How Bones Become God
Dancing with Martha Graham
An Athlete of God
How Bones Become God
The instrument through which the dance speaks is also the instrument through which life is lived: the human body. It is the instrument by which all the primaries of experience are made manifest. It holds in its memory all matters of life and death and love.
Our bodies are where life meets us. We feel the world through our eyes, our ears, our touch, our muscles, our bones. In her philosophy of dance, Martha Graham shows how we can reciprocate and share with the world what we have known through our bodies. We can make manifest the primaries of experience: love, joy, horror, suffering, delight, madness, tenderness.
Imagine that the journey of our soul continues even after the death until peace is found. If this is the case, there will still be a medium through which we intimately receive and respond to whatever surrounds us. There will still be something like a spiritual body. There can be no souls without bodies. We may well dance after death, too. The practice of dancing is not for this life alone.
Does the Soul of the universe dance, too? Perhaps so. After all, the universe is God's body. As our own souls journey through the circumstances of life with gaiety and tragedy, bitterness and sweetness, their journeys become part of a divine Journey. At least this is what we process theologians believe. We believe that the billions upon billions of souls of the universe -- atomic, molecular, stellar, galactic, human, animal, vegetative, ancestral - are always dancing in the Dancing. And as we dance in the Dancing, our small and beautiful bones are are creatively transformed into whatever Appalachian Spring is possible. Process theologians speak of this spring as the consequent nature of God, because it comes after our dancing, as a way of choreographing what is given from the world. Earth is always leaping into Heaven.
The bones we offer God are our feelings, our actions, our acrobatic movements in life's high wire. The pull of gravity presents its dangers, but we turn them into rainbows as best we can. We turn them into rites of spring. Spirituality is the creative transformation of danger into beauty. We practice and practice, so that we might leap without falling. The more we practice, the more we become fully alive as individuals; but also, in a way, less ourselves. We participate in archetypes -- in a divine energy -- beyond ourselves. We know we are part of a much larger movement of life, of love, of divinity.
Knowing that we are part of this movement does not necessarily make us happy. We may be restless all our lives. But the restlessness has a depth in it, an intensity and a meaning. Indeed, there is a strange kind of satisfaction even in the blessed discontent. Call it grace. The grace is the Dancing itself. It is as if our own lives are performances on a stage made of the universe, and we are finding our place in that larger stage, accepting our role in something so much deeper than the mere personality.
Martha Graham puts it perfectly:
It is at this point that the sweep of life catches up the mere personality of the performer, and while the individual—the undivided one—becomes greater, the personal becomes less personal. And there is grace. I mean the grace resulting from faith…faith in life, in love, in people, in the act of dancing. All this is necessary to any performance in life which is magnetic, powerful, rich in meaning.
-- Jay McDaniel
Choreography: Martha Graham
Composer: Igor Stravinsky
Set Design: Edward Morris
Lighting Design: Solomon Weisbard
Projection Design: Paul Lieber
Dancers of the Martha Graham Dance Company
Memorial Hall, UNC Chapel Hill
April 26, 2013