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The Dance to Freedom

. . . A Story af Descending Spirituality


From: Christopher Brown. The Dance to Freedom:
A Story of Descending Spirituality.
Eremos 1998, No. 64, pp.11-15.

A strong and compelling element which dominates western culture is that it is ascendant-oriented. Rather than encouraging a stretching of our being towards the God-Creator, this counter-call says: 'Build a security and permanence of your own making; thrive through a self-made identity and image; make a mark; and, gain power and status through your productivity.' Our contemporary political economy, undergirded by a philosophy of economic rationalism, calls for a strong and self-reliant ego.

     Yet, despite best efforts to ascend and make a mark, restlessness, boredom, a deep spirit of discontent, and even despair, often lurk below the surface. An anesthetic may be reached for to dull such inner yearning. The exercise of personal power is one such anesthetic, especially where it involves gaining power over others. In power transactions some people will win, other people will lose. Even for those deemed 'winners', costs will accrue at intrapersonal, interpersonal and political levels. At a feeling level there can be the experience of increased anger, and especially anger directed against anything that is perceived to thwart responses to personal desires. At an interpersonal level the need for admiration can substitute for a lessening capacity to give and to receive love and to enter deeper interpersonal communion. At a more political level it can be manifest through: intolerance towards human diversity; the deliberate stigmatizing of 'losers'; and the opting for what John Kenneth Galbraith calls an era of government for the contented against the poor.


     Caught in this ascendant orientation, this upward striving may reach out after faith. Even faith can become one other thing to strive for, to extend power over, to control and even commodify. An ascendant grab for faith can lead to spiritual materialism.
     Where there is limited or no space for the poor, the little ones of our community grow distant from us and so become socially marginalized. But in a similar way we run the risk of limiting the space for our own deeper human experiences, along with the experiences of those closest to us. We can marginalize our own experience of pain and suffering. When deep communion with the Creator-God is forsaken, along with a sense of communion with our inner self, with significant others, and with our community, our deeper human experiences can become sources of threat and fear, and ultimately stand as our enemy.
     The poor, the little ones, the deeply wounded of our ascendant-oriented world, may still be able to lead us, in the way they know, to another place— a place of descent. They may show us how to loosen our attachments, compulsions, and preoccupations with material security. They may assist us in restoring communion with the Creator-God, the One who loves us, woos us and calls us by name. They may restore us to the One who, with loving reins of kindness, draws us from the places of restlessness and yearning through to greater personal acceptance and into a deeper sense of peace.
     Perhaps the story of the dance to freedom might open a little window on what it means to find a descendant place in an ascendant-oriented world. It was first written for a friend, Jenny, who is a dancer. It is not her particular story, but instead, one small attempt to locate the little account of our lives within a larger story. It may serve as a faint hint, that the One who formed us in the image and likeness of the Creator-God, is close rather than distant. Instead of fatalistically grasping for power and clawing our way up some steep and impossible incline, we might accept who we deeply are, wounds and all, and simply fall into the arms of the God-Creator.


