Notes from WATERtea:
“Dancing with the Divine: A Flow of Grace“
with Carla DeSola, Diana Wear, and David W. McCauley, Jr.
Tuesday, June 7, 2022
References to Images are to materials from the book that were used in the PowerPoint and can be found in the video.
Mary E. Hunt: WATER welcomes Carla DeSola, Diana Wear, and David W. McCauley, Jr. to discuss their new book, DANCING WITH THE DIVINE: A FLOW OF GRACE (Berkeley, CA: Omega Kairos Books, 2021).
Dance is a topic we have not dealt with in WATER programs, or at least not in recent years. It is refreshing to do so today, especially since this book is inclusive of several faith traditions.
This unique volume is at once beautiful and thoughtful, compelling and confounding. I came away asking myself why the richness of dance, especially liturgical and other forms of religious dance, has not been theorized very much. Why has it not been conveyed in this compelling way that invites us all to dance? I was moved by the variety of approaches, the many needs fulfilled by dance, the multiple stimuli people reported to which they responded with movement. They also highlighted their deep insights into others with whom they moved.
This is an aesthetically pleasing book—with photos and paintings and stylized type. You’ll want to buy it and turn the pages yourself. Read these short vignettes by 30 dancers until you absorb enough of them to get the message that each of us, the readers, can dance as well.
Carla De Sola is a pioneer in liturgical dance, the Founding Director of the Omega Liturgical Dance Company at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and creator of the Omega West Dance Company in the Bay Area. She has a Diploma in Dance from Juilliard, and an M.A. in Theology & the Arts from the Pacific School of Religion. Carla has danced, choreographed, taught, and written about sacred dance for half a century. She created Omega to express the spiritual, social, and healing dimensions of dance, as well as be a place to explore inner aspects of movement integrated with the world’s spiritual resources. Her relationship to the Catholic Worker Movement is part of the grounding that leads her to name the first section of this book “Dancing for the Common Good.”
Diana Wear has served several communities in the Bay Area for the past forty years as an activist, minister, and worker. Her professional life was as Assistant Director for the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society at UC Berkeley, and in journal publishing. She is well known for her ministry as a Catholic woman with a Master of Divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology and as a member of A Critical Mass. Her commitments to worker justice, nonviolence, antiwar activism, and women’s ordination keep her busy. She is involved with political work in Richmond, CA where she lives, and as we see in this volume, with her passion for dance and her advice to “keep on moving.”
David W. McCauley, Jr. is a a very versatile and gifted artist. His photographs, watercolors, and oils grace the pages of this book. There is also an essay on his own experience of dance. He writes that he is moving into the visual arts after fifteen years with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Foundation.
David has been part of the Pearl Primus Dance Company and the Omega Liturgical Dance Company and directed the Berkeley/Oakland AileyCamp at Cal Performances at University of California Berkeley for 20 years.
Thank you for inviting me, Diana, and David. It is such a pleasure to share with you the conception of Dancing with the Divine, a project dear to my heart.
Before we begin, let us join together by being aware of the flow of our breath: I invite you to breath in 3x, each time letting your chest and your heart expand. (All do together) – I then reach my arms forward, and say, “Welcome.” End with a bow.
Dancing with the Divine: A Flow of Grace is a collection of reflections based on individual dancer’s responses to their experience of the Divine Spirit, or Ruah, manifesting through Kairos (timeless) moments in their lives. (This is distinguished from Chronos, or clock-time moments). These experiences range from deeply personal, to social, ecclesial, and artistic. These occurrences are engendered through a heightened kinesthetic sense of the Holy One’s presence and mercy in our lives sometimes outside of a strictly dance milieu. I have found that sharing these stories adds to the beauty that the world longs for and which lifts our spirits. This can help us gain a deeper understanding of the integrating and healing gifts of sacred movement and dance.
I have long desired for the church to welcome and value the role of dance in liturgy, for its beauty and witness to the Incarnation and Resurrection. But I also wanted the church to recognize and understand the gift of the dancer’s kinesthetic sense.
