THE DANCE OF PRAYER | by Jeannette Suflita
I, the Dancer
Bring my body
To the feet of God.
All rhythms, forms and powers
Of my being
I lay on the Altar
Of the Cosmic Mind….
Cause me to move
In the rhythms of Divine Creation.
In lines of Light
I behold the structure of all Designs.
In curves of color
I hear the sound
Of the Eternal Word….
My Dance of Life begins!
This beautiful poem is from An Unfinished Life, the autobiography of dancer Ruth St. Denis, a pioneer in sacred movement who explored dance as religious and spiritual expression. The author’s dancing is an expression of her spirituality, attuned to the divine presence. I kept this poem for many years because I admired and envied the author’s ability to combine dance — her everyday work — with her prayer.
I, too, long to bring my body, my work – all my soul, all my mind, all my strength — to the feet of God with the same graceful beauty. But somehow the rhythms of my life don’t always move as smoothly. I become immersed in the busyness of life, caught up in the noise and distraction of every day, inattentive to the presence of God within and around me. Not a graceful prayer dancer.
So my enduring spiritual practice, like a dancer’s endless rehearsal, is morning prayer. It has become an important ritual at the beginning of my day. True, when I worked full time, my prayer was often during my 40-minute rush hour commute, and consisted mainly of “O God, get me through this day!” repeated with heartfelt regularity. Now, I have the luxury of time, and I bring my body to the feet of God whether I am fervent and attentive or drowsy and distracted. The rhythms, forms, and power of my being, such as they are, I lay on the altar of the Cosmic Mind.
I find it helpful to use daily or seasonal prayer aids that link me to the larger church community so that, even if I am praying alone in my home, I have a sense of praying as part of a larger community of faith. These aids help me focus on the day’s Scripture readings and provide a time for me to be present to God in thanks, in petition, and in preparation for the day’s work.
I find it important for my prayer to be the first significant act of my day – before I check email or texts, before I get the morning paper, before breakfast, though not always before coffee, especially on those drowsy mornings! I pray in a space that invites me to contemplation – a room that catches the morning sun, my favorite place on the couch, and, nearby, reminders of why I am there. The reminders change over time, but all them serve as silent prompts to let the dance begin. As of this writing they include:
- A cross with the figure of the resurrected Christ.
- A beautifully embossed leather journal from my friend, Deb Dang. I use it to record passages from Scripture, quotes from others, or my own reflections that move me in some way during my prayer time. It has become, in many ways, a record and a reminder of the daily dance between myself and God.
- A smooth stone from my friend, Brother Tom Murphy. On it are words from the writings of St. Theresa: “Yours the hands, yours the feet, to walk, to do good, the hands He uses to bless the world.”
- A plaque from my friend, Joanne Manzo, with the words: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…it’s learning to dance in the rain.” An appropriate reminder of the purpose of my spiritual practice.
- The most recent addition is a small candle with a picture of Mary, Undoer of Knots. I have only recently heard of this devotion, which is a favorite one of Pope Francis. Mary is pictured surrounded by angels and in her hands is a knotted white ribbon which she is untying. One angel presents the knots of our lives to her while another presents the ribbon to us, knots untied. I light the candle when I find the knots in my life, or in the lives of those I love, could use a mother’s prayer.
I would love to hear from others in our religious family about your prayer rhythms and the ways God moves in your life. Our charism, as lived by Associates, reminds us:
As each Associate hears the call of the charism in his or her daily life, prayer forms and the movement toward contemplation will vary. Our uniqueness calls us to pray as we can and we embrace prayer as a conscious communal reflective practice found in the lives of both Mary and Martha. It is with sincerity of heart that we aspire to emulate Mary as we choose the “better part” by turning toward and falling in love with God.
Or, as Ruth St. Denis would say:
It is not a question of who dances but of who or what does not dance.
We can hear the silent voice of the spiritual universe within our own hearts.
You and I are but specks of that rhythmic urge which is Brahma, which is Allah, which is God.
 I use several prayer aids throughout the liturgical year:
- Give Us This Day: Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholic, Liturgical Press, litpress.org.
- Seasonal Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter reflections (provided through the consistent kindness of Brother Tom Murphy). Little books of the Diocese of Saginaw, Inc. littlebooks.org.
- Devotions: Wisdom from the Cradle of Civilization by Danielle and Olivier Föllmi. This is a collection of 365 quotations and photographs reflecting the intersection of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
About the Author
Jeannette Suflita, a Xaverian Associate and Associate Coordinator, is a retired organization development consultant and training manager. She is currently a volunteer at Our Daily Bread Employment Center.
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