The dance to freedom commences in semi-darkness, backed by somber, confronting and mysterious music. The audience views the stage from raised seats within an enclosed amphitheatre. As they peer down the dancer appears to descend. As she descends a feeling of despair is created. The dancer's ghost­like face fills with anguish. The anonymity and security of the audience are being subtly eroded. The dancer's movements signal escape, but there is no escape. There is no escape for anyone!
     In the gloom and in the darkness it has taken time to notice that the dancer is surrounded by darkly clad figures. Each is blocking her escape. As she darts in one direction her way is blocked and an image of her pale anguished face is reflected in a mirror held by one dark figure. Now she is blocked in each direction, and with each attempt to escape an image of her face is captured.
     There is something far too confronting in all of this. A feeling of discomfort pervades the audience. The dance goes on and on. Escape seems impossible.
     The dancer has collapsed in centre stage with the dark figures, still with, their frozen images of her anguished face, tightly clustered around her.
     Something is happening around the theatre. It goes beyond the action on the stage. A few of the audience have left their seats and are groping towards the exit. A group of patrons is gathering around the ticket office, some angrily demanding a refund.
     Sitting on the counter beside the ticket booth, and attracting the attention of fleeing patrons, is an outlandishly dressed Joker. A finger mockingly points at each patron, whom he addresses in a shrill voice with the words, repeated over and over: 'You are who you are, who you are, who you are…'. Patrons are showing distinct discomfort, but as they look away, they catch reflections of their own faces in the many mirrors that surround the booth. They do not like what   they   see.   Most   push hurriedly to the door.
     One person, irritated by the chant of the Joker, issues a challenge: 'What is this all about? Give us some clue. Come on, tell us!' The chant stops. The Joker jumps down from the counter and comes face-to-face with this man. There is only one clue,' he shrieks. 'Only one clue will be given.' The clue is the sign of Jonah.' The sign of what?' queries the patron. The Joker holds up both hands in a show of exaggerated exasperation. 'Don't any of you know the mystery of faith?'
     The Joker returns to his place on the counter and takes up his irritating chant: 'You are who you are, who you are…'
     The remaining patrons push their way to the exit and out of the theatre. Some are muttering that all this is utter nonsense. Most appear relieved as they spill out onto the brightly-lit and busy footpath.
     One rather small elderly lady, who had been clamoring for the exit, even doing a little pushing and shoving for fear that she might not get out, begins to follow but now turns. She slowly walks back into the theatre to reclaim her seat. She appears distressed and when she sits down she is weeping. Something in the exchange with the Joker has brought her back.
     The dance has recommenced. There are more lights coming on. It is now possible to notice the stains and rips in the dancer's dress, the holes in her stockings, and the dark smudges on her face and arms. Another bright light comes on placing the dancer in stark relief, also casting an enormous and distinct shadow. This extends along the floor and right up the wall. The dancer who was troubled by her own appearance now becomes aware of the shadow and dances as though to minimize it. As she moves to the left another light floods the stage and the shadow moves. As she moves to the right something similar happens. With each of the dancer's attempts to minimize the shadow, the larger it becomes. Finally, as though all of these efforts have exhausted the dancer, she curls tightly in the centre of the stage. Even now a floor light catches her and the shadow lingers. Nothing remains hidden.
     The entry of a second dancer is as dramatic as it is dazzling. His mantle creates the image of leaping flames. So captivating and spectacular is his dance that his curled-up and despairing partner can be momentarily forgotten. The little elderly lady has even stopped crying. Smoke follows the movements of the leaping flames.
     The dancer in his flaming mantle now notices his curled-up partner. He begins to coax her to join his dance. Will she or will she not? She reaches out, she then withdraws. The remnant audience silently wills her to join him. She hesitatingly unfolds, but aware that her shadow still follows, seeks to withdraw. Does he not see the shadow, the stains, the rips and the smudges?
     The dancer of fire slows his step as though to greet her. The mantle folds back. The audience gasps as a torn and bloodied shirt is revealed. Smudged welted wrists are exposed as he turns up and stretches out his hands. She now takes his hands, and though appearing to falter, as she remembers her shadow, draws back in hesitation. Slowly, however, they begin to dance.
     Their movement is slow, as if hindered by the woman's consciousness of her shadow. The mantle of the dancer of fire falls open and partly covers the woman. She then, in gracious movement, sweeps her shadow up over her arm. The dance quickens and both dancers move with grace and fusion. While still carrying the shadow over her arm, its presence no longer impedes her and it begins to lose its grip on the audience. Quickly and more quickly they dance, ever encircled by the mantle of fire. Almost unnoticed is the movement of the fiery mantle from the shoulders of the man to those of the woman. And as quickly as he came he is gone. All gaze is on the woman, who with both mantle and shadow casts a spell on the audience through her swift and elegant movement.
     But all is not yet done. Do the spellbound viewers see that the dancer is rising? Do they see amidst the smoke that covers the floor of the stage the emerging shape of a hand?
     The ovation transcends the size of the remaining audience. For a moment it was as though they had been joined by a host of angels, clapping as angels do by brushing against each other's wings. Then it was over.
     This time there is no rush to the door. People exit slowly, most deep in thought. The Joker is now the very picture of the gracious host, shaking hands at the door and wishing all that God Himself may accompany them home.
     The elderly lady exits slower than the rest. For her, it had simply been a case again of learning how to see. She still had a lot of weeping to do.