature.
For additional insights of how to use nature you can also check out Community of Christ's Spiritual Practice: Nature Gazing and Praising.
In whatever way you decide to be in nature please just get out there and try it. See with new eyes, be thankful for what is there, and reflect on how it makes you feel afterwards. Remember the divine is present with you! Being in nature may be just the thing for you.
Thank you for taking care of nature!
This week get up and go outside! Thank the divine for something you notice.
This month our spiritual formation practice focuses on the awareness and power of our breath.
Inhaling and exhaling is something our bodies are trained to do naturally. So much we forget we do it and pay little attention to it. However when we give intention to the process we unleash a power that is beyond what we know. Martial arts, ancient yoga, and other mindfulness trainings have been using breathing for millenniums to gain self control and power. These century old art forms have found the benefits and power of using breath.
Intentional breathing has also been harnessed by the spiritual community. Breath prayers have been utilized since the 6th century and in particular by Russian, Greek, and Eastern Orthodox churches. Traditionally this was a repetitious prayer used with the rhythm of the breath.
Breath Prayers have naturally evolved through history to include various methods and techniques. Let's explore the impact of intentional breathing on our body and the various intentional breathing/ breath prayer techniques being used.
Impact of Deep Breathing On The Body
Numerous studies have researched the impact deep breathing has on the brain and how it actually changes the brain. In fact it affects the brain stem and the arousal level of an individual. Deep breathing triggers our relaxation, changes our emotional states, and impacts our overall thought processes. Check out these articles by The Verge or Forbes for further information about our physical changes from deep breathing.
It's just like when we eat a big meal or Thanksgiving Dinner. Our bellies are full pushing back on the Vagus nerve which is wrapped around the stomach, esophagus, and intestines. The Vagus nerve triggers the parasympathetic nervous system slowing our heart rate and other bodily functions. So there is a direct link to breathing fully and our relaxation. "The Science of Breathing" by Jessica Levine is also a wonderful read to understand the anatomy of our breath cycle and how it impacts our overall body and mood.
Deep breathing also helps focus our attention on our body and our surroundings enhancing our awareness. Our personal awareness scope widens when we use it on a regular basis. Paying attention to our breath is about training our conscious mind to be observant. The more we are able to identify what is going in our heart, mind, and body the more we can direct our life. How else are we to correct the course we are on if we do not know where we stand at the present moment?
Ways To Use Intentional Breathing
I will not be able to cover the extensive array of breathing techniques out there but hopefully will shed light on a few. First Dr. Chad Walding shows you three breathing techniques that you can use anywhere to help you relax.
Guided Imagery - Some of us our visual people and need to be able to see something or picture something instead of just focusing on our breath. Guided imagery/ visualizations are an awesome resource helping us intentionally breath while also creating visual structures in our thoughts. If you would like to look at a few guided imagery scripts please go to Inner Health Studio. You can also find some on youtube.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation - This technique also provides structure around our breathing by focusing our intentional breathing on tensing and relaxing our muscles. Here is a script by therapistaid for you to try. Search online for others if this is what works for you.
Equal Breathing - This technique focuses on breathing in for a count of four and out for a count of four. It creates balance in our breathing and our body systems.
Breath prayers intentionally link our thoughts with our breath. Breath prayers have been called the "prayer of the heart" because it stops us from worrying about saying the right words. Our souls speak to what we feel and want in our relationship with God and the world.
One form of breath prayers is to breath in with a word or phrase meaning something to you in that moment. On the breath out you can also say the word or phrase. The intentional focus is thinking about what it means to have that word or phrase breath in you and out on the world. Another intentional focus would be on invoking the presence of the Divine in our lives.
Sometimes people will breath in with a word they feel they need (peace, love, joy, etc.) and out something they want to release from their body (stress, anger, negativity, etc.). If you are struggling on what phrase to use check out "50 Breath Prayers" put together by Jean Wise providing a great list of words and phrases.