Having danced, choreographed, and directed many dancers over nearly a half century, I found myself wondering how this gift, as it had done for me, might have also contributed to other dancer’s ability to recognize, and be transformed, by Kairos times in their lives. That was the genesis for this book.
For me, without these moments of grace, I might never have entered the church or stayed in some institutional settings of the church, nor more importantly, found my vocation there. I couldn’t articulate these moments in the early years, but they began to coalesce years ago, when my godmother suggested I search out a Catholic Worker store-front place of worship on the lower-east side of NYC, and from there my stories unfolded.
In Dancing with the Divine, you will learn about my personal accounts as well as those of a few dozens of others who beautifully, and sometimes poetically and eloquently, shared their Kairos moments of Dancing with the Divine.
Diana Wear: (see video for images)
Image: In This Fateful Hour (all images are from the book)
My entry into this project goes back a quarter of a century working with Carla on sacred dance projects mostly for social justice and faith-centered activities in the local church. I have known David from those early years as well. I am not a dancer but had an interest in prayer, movement, and the arts to aid in worship.
Image: The Wind Blows the Spirit Flows
When I went to the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley to prepare for the Roman Catholic priesthood, there was only one class I was not permitted to take and that was “Presentation Style.” Normally I would have protested the discriminatory practice, but I was clear that I did not want to stand at the altar as I had seen priests stand in their central roles. I wanted movement and something more fluid to help bring the community together as I had witnessed from Carla’s dance and choreography. She gave me private sessions to help me discover how I might move my body while leading and facilitating prayer and worship.
Image: My Spirit Runneth Over
Like many of my ilk, my journey to priesthood would wax and wane with the vicissitudes of the institutional church haggling over the issue of whether or not women’s bodies were fully human or able to lead in our sacred settings. It was maddening. And yet, I would move forward—my ministerial call was about service and love, not heartache. My spiritual development and theology would also develop over the years in the company of many faithful people worshipping in a host of traditions. When I graduated from seminary, I thought I would write a book about my experiences and drafted a first version. But I decided I needed 10 more years of social justice work to round out the story. Ten years became 20 and I lost interest in telling the story I had originally envisioned. I moved forward.
Image: The Spirit is Released
Carla came up with the idea for this book and she asked me to edit the dancers’ essays. Since I had been her editor for 20-plus years, it was a natural. I poured over the stories and worked with the dancers trying to listen carefully and tidy up their work with gentleness, and kindness. For me, editing is both an art form and a ministry.
When Carla and I finished amassing the essays, she saw the need for some theological reflection. The two of us came up with the idea to group the essays into sections, hence my themed introductory pieces. To my surprise, after the book had been completed, I realized that I had sufficiently told my story and no longer needed to return to that book I had penned twenty years earlier.
Image: At the Still Point
Another unexpected gift of this Divine project was working with Carla and David. I know I speak for the three of us when I say that our friendships, our tender, loving care for each other during these years, and enduring all the agonizing details of the publishing process, was another flow of grace, touched by the Divine.
David W. McCauley, Jr.:
Image: Book Cover
Hello everyone, I am David McCauley and it is a pleasure to be with you today. Intuitively I recognized Kairos moments as child – when I was drawing, dancing, or looking at the night sky. But it wasn’t until I met Carla, several decades ago when I was a dancer in New York, that I was able to concisely name those moments – Kairos moments. For me they were experiences of being in timelessness.
When Carla first spoke to me of the book, asking if I would like to submit a Kairos moment, I thought of several, but more, I thought about how they very often for me relate to art. Dancing, singing, acting, music, and painting. All of those are active for me, but take me to places of exquisite contact with what I think of as the Divine Creator. But what I chose for the book as a writing was a moment of observation – pure observation of what was around me. Where I was at that moment, what I was experiencing in that moment, and that is what I wanted to capture in designing the book.
Image: Evening Presence
And it started with the beautiful image captured by Carla’s very good friend Beverley Hall: a photo in which Carla and members of Omega Liturgical Dance Company dance in the heart of the Creator’s own cathedral. This image showing Carla with her heart open to the heavens said it all to me.
