In many school districts, students must sign a contract agreeing to avoid vulgar or provocative dance moves before being allowed to attend a school dance. One such contract outlines the procedure a chaperon will follow in the event of sexually explicit dancing: mark the offending student’s hand with an “x” and require him/her to sit out one dance.
Times have certainly changed since the days my parents met and courted in high school. They shared memories of their high school dances in the late 1950′s, fondly remembering the nun-chaperons who would admonish too-close dancers with the advice, “Leave room for the Holy Spirit!” The nun-chaperons acted as guardians of their students’ chastity as well as referees for required dance etiquette. Some wielded rulers to physically mark out the required twelve inch distance that was meant to exist between the dancers.
Leaving room for the Holy Spirit is great advice for teens on the dance floor and for each one of us in our prayer time. Although memorized prayers and set prayer routines are great beginnings to bring us closer to God, we must learn to open our hearts and minds to the workings of the Holy Spirit, to become receptive to the graces God wishes to bestow upon us in prayer.
In a classic handbook on prayer, Opening to God, Thomas Green, S.J., stresses this need to allow God to lead the dance in prayer:
I have been suggesting… to define prayer as an opening of the mind and heart to God. …the idea of opening stresses receptivity, responsiveness to another. To open to another is to act, but it is to act in such a way that the other remains the dominant partner.
(Green, 1977, p. 36)
For someone like me, who finds it almost physically impossible to follow my husband’s lead on the dance floor, learning to be docile to God in prayer is equally formidable. My busy mind launches words, ideas, and distractions galore, making it nearly impossible for me to simply be still in God’s presence. Tempted to give up on many occasions, I simply admit my inability to be receptive and I try, try again.
Spending dedicated time with God in prayer, making time to learn how to pray, and seeking expert advice helps form me into a better prayer partner for God. Learning to allow almighty God to be the natural leader in our dance of prayer takes practice, but more importantly, requires His divine assistance. Father Green explains, “Prayer does entail effort on the part of man, even though it is always God who reaches across infinity to us, and even though man’s effort is itself impossible without the sustaining grace of God” (p. 38).
This openness in prayer may be quite difficult for some of us to master, and without our cooperation (an act of our will) any prayer will be impossible. God continually asks our hand in the dance or prayer, but He will never force prayer upon us.
Would you care to dance?