Body Celebration, Body Prayer

This past weekend, I attended a unique mix of a Latin-Iraqi wedding in Ohio where the bride and groom were dance-mobbed by the bridal party and family when they walked into their reception. Aunts of the bride trilled their celebration while holding up pearl-decorated scepters and circles (traditionally these were swords and tambourines). Realizing it wasn’t going to stop soon, the rest of us (mostly people who graduated from a conservative Christian college) gravitated to the middle of the room to join in the whooping and hollering.

We danced for an hour at least. When the happy couple tried to sit, their friends picked them back up and carried them to the middle of the room. The aunts started a big circle and taught us how to two-step, Iraqi-style.

In most midwestern weddings I attend, the bridal party is announced, promptly seated, and then served food. I’ve sat at head tables where other bridesmaids and I have deliberated about if we could stand up to find the bathroom. Dancing usually comes after dinner, more of an expected activity than a celebration.

I mean, it is a celebration, but not the same as this latest wedding. The bride’s family celebrated with their bodies first, toasts and words later.

Maybe I’m late to the dancing party. I grew up in West Michigan, where dancing was okay inside the home on Saturday nights when the radio station played “Solid Gold Saturday Night” playlists. But the most dancing I did outside the home was in wooden shoes around tulips in May and I was forbidden to use my hips. Then came the conservative Christian college, where I couldn’t dance unless it was square-dance choreographed.

In other words, dancing wasn’t an expression of emotion. Dancing was something you just did to the right music. An activity.

As argued in the movie Footloose, the Bible does say that David danced–with the tambourine, no less. Dancing is a bodily expression.

I wonder if in the Cartesian divide between the mind and the body, we’ve also forgotten how to celebrate with the body. I, at least, dance like a self-conscious robot, still throwing in steps from the Dutch Dancing (‘cuz that’s all I know).

So at this wedding I wondered what it would look like if I too celebrated with my body. If I danced my happiness at my friend’s wedding, what would it look like?

It didn’t look like the self-conscious two-step I started with, that’s for sure.

It looked like letting my inner yogini out.

No, I didn’t break into Warrior II on the dance floor. I’m not that removed from pop culture.

When I first started practicing yoga five years ago, I had to realize that I had a body, that my body was valuable and to be respected, that my body had a lot of wisdom, and that my arms could and should be raised above my shoulders.

Yoga taught me that I had a body, and that that body was part of me.

So by the end of the six-hour reception, I was celebrating with my whole self, not just my head atop a body.

On the drive home, I wondered about other actions with the body: like body prayer.

Climbing cake: another form of body prayer?

Sometimes at my church, I lead body prayers in which I give movement to a liturgy, and I guide the entire church in standing, opening the heart, forward folding in a bow before God.

I wonder: when I lead these prayers, is it just another activity? How can we connect our minds, bodies, and souls in prayer?

If I prayed with my body today like I celebrated yesterday, what would that look like? To celebrate? To mourn? To thank? To petition? To praise?

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4 thoughts on “Body Celebration, Body Prayer

  1. I like this idea of praying with one’s entire body. It is something I am growing into. At first it seemed strange and formulaic to make the sign of the cross, but as I began to meditate on what it means – to claim oneself as Christ’s, to recognize that we are dust and to dust we shall return. The motion makes the prayer more meaningful. One of my favorite liturgies is the Good Friday liturgy in which the priests enter in silence and then lay prostrate at the altar. What a powerful image of Christ’s sacrifice for us! Thank you for the reminder to embrace praying not only with our minds and hearts, but with our entire being.

    1. Genuine worship comes from our knowledge of Christ and who He is which we learn in the Word and by the ways He manifests Himself in our lives. It is something we learned later in life….to worship in spirit and in truth. The truth that is in the Word. And the genuine feelings of love/ thanks/ and praise that are just overwhelming as we understand more and more what this gracious and merciful God has done for us. The liturgy of my past (a past that did not include really KNOWING this wonderful and amazing God) seems stiff and, yes, a formula to me. I respect what others write and am assuming that I am also welcome to contribute. My study of the book of Hebrews showed me that Christ is enough and I could be free of any form and liturgy now that He has come. He is MORE than enough! I lift my hands in praise often during worship—not because someone up front is telling us all what to do. No one can tell you how to be involved in genuine worship. We are not all genuine at the same moment! The joy of following Christ in the purposes He has for me and in the freedom of really knowing Him and not having to follow prescribed forms has been life-changing for me. BTW, entering into the Iraqi-Chaldean culture at the wedding was a wonderful moment. To celebrate, really celebrate with the families—-THAT was a new and precious concept. Viva the Dance!

      1. As “The Mother of the Bride” and a Conservative Iraqi/Chaldean Follower of Christ, I wanted to thank you for this wonderful blog! As I look at all of the pictures and watch the video’s, I can raise my hands to the lover of my soul and dance because HE truly lives! My prayer for that amazing night was that we would indeed have a multicultural wedding that would reflect the Father’s Heart. We were so blessed to see so many Non-Iraqi’s celebrating alongside us to the beautiful music, both Arabic and Aramaic, the very language that Jesus Himself spoke. Thank you and your husband for helping us celebrate one of the most beautiful days of our lives-the day our Lord blessed us with a son and united our precious daughter together so they would become one. What better way to celebrate than to dance!!!!

  2. Thanks, Heather & Friend. I’ve been noticing the incarnate nature of this kind of worship as well. Viva the Dance indeed!

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