Of course this is just a few ways to use a breath prayer. There are numerous ways to conduct breath prayers and I encourage you to search for more. This may not be what works for you but our spiritual journey's are about being vulnerable to trying and experiencing ways to find God in our lives. I wish you the best!
Chihowa Reunion is just around the corner. If you want to take a week out and focus on your spiritual life come to this event. To register please go Midlands Mission Center.
This week attempt to try one technique of intentional breathing/ breath prayer.
Our guest blogger this week is Emily Hartford! Emily lives in Lawrence, Kansas and is a mother of four awesome kiddos. Emily is a member of the Lawrence University Congregation and Midlands Mission Center. She is currently participating in the Spiritual Formation and Companioning Program produced by the Community of Christ to learn more about spiritual practices. Emily is a member of Lawrence Babywearing and an avid swing dancer. She is also finishing up her training as a Birth Educator from Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations. A big thanks for Emily contributing her depth and knowledge to us this week!
"Listen in the Silence listen in the noise
Listen to the sound of the Spirit's voice."
- Community of Christ Sings
#153 (Listen in the Silence)
As a mother of four kiddos, and one fur baby, my house is always filled with noise. Sometimes the laughter and squeals of delight of my children playing with neighborhood friends. Sometimes the tense arguments over who did or said what to whom. Sometimes the chatter of a dinner table shared with friends become family. Sometimes the barks of our dog, as she and kiddos run around the backyard chasing a plastic jug.
Sometimes the heavy, deep breaths of truly restful sleep, or the sound of a little hand falling off a blanket as relaxation sets in. Sometimes the bounce of springs as one child spends time reveling in the magic of their body under a big blue sky. Sometimes bubbles being blown into cereal milk, or the squeak of the dryer as it dries another day’s adventures.
This past fall I began to regularly practice Holy Attention as a spiritual discipline. At the time, my life felt as though it were falling apart. Nothing was as it should be, and everything felt exceptionally hard. My mind could find the negatives so quickly, I could've been an expert. My practice began with superficial noticing's. Things I'd been directed to look at closely.
But, the more I practiced seeing God’s incredible creation, the more readily I found it. I began to notice the softness of my daughter’s hand as she reached up to stroke my cheek. The way the sun highlighted the magnificence of my son’s curls. The way my daughter’s body moved as she danced to music. The way my son’s eyes crinkled like his Pa’s when he smiled.
The more I noticed, the more I noticed. And the more I noticed, the softer my heart became. I began to find the beauty in the difficult days, as well as the easy ones.
My house is noisy, with occasional moments of silence, just like my life. And so I listen, in the silence and the noise, for the Spirit’s invitation to marvel in the beautiful that we co-created with God.
Again a big thank you to Emily sharing her thoughts! Please leave any comments or questions for Emily here.
This week stop and notice the moments where God is blessing you and those around you!
Craig Hidy like the majority of ministers in Community of Christ is a bi-vocational, self sustaining ordained minister. He is a member of the Midlands Mission Center Emporia Team and an ordained Seventy. He and his family, live in Topeka, Kansas.
What is a Seventy?
The Seventy carry out missionary work for the church in close association with other missionary leaders. They represent Christ primarily as ministers of evangelism through witnessing, inviting, and church planting. They especially proclaim and promote Jesus Christ’s invitation to faithful discipleship through vibrant witness, and train individuals and congregations in witness and invitation. They particularly minister with seekers, individually and in groups, to share the gospel in relevant ways and to invite response. They support sacramental ministries by preparing people for baptism and/or confirmation, presiding at sacramental services, and performing most sacraments. They promote community by inviting individuals, households, and families to respond to Christ’s call to discipleship. They promote justice and peacemaking by inviting people to experience all aspects of Christ’s peace through active discipleship. They create ministry partnerships with mission center officers, apostles, elders, and evangelists.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.