I wanted to design Dancing with the Divine in a way that included places for people to visually rest while reading the book. To have a place for visual meditation, much like being in the presence of a stained-glass window. Colorful, and beautiful. A place to let the mind find a single place to be, while being everywhere, like looking into a candle. A single element, with lots of variation, and infinite space to let the mind wander. This painting, Home, captures some of that for me, and I used it as the central theme of the books interior design.
Images: The Section Makers
Images: The Illustrated letters and words
Certain images demand that you look at them and figure out what you are looking at or cause many critical or analytical thoughts to arise, and while they may not be unpleasant, they can be agitating. Other images can ease you into peaceful thoughtfulness. They give you the place to let the deep thoughts and feelings rise from within and be observed. Very similar to meditation. That was my aim in the book’s design. In this image some people have told me they see Jesus, others Mary, or more basically a man or a woman. I don’t disabuse them of either thought.
This image is bespoken for Joan Englander’s Reflection on Rumi.
Image: For you shall go out in joy
Initially, I thought other than the cover image, the subsequent images should all be paintings, because I felt they would allow any viewer entrance to the meditative space of what the writing and the art mean to me – and do it in a way that requires the reader/viewer to sit with them both a while and contemplate. I compromised a bit and included images of real people, and I now think they, too, take the viewer to a meditative place.
My hope is the images, the art, and the essays all give rise to contemplation – allowing the viewer to happen upon a Kairos moment of their own.
One colleague thanked all three speakers for their contributions to the arts, and remembered learning the “Come, Holy Spirit” movement prayer from Carla and using it in the Bay Area liturgy group, A Critical Mass worship. Carla remembered creating it for Diana’s house church. Diana clarified that the “Come, Holy Spirit” prayer body movement was used in A Critical Mass and was transformed for use in a home mass with Carolyn Kellogg, and has been modified yet again for worship over Zoom.
Another colleague studied with Carla decades ago at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, and it brought her spirituality and theology into her body, which has been crucial for her.
A third participant appreciated Diana’s desire to preside in a different way than her male colleagues.
Another person described using dance in her prayer group as having been very meaningful even over Zoom.
One respondent was grateful for the way Carla helped her dance become her prayer. Carla recalled the Hildegard of Bingen quote, “Be not lazy in celebrating.”
Another colleague noted particularly moving sections of the book, including dancing with people in prison, dancing with people with memory disorders, a woman who danced while her friend’s body was cremated. She noted that Brazilian theologian Ivone Gebara observed that those who had experienced trauma tended to dance with seemingly more freedom but that some who were more reserved may have experienced less damage. It is complex. She also asked, how do you know when it is a time to refrain from dancing?
In response, Diana noted that the author who wrote of dancing in prison also wrote about dancing with a group of people, some in wheelchairs, and observed that those in wheelchairs were more able to let go in the dance. Carla told of a woman she danced with in prison who raised her hands and said that when she raises her hands, the ceiling disappears! David remembered performing at Rikers Island and seeing a prisoner break down and say that if dance had been available to him earlier he wouldn’t be in prison.
There are times when your body simply wants to be still. Carla likes to quote T.S. Eliot, “At the still point of the turning world.” This is where the dance is. One can be still and yet be in motion.
Another person commented that in Western culture, we spend so much time teaching children to sit still especially in church. Even at her church where they incorporate dance throughout worship, some congregants cannot bring themselves to dance freely. Carla added that stillness can be a Kairos moment – there can be great potential energy.
The final respondent was grateful for Carla’s work and mentioned that she brings that spiritual, liturgical energy to her dance aerobics class! “Dance, dance, wherever you may be…” added Carla.
Dancing with the Divine: A Flow of Grace by Carla DeSola, ed. Diana Wear, designer David McCauley. It can be ordered from https://www.omegakairosbooks.com/
The Spirit Moves: A Handbook of Dance and Prayer by Carla DeSola
Peace Rites: Dance and the Art of Making Peace by Carla DeSola, ed. Thomas Kane
Acting Religious: Theatre as Pedagogy in Religious Studies by Victoria Rue