Spirit of Life,
I love the phrase “praying with our feet.” It often comes to mind for me in protests at the Texas Capitol, when I wait in line to vote, and perhaps most especially every Friday, when I lead my Zumba class, where we pray with our arms, our hips, our everything.
“What is your intention for this hour?” I ask folks Zooming in from around the world. “What are you dancing for today?”
On a recent morning, the answers included, “my 18-year wedding anniversary!” “another job interview,” and “seeing my grandkids again for the first time in COVID.” A woman in College Station, Texas, showed us her wrapped wrist and asked for healing prayers after surgery. A dancer in Canada requested the song “Best Friend” by Saweetie and shared sadness about a friend in hospice care.
We took deep breaths and held each other across the miles. Then we danced — for joy, hope, and grief. For the chance to move together as one, even in a time of isolation.
Happiness ain’t something you sit back and you wait for
Feels so good to dance again”
—Selena Gomez, “Dance Again
Since finding dance nine years ago, it has become my joy practice and a form of embodied prayer. I choose music and choreography to reflect Unitarian Universalist principles like interconnectedness, equity, and acceptance. Moving to the music of Lizzo, Kesha, and Gente de Zona, I am praying to the Spirit of Life — to summon the energy for another day of pandemic parenting, to feel in my hips and heart that I am enough. We are all enough.
Uruguayan journalist and novelist Eduardo Galeano wrote, “The church says: The body is a sin. Science says: The body is a machine. Advertising says: The body is a business. The body says: I am a fiesta.”
As UUs, I hope we can bring church and science into the body’s celebration (and do our best to ignore advertising altogether).
Lately, my own body and spirit have been telling me to slow down. I am feeling the impact of pandemic trauma, plus the natural effects of aging (and a decade of jumping up and down to Pitbull songs).
Thankfully, Zumba can be medium-impact or low, on your feet or in a chair or swimming pool. Sometimes just listening to the playlist is enough. When I forego a high-impact jump in favor of a grounded shimmy to protect my back, I am not failing my class — whose members range in age from elementary school to their 80s — but honoring the sacredness of all bodies.
Similarly, when my brain is tired and I forget a move, I try not to apologize (as I have been conditioned to do for the most human of mistakes). Even though I feel embarrassed on the inside, I throw my head back and laugh, improvising through the moments Richard Simmons used to call “accidental solos.” I remember that we are called to let go of perfectionism — a piece of dismantling white supremacy culture in ourselves and our institutions. I remind myself that we need these moments, to dance through discomfort and even embrace mistakes, having faith we will learn from them.
I remember the wise words of Cynthia Winton-Henry in her book, Dance – The Sacred Art: “As much as you might want a ‘perfect’ spot in which to dance, it is really the other way around: You make the space around you holy when you dance.”
CLF Member, incarcerated in MA
Little things, big things, anything; people pray for them. From the mundane, like to perhaps hit the lottery, to the serious, like for someone’s life. (Though perhaps, for some, winning the lottery isn’t mundane at all, but a serious need.)
It all cycles around to prayer. A want, a need, a desire, leading to hoping, wishing, possibly even begging, some greater power to hear you, to help you.
Do I pray? Probably not enough. I attend services, I meditate, I take part in my faith, and take it seriously. But praying? In here, it can be hard to do.
There’s a mentality that pervades all here: avoid weakness, lest you be preyed upon. To pray, is, in a way, a surrendering yourself to another, to ask for help to do something.
Is that weakness? No, but in here, it can be viewed as such. So that energy hangs in the air, sapping you, putting you on edge.
But when I pray, it, in its way, helps and hurts. That surrendering lifts a weight off of you, it can be an emotional release, a reset of one’s self, an acknowledgment that you can’t do it all on your own, and that everything will, in its time, be okay.
So pray. Not for me (though admittedly I wouldn’t mind), but for you. For your world, big, little, whatever size it is. May it help you.
That is my prayer.
CLF member, incarcerated in VA
We all should know that though the look of prayer could be one on their knees with hands held upright, fingers straight up, palms together, prayer can look many different ways. For me it is often sitting down anywhere — on the ground, in a chair, at a desk or table, with my hands held together. Of course it might be alone, or it could be with someone who needs a prayer more than me, as I say a prayer for them. I pray anywhere, anytime, needed or not, as a way to think about what the situation needs.
If I see a death happened in the news, I say a prayer for the family for strength, a prayer for the deceased. A flood — I say a prayer for support, goods, rescue. A fire — the same and more, to have shelter along with healing. A nice day with no huge troubles — a prayer of thanks and gratitude, with a prayer for more of these days.
The sound of prayer: it could be noisy, mildly busy with the hum of every day life all around, or it could be complete silence, a prayer said or thought.
The feel: if nervous, anxious, or feeling the weight of the world on one’s shoulders, then a prayer feels like relief. A great feeling of no burdens.
