I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Kirsten Murray-Borbjerg’s reflection on God revealed through the stranger.
I most often meet God as revealed through the stranger while dancing like a broken windup toy. Dancing is probably not a passion you would imagine a wheelchair user having. But I fell head over heels in love with dancing shortly after the mysterious illness causing me to fall head over heels for no reason at all was finally diagnosed. Despite chronic ill health my passion for music can still entice me into the world. I’ve found that within dance floors dwells a holy sanctuary. A place where the constant questions about my health fall silent for in that sacred space the music is so loud the only words that can be spoken are words spoken in song. Strangers often tell me of their delight in having seen me dance all night long with such joy and confidence. Sweaty and happy I tell them my secret – my body is having a good day so I came out to celebrate her. For all the sermons I’ve heard and healing prayers I’ve had nothing has helped me understand love incarnated more than living with chronic illness and learning to dance despite it.
My spiritual dance began with a deep curiosity about monastic rhythms of life. In 2010 while at an art exhibition I got talking to a Dominican Father about my rhythm of life as an Artist. The dark months were setting in and I had not long brought my darkroom equipment out of hibernation. He said the image of me in the world with my camera during the summer months, and then at home in my darkroom during the winter months, made him think of how the life of a Monk changes with the seasons. The image of the Monks in their fields and then at their books took root deep in my heart and never left. My faith journey was primed for monasticism as my spiritual journey had commenced with a decision to take 12 steps away from some very chaotic drinking and into what is now 10 years of sobriety. The 12 step program is essentially a Rule for Life so for me ‘church’ was always going to be an expression of monasticism.
Finding the Abbey of the Arts and the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks feels like an answer to prayer I didn’t know I was praying. Sobriety had brought with it a Rule for Life. My artistic work had brought holy rhythms, creative contemplation, and reflection on the changing seasons. Chronic illness brought into my life the practice of praying the hours and an understanding of solitude as a spiritual treasure. My need for connection with the Body – my own body as well as the body of those who believe in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-care – brought dance as a spiritual practice into my life. And yet there was a need for something more. While I was clearly growing and on a path that seemed perfect for me I longed for a guide. After a fruitless search I made up my mind to write my own Rule for Life that would support my flourishing as an artist. Almost immediately I read about the Abbey for the Arts.
While I have only been a Dancing Monk for a short period I have found the guidance of our online Abbess transformative. This year I am working my way through the Artists Rule, Eyes of the Heart and The Wisdom of the Body. On my pilgrimages into the world to dance I reflect on the “Do You…?” questions. On New Year’s Eve I had an experience that made me question whether I do honor the profound dignity of each person, regardless of culture, gender etc. I was making my way to the disabled toilet with some difficulty because in the crowd people couldn’t see my walking stick. One man who saw my stick took my lack of mobility as an opportunity to score a dance. As he drunkenly danced in front of me, blocking my path to the toilet, I couldn’t see past his straight white cis male privilege to anything that was akin to profound dignity.
Then I came face to face with God; as revealed in the stranger. A young Trans woman was making her way in my direction. She saw my stick and moved making a make a clear path for me to get by. She saw me and I saw her. I’d seen the hyper vigilance with which she was navigating the crowd. So often the stranger does not reflect the face of God to those in the Trans community. Despite my urgent need to make my way to the bathroom I stopped to thank her for her kindness. I told her about the man I’d just escaped from and how much her seeing me had meant. “Bless you!” she said sorrowfully before gently kissing my cheek and wishing me a Happy New Year. Receiving a blessing, the sign of the peace, and good wishes for the year ahead felt all the more profoundly spiritual for having taken place in a busy night club. As you dance through life you can meet God anywhere. And in truth I often see God in the faces of straight white cis men as they tell their stories of what it used to be like when they were still drinking.
Kirsten Murray-Borbjerg is an artist, storyteller and social entrepreneur currently studying a degree in Theology, Ministry and Mission at Durham University. Her most recent art exhibition was at Newcastle Cathedral where she exhibited the first installment of “Gathered Together” – a reflection on blood donation, sex-work, addiction and communion.