I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he
Ann Jepson, a spiritual director and retired Anglican priest, reflects on how dancing with God became an integral part of her spiritual journey when she undertook the Spiritual Exercises
As a child, even though it seems I had two left feet, I always wanted to dance. I longed for the chance to have ballet lessons but money was needed for other things. But there were happy times when my Mum would just play the piano and I would dance around the sitting room to my heart’s content.
Moving forward 50, relatively dance free years, I found myself on a 30 Day Ignatian retreat at Loyola Hall. The Spiritual Exercises were the next step in my training as a director but I also needed time and space to reflect on the call to the priesthood I was exploring. My self esteem had received a battering during the discernment process. I had no idea what to expect from the Exercises but had borrowed from a friend an elderly Walkman that played CDs in case I needed to save my sanity in 30 days of silence by listening to music.
Flanking one side of the wilderness garden at Loyola was a wide strip of conifers. Within this conifer wood some trees had been felled leaving an open space hidden from view. It was a space I was drawn to during my prayer times.
It was there I began to dance, sometimes with music sometimes without. The ground gave slightly under my feet from the carpet of leaves, and light filtered through and did its own dance on trees stumps and the ground. The freedom was profound. Tears often rolled down my face as my body prayed the prayers for which I had no words.
And then one day God joined me in the dance and we danced together. He held me. I felt no fear. And then his finger tips felt my face and my arms. It was almost as is if he was blind and his touch was a gentle exploration of features. I recalled the times I had seen a small baby and just wanted to touch it tenderly and explore and delight in what seemed a perfect creation, not noticing any imperfections, just delighting in the smell and softness of its skin.
As the dance ended I wanted to kneel in adoration before this dancing-partner God. But instead God knelt before me, honouring me, marvelling at what he had made. There was no controlling, He was going to let me move on. I knew I was something of value that would grow as he looked on in wonder.
We still dance from time to time. Sometimes together, sometimes he just watches. There is never an issue with my two left feet – it simply doesn’t matter. I have been known to tread quite heavily and deliberately on his toes when I’m angry. Even in times when I couldn’t bring myself to dance I have always known that this was my choice and my dancing partner was just waiting.
Much has happened since that first dance in that dappled space. We have danced in times of sorrow and joy. We danced on my ordination retreat. I love my dancing- partner God and he loves me.
Ann Jepson is a retired Anglican priest and Spiritual Director who as part of her Spiritual Direction training undertook the Spiritual Exercises at Loyola Hall.