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  • Dancing Universal Peace

    by Paula Clayton Dempsey, director for partnership relations

    From the beginning of time, sacred movement, song and story have brought people together…

    So begins an online description of the dances of universal peace, and so began my time of renewal and rebirth among our ministry partner, the Evangelical Baptist Church in Tbilisi, the capital of the country of Georgia. My recent journey there, framed and punctuated with dancing, opened for me a pathway to connection with others and with God.

    It all began following dinner the first day after having sat too many hours on an airplane. When the dance music started playing I grabbed a partner and made my way to the dance floor, our bodies moving to the rhythms created a world away bringing together in communion what is broken in our world.

    The following day—Sabbath—I found myself dancing again. This time it was the sacred dance of clergy and laity, which is at the heart of the mystical liturgy of the Baptist church in Georgia. There is movement and response—patterns of choreography—as the Scriptures are read, incense is strewn, hands are washed, prayers are offered, Eucharist is shared, and voices as well as hands are lifted in harmony and adoration.

    Dancing everywhere we went, our group of travelers skipped across flower-filled meadow and rugged ridgeline, soaking up the warm sun and crisp air, stopping to dip our toes in cool springs, and pausing to place heavy burdens in the hands of our God of mountain majesty.

    The sacred dance continued in a Muslim girl’s school where high schoolers, giggly from practicing their English with North American women, taught us the movements of prayer. In response we shared the Virginia Reel, a simple folk dance. Words are not enough, or too much, to describe the delight of souls touching one another through dance across culture, geography, age, language and religion.

    Additionally our host offered us stunning expression of a traditional dance of Georgia demonstrating an amazing display of love, courage, respect, skill and beauty as we were each individually engaged in the dance. The invitation to join the dance that was playful, graceful and soft, tapped resources and emotions from me, and others in our group of pilgrims, that are frequently shut out of our everyday lives

    On Pentecost, we added to the lavishly choreographed service at Peace Cathedral a body prayer where, not our words, but our movement, signaled an openness and invitation for the Spirit of the Living God to indwell within us and within the church universal. Through movement of chalice, word, song, and body we were empowered for the deeply prophetic and amazingly difficult work of being the church we are called to be.

    Since returning home I have found myself challenged to articulate the connectedness, communion and love I experienced among our Baptist family and their Muslim friends. Some of you I have called and invited to join me in the dance with our partners in Georgia. The invitation is open to all to join in the dance—which is a small movement of the larger cosmic dance of universal peace. By joining body and spirit we are brought together in human and divine connection, one reconciled reality in God—God’s family on earth.

    You have changed my sadness into a joyful dance;

    You have taken away my sorrow, and surrounded me with joy!

    —Psalm 30:11, Good News Translation