dancing is chuwl!


It’s the most commonly used word translated “dance” in Hebrew (62 times in 58 verses – and remember to pronounce it like “cool” with you clearing your throat as you voice the initial “c”). Basic meaning: to twist, to turn, to turn around. So we’re talking circular motion. Perhaps a pivot and spin on a foot, perhaps the body itself being twisted or contorted. Which introduces us to the range of meanings of chuwl, of which we’ll briefly explore three:

  • To danceskipping, spinning, leaping, stepping in a circle. The joy of celebration what drives this motion, but there’s more to chuwl than that…
  • To twist or writhe in pain and agony. Yep, same word. What can be a dance of joy can also be the twisting of the body in pain. Chuwl is even used of the travail or twisting of labor in giving birth.

Think on this for a moment. Wild! The same word encompasses the bodily expression of great joy and great pain. Selah, people. Selah. (That means stop and ponder…)

  • To wait. Think about this one. Whether we’re dancing in a circle for joy or writhing in pain, we’re not going anywhere. We’re moving in a circle like a plane circling the airport waiting for its turn to land.
    Or we’re stopped, paralyzed in pain as our body is twisted and contorted in suffering. In either case, we’re in a holding pattern, hence we are paused, we are waiting. Lingering with the joy of anticipation or perhaps waiting with longing for release from the pain or perhaps a mixture of the two. Life is complicated, people.

waitChuwl = dance = waiting.

Perhaps this is why so many of us have so much trouble actually learning to dance. Everything in our society is about our flat, straight lines – who has time to dance like a fool in a circle? How irresponsible! How unproductive!

Life is all about the dance, people.
It’s all about taking the time for the dance.
It’s about exiting the speeding train of our schedules,
the supersonic speed of our busyness,
and taking the time for the dance.
The dance of joy and celebration or
the writhing of pain and grief.
We especially don’t want to pause for that
nor do we want to make room for it in others
as we make a beeline to fix the pain
or to move on to the next success.

It’s the first requirement for the dance.
And also the most difficult step.

Which leads us to the next post…

spinning Rumi

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Posted by on February 16, 2015 in a time to dance, haverings


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a time to dance

It’s no secret.singin in the rain_smaller
I dance.
A lot.

I mean, a lot.
In fact, it’s quickly becoming a way of life.

So perhaps it’s time to spend some time developing a theology of the dance. Which for me means digging into the Hebrew scriptures. If “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” then perhaps all theology ultimately finds it’s earliest expression in words. Lexicography = birthplace of theology.

So bring on the words…

Three Hebrew words in particular that are translated “dance” in the Hebrew scriptures. Hang on. This won’t be dry. Promise. Well, mostly not dry. We’re talking saturation – or at least dampness.


Three Hebrew words. Right.

dance_raqadFirst there’s raqad which has the basic meaning of skipping or leaping. It’s what hills metaphorically do in the presence of God and what lambs do when they are full of themselves and life – and it’s what we do when we feel the same way. Well, at least those of us who aren’t afraid to move and show it. Raqad is the word used in that classic passage (Ecclesiastes 3) that celebrates the time to do this and the time to do that – or more specifically “there is a time to mourn (literally to beat on your chest in anguish) and there is a time to dance (there’s our word – raqad – literally to leap or spring in the air).”


waitThen there’s karar which has the essential force of moving in a circle. Karar only surfaces twice, however, both in the story of David dancing in 2 Samuel 6.14-15 – though dance_kararin the parallel telling of the tale in Chronicles it’s raqad – which means, putting raqad and karar together, David was skipping in a circle.
(No wonder he was called a dancing fool by his wife!)


dance_chuwlThird word. Chuwl. Kinda like “hula” only with the “h” being pronounced like you’re clearing your throat and no “a” at the end of it. Try it. It’s chuwl (cool! there’s another way to it; say the “c” in “cool” like you’re clearing your throat and you have it. Chuwl!). Chuwl means to twist, to turn, to turn around. Once again the idea of the circle is prominent – but what an instructive range of meanings!


