Weekly Message from T. J.

On Balance

The great teacher gathered her students one evening at the school. As the students were seated around her, she said to them, “We have learned much together about prayer. We have learned how best to say our prayers.” And then the teacher rose and exited the school. The students followed. They followed her to the village square where she stopped. And the students formed a circle around her to listen. “Yes, we have learned much together about prayer. We have learned how best to write prayers.” The students all nodded silently, wondering what this new lesson about prayer could mean.

The great teacher took off again across the square, and her students dutifully followed. Along the way the teacher called out again, “We have learned so much of prayer that now others come to us at times so we can listen to their prayers.” It was then that the great teacher and her students reached their destination. The students sat once more, arranged around their teacher who said, “Yes, we have learned about saying prayers, writing prayers, and listening to prayers. But today, my students, we will watch a prayer.” And at that moment the curtain parted and the dancers took the stage for the dance to begin.

This is one of my favorite stories about faith. Yes, it has its messages about the different ways to experience faith. And as a religious person, that interests me. But more than that, I like the emphasis on dance as perhaps a higher or more holy kind of prayer than some of the others. One of the great blessings I have known in my own faith life is to be on this island where so much of history, faith, and understanding is told in hula. Our bodies are powerful teachers and powerful storytellers.

In this month of March we will be drawing some attention to the spiritual theme of “balance.” I have learned a few different views on what would be a complimentary theme from the Hawaiian language for balance. One person suggested that “pono” would be appropriate. Others have remarked that “kaulike” would be equally appropriate. And there is no need to choose only one. A great teacher might tell us, “We have learned much together about one language. Let us go ahead and learn as much as we can about another.”

A great teacher of mine once explained that dance is the ritualized negotiation of all the space between standing up and falling down. That sounds a lot like life to me. And the great teachers we encounter in our lives, whether they be prayer, dance, or language teachers, all have the same goal: to contribute new information, new inspiration to our lives so that, on balance, our lives will be better. And there may not be a more holy, more sacred expression of faith and hope in this hurting world than that.

…As the students filed out of the theater, their mouths were silent. But every single step they took between heaven and earth was different somehow forever.

And may it always be so.

Rev. T. J.
minister@unitariansofhi.org

2 Responses to “Weekly Message from T. J.

  1. Ah, I love how you picked a story about how dance is like prayer, T. J.! This so reminds me of a TED talk given by one of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert. (If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it: https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius/transcript?language=en#t-130300).

    She said it better than I ever could, so I’ll just quote from the transcript here:
    “.…centuries ago in the deserts of North Africa, people used to gather for these moonlight dances of sacred dance and music that would go on for hours and hours, until dawn. And they were always magnificent, because the dancers were professionals and they were terrific, right? But every once in a while, very rarely, something would happen, and one of these performers would actually become transcendent. And I know you know what I’m talking about, because I know you’ve all seen, at some point in your life, a performance like this. It was like time would stop, and the dancer would sort of step through some kind of portal and he wasn’t doing anything different than he had ever done, 1,000 nights before, but everything would align. And all of a sudden, he would no longer appear to be merely human. He would be lit from within, and lit from below and all lit up on fire with divinity.

    And when this happened, back then, people knew it for what it was, you know, they called it by its name. They would put their hands together and they would start to chant, “Allah, Allah, Allah, God, God, God.” That’s God, you know. Curious historical footnote — when the Moors invaded southern Spain, they took this custom with them and the pronunciation changed over the centuries from “Allah, Allah, Allah,” to “Olé, olé, olé,” which you still hear in bullfights and in flamenco dances. In Spain, when a performer has done something impossible and magic, “Allah, olé, olé, Allah, magnificent, bravo,” incomprehensible, there it is — a glimpse of God.” —Elizabeth Gilbert

    1. Yes, Suzette! I was thinking of the Elizabeth Gilbert TED talk too. I have watched it many many times and Allah and Ole have deeper meaning now.

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