Yesterday our new church opened up their field and facilities to the local neighborhood association and the Uplift neighborhood coalition for a fall harvest festival. The celebration included food, music, arts and crafts, bartering, and live music. People from the congregation were encouraged to attend and participate. I love that the church is doing things to have a positive presence in the community and to build relationships with the people just outside their doors.
We were able to catch the last hour of the festivities. I enjoyed a bowl of spicy turkey chili from the community pot and watched my kids play and explore. My three year old has a tendency to express his appreciation for music with enthusiastic dance. I wasn’t too surprised when he ran in front of the music tent and began cuttin’ up the field to the rhythms of the steel drum band. He stomped his feet, waved his arms in the air, shook his head (and his bottom), stuck his tongue out, and just generally flailed and leaped about to the beat.
After a few minutes of entertaining the onlookers, his attention was drawn to a hula hoop next to a small group of young adults seated on the grass. He danced all the way over, tapped the owner on the head and blurted out a request to play with the hoop. The young lady who owned it graciously agreed, so I struck up a conversation with her. I quickly learned that she was relatively new to Portland and that she was an ecstatic dance instructor.
I was quite certain that anything called ecstatic dance would be far outside of the realm of plausible activities for me, but I was there to meet the neighbors and maybe establish some relationships. So, I admitted my ignorance and questioned her as to how it worked. She explained to me that it is dance led by individual expression. It is facilitated by mood creating music and words of guidance from the instructor. Dancers simply move however their bodies tell them to, with the intention of creating a spiritual (or at least self-actualizing) experience. Benefits associated with this practice include exercise, freedom from inhibition, self expression, greater connectivity with oneself and with others, and deeper spiritual awareness.
Sounded weird to me, so I did a little research. Come to find out ecstatic dance, AKA trance dance is a movement that has been around for a long time. It has known popularity in the western world for at least fifty years and it’s various forms reflect components of everything from eastern meditative thought to pagan ritualism. Upon talking with others at the festival, I learned that there is a whole tribe (and, yes, that is what they would call themselves) of ecstatic dancers living in a house just up the road from the church. Those just happened to be the people my son decided to grace with his wild little boogie. It is likely they were impressed.
That young woman with the hula hoop later approached me and kindly offered me her friendship and her help getting to know the area. I haven’t even moved there yet, so I am thankful and encouraged to have had an opportunity to meet people in the community so soon—people who are absolutely precious and valuable to God, and people who need to be introduced to Jesus. But, as I walked away, I couldn’t help shaking my head and thinking,
“Welcome to Portland!”
In case you were curious…