Which we’ll explore in the next post…


spinning Rumi

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Posted by on February 14, 2015 in a time to dance, haverings


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it’s too early to tell

Rejoice with those who rejoice, wait
Weep with those who weep.
What a mixed bag is life.
Good fortune.

But how to know which is really which
and what is really what?

Someone recently made the comment that if it weren’t for the Holocaust, Israel would never have been granted statehood and been planted again in the land.

Some price to pay for a piece of property, I thought.

But I responded with this story.
I think it’s one worth remembering and telling frequently
– to ourselves at the very least…

He was the poorest man in the village, but he owned the most beautiful white stallion. And the king had offered him a small fortune for it. After a terribly harsh winter, during which the old man and his family nearly starved, the townspeople came to visit.“Old man,” they said, “you can hardly afford to feed your family. Sell the stallion, and you will be rich. If you do not, you are a fool.”

“It’s too early to tell,” replied the old man.

A few months later, the old man woke up to find that the white stallion had run away.Once again the townspeople came, and they said to the old man, “See. If you had sold the king your horse, you would be rich. Now you have nothing! You are a fool!”

“It’s too early to tell,” replied the old man.

Two week’s later, the white stallion returned, and along with it came three other white stallions.“Old man,” the townspeople said, “we are the fools! Now you can sell the stallions to the king and you will still have three stallions left. You are wise.”

“It’s too early to tell,” replied the old man.

The following week, the old man’s son, his only son, was breaking in one of the stallions and was thrown, crushing both his legs.The townspeople paid a visit to the old man and they said, “Old man, if you had just sold the stallion to the king, you’d be rich, and your son would not be crippled. You’re a fool after all.”

“It’s too early to tell,” replied the old man.

Well, the next month, war broke out with the neighboring village. All of the young men in the village were sent into the battle, and all were killed.The townspeople came and they cried to the old man, “We have lost our sons.You are the only one who has not. If you had sold your stallion to the king, your son, too, would be dead. You are so wise after all!”

“It’s too early to tell,” replied the old man.



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Posted by on February 5, 2015 in stories


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silent night

Richard Rohr’s emailed devotion today was the first gift I got to open. shh
Oh the glory of being grandparents!
We’re the ones who wake up first now
and then wait in the silence…

Do what it takes.
Grab some silence today.
Your soul needs it.

When peaceful silence lay over all, and when night had run half way her swift course, down from the heavens, from the royal throne, leapt your all-powerful Word. –Book of Wisdom 18:14-15

Words are necessarily dualistic.
That is their function. They distinguish this from that, and that’s good. But silence has the wonderful ability to not need to distinguish this from that! As in the magnificent quote above from the Catholic Bible, the divine word itself can only enter the world in silence and at nighttime. Silence can hold impossibilities together in a quiet, tantric* embrace. Silence, especially loving silence, is always non-dual, and that is much of its secret power. It stays with mystery, holds tensions, absorbs contradictions, and smiles at paradoxes—leaving them unresolved, and happily so. Any good poet knows this, as do many masters of musical chords. Politicians, engineers, accountants, and most seminary trained clergy have a much harder time.

Max Picard, in his classic book The World of Silence, says, “The human spirit requires silence just as much as the body needs food and oxygen.” As a general spiritual rule, you can trust this: The ego gets what it wants with words. The soul finds what it needs in silence. The ego prefers full solar light—immediate answers, full clarity, absolute certitude, moral perfection, and undeniable conclusions. The soul, however, prefers the subtle world of shadow, the lunar world that mixes darkness and light together, or as the Book of Wisdom more poetically puts it above, “When night had run half way her swift course…”!

