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Dancing with Monks and Mystics (guest post from Betsey Beckman)

For the last several months, we have been embarking on an exciting creative project and collaboration.  It started with choosing 12 dancing monks to be a part of the original Dancing Monk Icon series painted by Marcy Hall.  These icons were meant to depict some beloved monks and mystics in a joyful and colorful way, reminding us of our call to dance through this life.

We had the inspiration to feature a dancing monk for each week of our Advent/Christmas and Epiphany/New Year’s online retreats. My dear friend and collaborator Betsey Beckman was inspired to have songs created for each dancing monk and then to choreograph a gesture prayer to accompany the music . Read on below for her insight into this process.

If you would like to join us for these online retreats you can find the registration info here:

Dancing with the Saints … could it be better than dancing with the stars?  Of course! (If you are a dancing monk that is!) What an adventure it has been preparing for our upcoming online retreats that will explore praying and dancing with a colorful array of monks, mystics and archetypes.

Here is the timeline:

2012 – Christine chooses 12 Monks and Mystics to be spiritual guides or “patron saints” for the Abbey of the Arts.

2013 – Christine commissions a beautiful color icon by Marcy Hall for each of these guides/archetypes.

Spring 2014  – Christine makes plans for upcoming online retreats with our archetypal guides. Begins writing a poem for each monk/mystic.

Summer 2014 – Bing!  Inspiration arises!  – If we have 12 icons and 12 poems for our array of holy archetypes, and we are indeed a Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks, then of course, it would only be right for us to have 12 songs and 12 dances to explore the gift of these fine spiritual guides as well! Abbess Christine weighs in enthusiastically about such a notion, and gives encouragement for us to embark on this voyage – full steam ahead.

September 2014 – Song Writers: on your mark, get set, go!  Five different artists write (or adapt) 12 songs – an amazing array of reflection and inspiration.

October 2014 – 12 songs recorded (or sent in) by our various artists:  Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, Laura and David Ash, Carmel Boyle and Betsey Beckman (me!)

October 2014 – I wake up choreographing!

November 2014 – Now time to film!  By the grace of God, I already had plans to participate in Christine and John’s beautiful pilgrimage to the western shores of Ireland this November.  With new motivation for visiting sacred sites, fellow dancing monk, Sharie Bowman and I take camera in hand and go about filming the dance meditations as our side-project in an array of sacred locations on our group pilgrimage.

These include:

Holy Mountain on the isle of Insimore (ancient monastic site on the Aran Islands)

The ferry to Inismore

15th Centruy monk’s fishing cabin at on the River Cong

The shores of the sea in County Clare

Ross Errilly Friary in County Galway

Brigid’s Well in Kildare

Byland Abbey in Yorkshire, England

What an honor and privilege to be “birthing the holy” in the form of this project while visiting sacred sites in Ireland and England. As a child, I discovered the simple joy of dancing in nature.  This summer, I spent time dancing in my yard, enjoying the sweet gifts of staying at home.  This fall brought about the stirring adventure of journeying far and wide – embracing the archetype of St. Brendan the Navigator – visiting ancient sites on a sacred voyage, and dancing by wells, oceans and abbeys.

Upon returning home, I am immersed in our “Dancing with Monks & Mystics” project still, and am looking forward to filming the movement prayer for Mother Mary for the third week of Advent.  I will be praying a beautiful setting of the Hail Mary in the Cathedral of St. James in Seattle.  What an honor.

I am bubbling up with joy to have the occasion to create movement prayers that are simple enough for anyone to join in and are also are infused with artistry and soul inspired by our saints and archetypes.  Some of the dance prayers are gestural and contemplative, some are energized by simple foot patterns, and some add (optional) spins and twirls for more adventurous dancing monks!

Beyond the online retreats, we are planning to publish these beautiful dances, songs, poems, and icons as resources for communities and individuals to continue to pray with in book, CD and DVD formats.  Whee!

When we dance, the cosmos celebrates within us and through us.  Hope you can embark with us on this sacred journey… and as Merton would say – “Join in the joy of the cosmic dance!”

BetseyBetsey Beckman, MM is nationally acclaimed as a spirited dancer, storyteller, teacher of SpiritPlay and dancing Spiritual Director. With her extensive repertory of sacred storydances, she is regularly featured as artist/presenter at national conventions as well as local churches. She earned her Masters in Ministry degree from Seattle University, her certificate in Movement Therapy from the Institute for Transformational Movement, and is a certified InterPlay leader. As dancer, choreographer, author, mother, wife, teacher and spiritual director, she is passionate about living life fully and fostering creativity in all those with whom she shares life and ministry. Betsey’s publications include books (she is co-author of Awakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Expressive Arts to Spiritual Direction), recordings, and The Dancing Word series of DVDs on embodied prayer. She offers the gift of playful improvisation whenever possible.





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3 Responses

  1. Yes please. A calendar would be a terrific way to journey through the year with such inspiring companions.

  2. Oh, please do publish a calendar! Then we will have an icon to focus on each month and could practice the dance and read the prayer for several weeks to let them really sink in.

  3. The twelve icons would make a lovely calendar (for 2016, perhaps?), as well. Dancing into a new year… :)