In the ceremonial dance, we pray with our bodies, running to the tree at the centre of the sacred hoop and dancing back to our place on the circle, always facing the tree, honouring life. We hold feathers up to the sky and blow bone whistles as we dance to say, “Great Mystery, I am here. I send a voice. I send a prayer with my feet on this sacred earth.”
Over and over we run to the tree, following the heart beat of the drum from the first light of dawn until that blazing ball of light falls beneath the horizon. We do not stop. We do not eat or drink. We run forward and dance backward, our eyes always on the tree, always turned toward life.
At the start my intent is clear, my prayers prepared during days of fasting and meditation. I focus my attention on the longings of my heart: for healing, for the well-being of those I love, for wisdom in my work, for peace on the planet, for courage in community. I dance in gratitude for life, for all that we are given, for the beauty of this planet. My heart and my feet are light. I feel as if I could dance forever. Over and over to the tree and back.
The sky turns from pale blue to the brilliant hue that almost hurts your eyes to look at it as the sun climbs in the sky. My back begins to ache and my intentions blur. The prayers I have held in my mind become jumbled. Sweat pours down my face. My legs cramp.
I think of those who have pain in their bodies every day- those who are ill or injured, hungry, without medical care, alone or frightened, in areas of armed conflict. . . . . And I dance for them- that they may find peace, that they may be well.
I dance for my sons, and then I dance for all parents and their children, remembering especially those who have lost children or live in fear of losing children to sickness or starvation, to domestic or military violence. I dance in gratitude for the beauty and miracle of birth and remember the other children of Grandmother Earth- her plants and animals, the water and air, the rocks and minerals. And I dance for them, in gratitude for the beauty and sustenance they offer, asking that they be protected.
I give my body to the dance. My body is my prayer. Sometimes there is pain. Sometimes unexpected ease returns, and I dance with fresh energy, renewed from some unseen source. Resistance arises- the temptation to quit. The sun seems to stand still in the sky. I go to the tree one more time. . . . . and another. . . and another. Tears come and go. Exhaustion threatens to topple me. But I am there now without thought, all aspirations of being eloquent in my prayer, graceful in my dance sweated out, left behind. I stumble. I fall, coming down on one knee and struggle to get up.
This is how I pray- whether I am in a ceremonial dance or in the dance of an ordinary day. I get up and move toward life often with a focused prayer in my heart, on my lips. I buy carrots and squash at the market, make a soup for lunch, talk with a friend who is grieving the loss of her husband, write a poem, answer emails, get my teeth cleaned, revise a chapter, pay the electricity bill. . . . each move another run to the tree, a prayer in motion.
Sometimes I am awake and aware, and I consecrate this run- this task- to what is larger and sacred, bringing mindfulness to my movements. I pay the electricity bill with a prayer of thanks for the means to do so and for the power that heats my home, cooks my food and brings light to the darkness. I add a prayer that we develop and use sustainable ways to provide that power- ways that do no harm to this planet, our home.
Sometimes awareness is buried in busyness or weariness and I forget to dedicate my actions or moments to the Sacred Mystery that sustains me. But still, I move toward life allowing my actions to become my prayer, hoping it is enough.
And sometimes in that ordinary day, as in the ceremonial dance, I come to my knees and struggle to rise. And where I am unable to get up, my prayer is in the curve of my back and the tears in my throat, in accepting the limits of what my small will can do. I ask for help, I surrender, and something lifts me, holds and carries me. Sometimes this happens all at once, taking my breath away with instantaneous transformation. And sometimes it is a slow and gentle lifting, almost imperceptible, until I find myself back on my feet once more, filled with gratitude and renewed faith.
This is how I pray. One day at a time. Dancing until I cannot and that which brought me here lifts me up and carries me forward. The prayer is in the life lived with awareness, in the intention and even in the forgetting so the remembering may come again. It is in the joy and the sorrow, the struggle and the surrendering, in the opening that comes as we move more deeply into life, over and over again.
Oriah (c) 2012