Robert Sardello, in his magnificent, demanding book Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness, writes: “Silence knows how to hide. It gives a little and sees what we do with it.” Only then will it or can it give more. Rushed, manipulative, or opportunistic people thus find silence impossible, even a torture. They never get to the “more.” Sardello goes on to say, “But in Silence everything displays its depth, and we find that we are a part of the depth of everything around us.” This is so good and so true!

When our interior silence can actually feel and value the silence that surrounds everything else, we have entered the house of wisdom. This is the very heart of prayer. When the two silences connect and bow to one another, we have a third dimension of knowing, which many have called spiritual intelligence or even “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2: 10-16). No wonder that silence is probably the foundational spiritual discipline in all the world’s religions, although it is only appreciated as such at the more mature and mystical levels. Maybe the absence of silence and the abundance of chatter is the primary reason that so much personal incarnation does not happen. Christmas remains a single day instead of a lifetime of ever deepening realizations.

* tantric – yes it’s one of those eastern religious words; new to me. Evidently a combination of “elaboration” and “liberation,” I’ll take elaborated liberation any day! Tantric beats tantrums…


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Posted by on December 25, 2014 in Quotes


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whispering threads

Widespread whispering.
But loud.
“He’s a good man.”
Other whispered replies,
“No he deceives the people.”
On it goes.
“Where did this man get his teaching?”
“Surely he is the prophet.”

I thought I was reading one of the Gospels.

But it was only a thread
about Rob Bell.


so much wisdom


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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in haverings


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viewing death through a banister rail


That’s how it felt.
Viewing death through a banister rail,
hovering around it like an invisible presence.

yet hot
anticipation like
standing on the verge
of beginnings yet untold.

An intersection of reality where
breath ceases
time stops
and it’s we who live whose hearts
are flat lined
as, unbidden,
the windows of heaven
are opened.

And then, with movement forced,
the walking dead step out
into sunlight
into bracing, frigid air,
into the great swooshing world
and the ceaseless second hand.

How surreal, how utterly odd thus to stand
like Aaron,
between the living and the dead
only this plague won’t stop.
Like Phinehas I look for something to stab
to halt the spread.

But the dead keep dying
and the living keep

As I gaze upon the moving I wonder
“how many truly live?”
as in remembered gaze
I look upon the motionless
and know how much he did.

And does.

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Posted by on December 15, 2014 in Poetry


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what do you say to someone who is dying?

Not more than you should;
Not less than is needed.

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Sometimes there’s nothing to be said at all.
Tears will do nicely.
A quiet sitting by can be the best medicine of all.
Especially for those who doubt their own grasp of wisdom
in knowing the difference.

Sometimes black humor will do wonders.
Laughter – to tears, through tears – can provide precisely
the hand-hold needed
to climb the sheer face of terror
and assault dark uncertainties.

Sometimes it’s the foothold
of a poem,
a song,
a reading.

Sometimes it’s a prayer.
Not performed,
but felt

Midwives for the dying, we are,
for what is death but

To avert our eyes
to fidget
to nervously shift one foot to the other
to pretend that we’re not staring at death
is like pretending a woman is not really in labor as she screams.

Midwives for the dying, we are.
Helping them breathe through the contractions,
freeing them to find the most comfortable position
to find their own way
rather than shackling them with ours.

But we are midwives inside the womb;
we don’t see the head crowned;
new life isn’t released into our hands;
it is a birth away from us
not towards us,
a birth into other waiting Hands
to receive
to swaddle
to name
to nurse
to bring home
to release into a new world bursting with unimaginable possibilities.

No tears on that side
that side we cannot see
at least no tears like these.

Only here
on this side
this dark womb-y side
as we are left holding a bloody severed cord
cut by other Hands
we judge cruel
as we wail at these dark, confining


for our own birth.

War Drums_Marten

or, as suggested by my friend Lisa’s work, sometimes war drums will do nicely too…and paint


Posted by on December 11, 2014 in haverings, Poetry


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