Some of you may know that not only am I a gardener and a college psychology instructor, but I am a retired United Methodist minister. When I served a church in Tucson AZ, many of the funerals I conducted were victims of AIDS.
Because of my close connection with this population in my church, I have a special place in my heart for those who suffer from this disease. It is in honor of those who have the disease, as well as in memory of those I have buried, that I write this blog.
There is a special dance from the early church community called the TRIPUDIUM. I learned about it nearly twenty-five years ago when I took a workshop from Doug Adams, who was a professor of religion and the arts at the Pacific School of Religion.
I had no idea that Doug had left this earth until I looked him up on Google. I’d like to give you two other websites that will give you a sense of who he was. According to these articles, the memorial celebrations outdid Doug in creativity.
The following information on liturgical dance is something I learned from Doug that will stay with me always.
TRIPUDIUM actually means “three step” or “jubilate” in Latin. Later, dance in church was suppressed as being too sinful, and thus it came to mean “the Jubilation.”
It was a style of processing to church, symbolizing the progress of not only the individual, but of the whole church and community.
It is a process of three steps forward and one back – three forward and one back. Often someone could call out three signs of HOPE on the forward three steps, then call out one sign of SETBACK on the backward step.
In other words, the SETBACK becomes part of the dance. It isn’t outside the rhythm.
HOPE – HOPE – HOPE – SETBACK
HOPE – HOPE – HOPE – SETBACK…
We don’t want to include the back step in the dance. But it’s all part of the dance! It gives us a more optimistic spirit, helps us see setbacks in the context of life, of ongoing progress.
Another interesting fact is that this dance was not done in single file, but in processions with many abreast with arms linked, row after row. It is done in community – not alone. It is a deliberate moving forward.
The people would move through the streets and into the church and around in it during the songs of the service and back out through the streets as a recessional. The dance was a communal act of worship and celebration.
The Greeks believed in afterlife, so they danced a ring dance to make safe passage for the deceased. The Greeks appreciated dance as an aesthetic experience. Everything was a dance for them – victory processions, weapon dances, displays of power, ball games, wedding processions, and funeral processions!
The early Christians drew on this custom. They circled the grave with lively funeral dances to celebrate the person’s birth into everlasting life. Rose petals were dropped on the open grave, as they sang, “Ring Around the Rosie…Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”
When life and mortality seem difficult, I invite you to put on some music and dance the Tripudium, shouting out three signs of hope for every setback.
This particular version of Lee Ann Womack’s song “I Hope Your Dance” seems appropriate today.