I’ll end with a prayer of thanks and acknowledgment, for the gift of all that prayer is for me.
CLF member, incarcerated in FL
Quiet as kept, be slow to speak
The tongue of death is death indeed
Let temperance and virtue be thy speech
Consider silence and still thy feet
Be thou fearless, feel not dismay
For thou art spirit to what is pain
Deep meditation shall make things clear
The weapons of war that thou should fear
Speak no lies, be not the fool
Boomerangs of deception bareth dark rile
If a word be uttered, let freedom reign
Sever the yoke and break every chain
If I be bound, may they be free
If I face danger, let them have peace
If I must die, let them live
Return I shall and with them sing
Divine decrees establish the link
Of things unseen, oh what of faith
This body clad of clay and dust
But I am greater, the creator’s touch
Infused in soil, the morning star
A living soul, the lawful heart
Ponder the path thy foot is upon
Consider the workings thy hands have wrought
Be thou calm in every endeavor
And radiant as the sun
Forever-ever, forever and ever
I and my father are one
CLF members, incarcerated in TX
Looking at the night sky,
Staring at the galaxy,
Watching the Milky Way swirl.
Pondering things like,
“What is my purpose in life?”
While I’m watching the stars
Coalesces into a ball of fire
Brighter than the sun.
As I watch it forms
the face of God.
Burning white hot,
Igniting my world,
causing my fears and doubts
to flee, clearing my mind
and chasing away the shadows.
Searing through me from the ashes
A phoenix arises,
stronger than before.
And as I look at the face of God,
I see me.
We know your hearts are tender. We know you’re holding so many complex feelings in this moment. You are not alone.
In a just world, George Floyd would still be alive. While the Chauvin verdict brings so many of us collective relief, we can’t say it is justice. We know that a carceral system can’t truly hold accountability in transformative ways. And yet, we also know that in a country that so often treats Black people as disposable, it is meaningful to witness consequences for police brutality. We hold all these complexities and contradictions with care.
Shortly after many of us learned of the Chauvin verdict, we also learned of the police killing of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio after she called the police for help. There is no justice when police kill our children.
So in these times, we remember that our hope is not in the judicial system but in the strength and love of our communities. Through it all, we’ve held each other tenderly, and we will continue to do that in the days and weeks to come.
In this moment, know you are not alone. We are thinking of you and praying for all that you are holding.
Remember, Black folks, UU or otherwise, requesting pastoral and/or spiritual care can reach our Community Minister and folks from the Black Lives of UU Ministerial Network by calling or texting 984–219–8711. This is a Google Voice number that we check daily. We will respond to any calls or text messages within 24 hours.
May this prayer be a balm for your spirit in the days to come.
by Rev. Mykal Slack, BLUU Community Minister for Worship & Spiritual Care
Dear Ones. Ancestors, gods and goddesses of many names and of no name. Sources of Love known and unknowable…
I come before you weary with grief and disgust, teetering somewhere between about done and well past it.
I don’t know if I can hold what has been passed down to me and mine, much less what lies ahead. No body, no mind, no heart, no spirit should have to carry this much.
And yet… “Here I am.
I do what I can to show up as my whole self with full-bodied questions about community accountability, commitment, and care.
My deepest hopes and prayers lie in justice and liberation for our people, of which we’ve only just caught a fleeting glimpse of this week.
May I move with love, clarity, vision, and commitment, share what I know, and listen with intention.
We deserve so much more life and love and beauty and fullness than there is right now.
Please. Please fill me up with a Holy Breath that will live on, shine on, and thrive on.
…until it is time for that Breath to live on, shine on, and thrive on in the ones who are to be Held, Helped, Sent, Shown, Directed, Emboldened, and Filled after me.
May it be so in real time and for all time.
Amen. Ashe. Blessed Be.
Please join us for either of these events below for connection in the coming days if you need a place to be held in community.
Join BLUU on April 21 at 8:30 p.m. Eastern as we gather with the UUA, Side with Love, and DRUUMM for a virtual vigil in response to the guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin. (The vigil will be broadcast live on the UUA’s and Side with Loves’s Facebook pages.)
How is your heart and how is your spirit? How are you processing the trauma we’re experiencing in our communities and in our news feed? How is the racist police violence against Black people (and the constant discussion about it) impacting you and how can we keep showing up for each other without burning out?
Join Team Sankofa Friday, April 23 at 2 p.m. for a Lunch ‘N Vibe community check-in. Pastoral care will also be available.
Feel free to bring a snack or meal as we share how we’re doing in these times.
(Please note: This is Black sacred space.)
Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism is committed to expanding the power and capacity of Black UUs within Unitarian Universalism; providing support, information, and resources for Black Unitarian Universalists; and justice-making and liberation for Black people through our faith. Subscribe to our email list to learn more about our worship events, organizing opportunities, and youth ministry.