In the spring of 1970 I sat in a cathedral in a southern city and waited with a couple of hundred other people as the dean of cathedral approached the pulpit to give his sermon. As he approached, I noticed others standing up and moving. Three were musicians – two guitar players and another holding an ethnic drum. Six young women also approached the front of the church, four who wore ballerina costumes while two others wore flowing gowns. Two men also approached, one wearing a leotard and tights while the other wore jeans and a t-shirt. It appeared as though we were going to have a group sermon and my interest was definitely captured.
The dean of the cathedral leaned over to the microphone on the pulpit and said: “The theme for today’s sermon is prayer and so, because so many of our prayers are felt and not spoken, I will not speak. The title of the sermon today is “The Sound of Silence” and while there will not be complete silence, I will not speak. He then turned and sat down. The musicians proceeded to play and sing the Simon and Garfunkel number one hit “The Sound of Silence” while the dancers moved us all with their interpretation.
“Hello darkness my old friend; I’ve come to talk with you again. Because a vision softly creeping left its seeds while I was sleeping; and the vision that was planted in my brain still remains within the sound of silence.” The first stanza written by Paul Simon eloquently speaks to what we witnessed that day since it obviously remained with me to the present, some forty-five years later.
It also describes how disbelief can lead us astray and away from the act of prayer. One little thought can creep into our min and plant a seed. “Why bother to pray?” “Can you really ever get an answer?” Such questions are not a part of prayer any more than knowing that germs exist are a part of feeling joyful. Yes there are germs out there and yes, we need to be vigilant about them, practicing good personal hygiene and other healthy practices of living. However, we cannot let them prevent us from being happy and feeling joy. The same is true for prayer.
“Silence like a cancer grows. Hear my words that I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you…” Simon’s words echo our need for prayer, our need to connect and be connected to our beliefs. It is not enough to have “”The words of the prophets are written on subway walls and tenement halls … whisper’d in the sounds of silence.” We need to live the words we believe to be meaningful.
This time of year is very hectic and things get pushed aside and lost and …well, messed up. My own ending of Advent has been one of frustration with a computer program that seems to have taken a vacation and stopped its scheduling function. (Hence, the plethora of posts for the next two days!) Did I remember to stop in the midst of my aggravation to pray? Honestly, not always. I am not perfect.
“As human beings, we are wired to desire goodness, to hold on to what is good.” Dr. Anne Borik, a practicing medical doctor in Arizona developed what she calls Divine Mercy in Motion. This physical gesturing of prayer came about from her work with stroke patients who had lost their ability to speak. Dr. Borik understood these patients needed to feel their connection and sought to show them they could still pray. You can see more by following this link: https://youtu.be/2uWnUg6IQeo
Such prayers are not limited to the Christian faith. The use of movement and music has long been a part of Buddhism. Here is a link to a Gongyo Prayer found in Nichiren Buddhism: https://youtu.be/ybBfNAweX1Y
One of the most important aspects of prayer is how it helps us connect not only to a divine spirit but to ourselves. Prayer reminds us we are part of something larger and affirms our sense of purpose. The simple act of prayer can renew one’s self and release feelings of stress or tension in the body and the mind. Tai chi is known for helping us physically but there is a Tai Chi Prayer Wheel movement. Here is a link to explain how this is done: https://youtu.be/efWdOPpR25I
The Soul to Sole organization is a nonprofit group that seeks to illustrate prayer and faith through prayer in motion. They believe, based upon scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments, that dance embodies the whole spirit and provides a meaningful experience. There are other such groups including Lucky Aces in Canada and the Spirit Movers in the U.S.A. The Wiccan Spirituality also have a prayer dance who purpose is to reconnect the believer to their faith.
Most of us employ the action of praying hands when we pray and maybe simply a bowed head. There is nothing wrong with that. I would ask, however, that you find a quiet place or corner and, next time you pray, move your hands or feet. Start with a simple sway and then incorporate one or two limbs.
When you think about it, all prayer is motion, movement of our beliefs. Unlike technology, there really is only one thing that prevents the flow of information in prayer and that one thing is our lack of movement. We need to pray and then put our prayers into action.
I mentioned Sole to Soul as a dance group that incorporates prayer with dance. There is also another phonetically similar group which illustrates putting prayer in motion. It is called Soul to Sole and seeks to put shoes on the feet of homeless and indigent children. A simple junxtapositioning of the words in the names makes the difference. A simple realignment of our thoughts can take our fears from thoughts creeping into our minds into impetus for prayer and action. Putting prayer into action allows us to hear words that might teach us and use our arms to reach others.