Prophets in the Body By Phil Porter

Sacred Dance Journal – Volume 25‐3 1993

Eighteen years ago I choreographed a dance for the small Mennonite church I attended in Indianapolis, Indiana. That was an early step on a path seeking the role that dance might play in the church and in my own faith life. The journey that has followed has been full and grace‐filled. It has included finding a community of people in California who came together for Sacred Dance Guild gatherings; a long collaboration with Judith Rock and Cynthia Winton‐Henry as Body and Soul Dance Company, traveling with a solo performance piece called Sermonettes and Scandals; and the current work that Cynthia and I are doing –WING IT! Performance Ensemble and the InterPlay philosophy and technique. I have also been involved in other arts organizations and activities within the church, as well as serving my local church as a liturgy designer and leader.

But despite the richness of experience this journey has provided for me, it has been complex and frustrating as well. I found myself exploring a territory that resonated with every fiber of my being, but this intensity was matched by few others within the church. How could one sites still in the face of the wonder of God’s creation? Why weren’t more of us dancing in the aisles? How could I reconcile the sense of “church” that I find dancing with my brothers and sisters at Guild Festival with the boredom that sometimes (dare I say often?) experience in the church?

I’m not sure that I have found answers to these questions as much as I have settled into these defenses. I have found a way to exist quietly in the church, offering my gifts when I can, but not expecting much in return. I have built a wall between the primacy and intensity of my experience of body/spirit and the general lack of response, affirmation or acknowledgement from the institutional church.

But is this helpful or healthy response? What is the role we are called to play in the church? How do we reconcile the depth of our call with the mixed messages we receive from the institution?

I believe that we are called to be prophets of the body.

Our culture and our theologies have forced body and spirit into two different boxes, stored not just on opposite ends of a shelf, but in different warehouses in the distant cities. Our job is to retrieve those boxes, unpack them and joyfully toss their contents in the air until they fall into one intermingled heap. We have the opportunity to help others address a critical situation: that we have been separated from our own physical experience, knowledge, and wisdom; that we are losing our ability to claim our inner lives, our inner authority; that we are afraid to honor God within; that we are reluctant to listen to the body, or follow its lead. As a people we are split from the wisdom of our bodies: we need to be reunited with our joy, our pain, our wonder, our ecstasy, our fear, our delight, our connections, our shame, our separations, our memories, our visions, our love, our passion.

As dancers and movers and shakers we know about body/spirit. We are healing the split, reclaiming our wisdom, and finding God in the precise moment of the dance. The wisdom of the body that we have to

share is only barely communicated in the dances we present on Sunday morning. The meaning of our work for the church encompasses not only the results which the congregation witnesses, but the process of creation that led to the dance: the cooperation and collaboration of artists, the spiritual discipline of rehearsal that allows us to move together, and even the act of following a call that is at odds with liturgical practice and tradition in most churches. All of these factors are interwoven into the spiritual experience of being a dancer in the church, a path that is rich with insight and information.

I am convinced that this spiritual path we have chosen in an important one in our churches and in our culture. And even if other s do not choose to claim it with the fervor that we do, there are gems of wisdom important to anyone and everyone. Some may already be travelling a similar path, but others may have barely taken the first step; far, conditioning ,responsibility, and expectation all take their toll. How do we phrase the invitation to those who have barely stepped on the path, those who are afraid to take the first step? I no longer expect to turn everyone into church‐dancers, but I do that in everyone there is a body/spirit that needs attention , nurturing, and care. Can we be part of that wake‐up call?

Being a prophet is not an easy task, and its rewards are sometimes convoluted. Claiming authority and gaining wisdom are not without their price. But perhaps we have no choice – the call is so deep. We have allowed it to suffuse every muscle , to reside in every bone. Our task may prove difficult because much of the wisdom of the body lives just at the edge of articulation. We are dancing precisely because words are inadequate. But we must struggle with the task, seeking the ways not only to do the work of moving, but to translate the full range of our experience into whatever language is required.

It may be hard to wait for others to get out of their chairs when you are already flying. Fortunately, we needn’t dance alone. There are others who are flying, or who only need the most gentle breeze to bear them aloft. Find them, for they will rejoice in your flight! But don’t neglect those who are already aloft, nor assume that their spirits are without wings. Perhaps their wings are neatly folded against their bodies, just waiting to stretch out fully under guidance of its proper flight instructor.

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