Even though I made claims at the beginning of this story which did not turn out to be true as I travelled through my story, I will not edit the beginning partly because I am so time-poor but mainly because I think there is an honesty in keeping in the way I delude myself and the way I try to avoid the obvious.
Given my estrangement from the lectionary at the moment and the fact I need to study I will not bother looking up a reading, will just recount a spiritual experience I had this week. I was challenged by it, back when I was more “churchy” I would have mistrusted what I felt or felt I had to turn it into a Christian framework somehow.
Instead now, I just want to tell it the way it was, with possibly my Christian prejudice still in place and my feminist bias too but not deliberately turning it to a familiar framework. I will trust the whatever, the God-thing to be real enough not to need me to fabricate Her realness with a framework. I will trust myself to love and follow the God-being enough not to need to force myself back into a box I never was all that comfortable in and have long outgrown.
As I say to the pre-schoolers “This is a true story, but there are still a lot of questions about how I know this story and whether someone else would know the story or tell the story differently”
I was unhappy yesterday, with an unhappiness that was probably just the after-effect of letting my happiness get too high like a drunkenness a few hours before. There is a person that makes me happy, euphoric and I always get drawn into a transfiguration type experience with her and then like in the biblical story (which wasn’t going to be part of this story) I want to make some sort of tent around the experience to prolong and own and predict it into my continued life. And it is a gift, but it is not that sort of a gift…the fragrance of beauty and possibility fades.
Later on she was short with me, I had a half-heard comment from someone else who laughed with her and I felt shut-out, the outsider. I felt they were mocking, and she rejecting me. Actually very little happened. It was a feeling, an after-effect of a high but I felt like shit. I wondered if I should work harder at not being in love with this person. I wondered how I would live without the glow of that love…I panicked at the unsustainability of it no matter what.
And though I didn’t feel like it I met my friends for belly dancing. My friends surrounded me. Often they have been sad and I have tried to commiserate and comfort. This time they were happy, bubbly, full of plans. They laughed at my emotional pain but in a loving way. I saw through their eyes that I was being stupid, overreacting – but they were not cruel enough to say so. One of them spoke with me at some length challenging my rigid meanings of what had happened- offering other softer meanings allowing me to begin to let go the self-hate and resentment.
But there was still sadness.
“I’ll dance it out” I said unconvinced, I wanted them to believe I was being brave, that I was at least trying not to be so stupid. “Yes dance it out” a friend agreed, that worked for me last week” but I had loved dancing last week and all week as I practiced and now I just did not want to dance. I felt too stupid and hideous and like a great big lump of sadness and I wanted to cry not to dance.
We went into dancing and the teacher welcomed us, the group had already started and they drew us in. We called instructions to each other (actually I was new to this and didn’t say anything but I appreciated that the more experienced dancers did). I had learned so much by practicing over the week but now my mind was full of tears and my body heavy, uncooperative. I forced myself to follow half a beat too late, my feet all wrong, my body ungainly.
Mostly the teacher did not comment. At one point she reminded me that it was early days for me and that it was just good to try. She reminded me to layer the moves, to only focus on the feet if I couldn’t get feet, hips, hands, upper body everything. In tribal belly dancing you layer move upon move upon move. Beginners don’t have to move their whole body. We move as a team, we try to all move together and be together and flow as one. We signal to each other the moves we will choose in the changes and we take turns leading the group.
I am a raw beginner, no damn good at it but the mathematical precision of where I ahd to put my feet gradually took over and my hips wanted to follow. My arms were too high so the teacher helped me drop them and stretch them out as they should be. Other dancers, more experienced than me also had small adjustments, but the teacher was always very positive to us and always broke it up into the smallest most logical steps possible. It was a type of maths, it took my brain and body over. I was still sad but not as heavy with it. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight; each move was eight beats (more or less) and they always happened in pairs. The feet. I placed my feet right, corrected or caught up when I needed to. I moved around the circle suddenly confident and keen to lead when it was my turn- then once again confused and lost.
The teacher had let me pass on leading the previous week, this time she saw that I was emotionally ready…with the right scaffolding, she suggested the move I should “lead” and remindingly took me through it. It was a parody of leading only, but I know from my pre-schoolers that that is how you become someone who can do. You imitate the appearance of doing, you slowly take over a step or a feeling of doing and you keep trying.
“You’re actually ok for someone on their second lesson” a friend reassured me
“I am trying to speak to myself as I would to the kids I teach” I admitted, “that it’s ok to take some time to learn a skill”
“It’s like a different language” she challenged, “You can only learn by doing. I love bellydancing. It’s all types of women…all ages, all sizes, all shapes. Well it is in tribal anyway”
At the end after our cooldown I realised I am quite fit. I was less breathless than many of them. I need to gain skill and the right sort of intelligence to understand which move comes next and remember how to do it but I am fit enough for this. When I stop panicking I will be flexible. I felt a glow of happiness that I would one day have the chance to be better at this as the teacher brought us into a circle.
“This is what we do, this is what tribal dancers do in every country” she told us, “If you don’t know their language you still dance with them and we finish with this” we brought our arms out blessing our sister- first to the right then to the left. We brought our hands together into the centre of our body “this prayer is also for ourselves” we knelt to the earth and blessed it with our outstretched hands and folded bodies, we rose up and travelled clockwise together then once more blessed our sisters to the right and to the left.
I felt sisterhood. I felt the “otherness” and the presence of God. I felt connectedness to the earth. I felt a humility creep into my body- what were my sorrows or my mistakes after all? What significance do labels like “Stupid” or “unattractive” or “rejected” have. The divine presence was flowing through me and my “sisters” and we were deeply emotionally and connectedly intelligent, we were attractive with a glowing light of beauty and love that flowed from us to all people and the earth we were accepted, welcomed, beloved by each other and the earth and the divine.
“I will try to be ok about her not loving me” I tried to pray but it came out differently.
“There is no significance in wondering and wishing and hoping about her loving or her not loving. There is dignity in me because I love her. There is dignity in me because I see dignity in others. I will walk into greater compassion and kindness toward others. Real love for someone leaves the other free.” I wasn’t moralising at myself like I have tried to when I try to pray the “right” way, I was letting go of pain and feeling a calm self-acceptance that was loving toward others. I felt connected to everyone- to my accepting friends, my dancing group, to my child and to my friend’s partner who was babysitting him, to the partners of all my friends, the friends I have not seen for a while to the friends who need my help, the colleagues who love working with me and the ones who rub me up the wrong way.
I am connected to the person who may or may not find significance in that, and to people I have not wanted intimacy with. I am connected to the people who bullied me in high school and helped me become such a nervous wreck but they are human and forgiven because I am filled with redemptive grace and beloved. I am human and forgiven for my blunders. I am called to mean well and to question.
Sisterhood in this case was inclusive, it was beautiful and because it honoured the specificity of our femaleness there was a spirituality of deep healing grace here. On the way home I ignored my anxiety about starting work at 7:30 the next morning and stopped for pizza and immature jokes with some of my “sisters”. I wasn’t going to turn this back into my Christian paradigm but what was that if not Eucharist?