Like many Friends Journal readers, I find that meeting for worship (typically in a Quaker meetinghouse) is where I most readily connect deeply with Spirit, seek guidance, offer thanks for the abundance of my life, and honestly feel the pain and confusion that sometimes dominate life’s moments.
I usually come away lifted up and knowing that I’m not alone and that when I look upward and ask, what am I to do? or, how should I stand? an answer will likely be forthcoming. Meetings for worship don’t always bring good news, but they do bring welcome news, needed guidance, and appreciation for the compassionate community that surrounds me.
One afternoon changed my life. That afternoon I had arranged to photograph a modern dancer in my new photo studio. I had no particular poses in mind—I just asked her to move comfortably in her own rhythm. The time passed easily, and I was thrilled with her beautiful movements, with the patterns she created against a simple white backdrop, and with her ability to speak simply by the movements and positions of her body.
But the real thrill came after the film was developed and I had a contact sheet (showing all the images) in front of me. Indeed, it had been a dance that engaged me, as I had experienced the creation of new choreography: a living, moving rendition of God’s grandeur. From that day onward, the dance studio became my other meetinghouse, where miracles happened every day and where both the dancers’ and my own creativity came alive and found new expression.
Can I call this worship? It’s a private worship for me. I don’t invite the dancers with words like worship, nor do I speak or think prayers or affirmations. But I know that a spirit of grace enters my life each time I set forth in these sacred spaces. I do expect that most of the dancers I work with understand this.
I began to set foot often in dance studios in 2005 when I became the resident photographer at the Bates Dance Festival, which is held each summer in Lewiston, Maine. There I had virtually unlimited access to classes, rehearsals, and choreographic sessions. I could photograph all of this, as well as the visiting dance artists as they embraced their own bodies and began developing new works. And now I also work with many dancers throughout the Northeast and beyond.
In the midst of this mecca of creativity, I wrote the following as an introduction to my first book of dance photography:
I document the work and energy that goes into dance—not just the final performance. Being in the studio as dances are created, or even as dancers prepare themselves, feels like being in a delivery room as children are being born. Amidst pain or anguish … tempered with rhythm and support, and bolstered with faith, new life emerges. It’s physical, sometimes sensual, often spiritual. Too often this process is ignored, as image makers look only at the final result—the dance.
Documenting that work and energy is my goal, but it’s only at peak moments that I approach this state of bliss that frees me to do my most successful creative work. Just as we center into worship, I have to center into my presence in that space where dance is created. Again, I must use the word “worship” to describe this experience.
Early Friends, I know, were afraid of the arts, concerned that artistic work would be a distraction from the spiritual work that is so important. Friends were cautioned to avoid the arts, to not have pianos or other instruments in their homes, and to shun any possible distractions. What a shame!
My testimony is simple: creating and experiencing any artistic work is both a way to encounter our spiritual center and to express it. If we can stop measuring our artistic attempts and just look for the purity and passion of our intent, we will find that our lives are filled with even more spiritual nourishment.