“Joy, can you still dance. Now that I just heard about the Charleston shooting, can you dance a prayer as well as dancing to demonstrate that we offer our whole bodies to God?”
This was Nurya, the minister-in-residence during this week long food and faith intensive sponsored by the Wake Forest University Divinity School in Asheville. She had just sat down at the table where two teenagers, a Partners in Health and Wholeness volunteer, and I were having breakfast. I hadn’t heard about the shooting before she mentioned it. She walked away, looking at her phone, saying that she would need to pray before leading our morning lauds in just a few minutes.
Earlier in the week, during a group sharing, I was spontaneously moved to dance while we sang songs of unity and praise. Because of this moment, she wanted to introduce dance as a formal part of our lauds.
I was saddened, as I am with all deaths, but not shocked. As awful as that may sound, I was very aware of the two young men who were sitting with me, for whom people being shot and killed is a reality. They were attending this conference to expand their ideas for their 33-acre church garden. We were all preparing for the full day ahead. I looked at the young men, who were steadily eating their breakfasts, and attempted to discuss this news. They both shared stories of people dying. One was wearing a shirt commemorating a loved one who had passed less than three months prior.
The intense week was interrupted by this news, but it didn’t change the energy of why we gathered. We were there to talk about food justice, ecology, faith, and reconciliation with each other and with the land. It should be no surprise that the concluding part of this story was everyone, about thirty-five plus participants, singing, standing, clapping, and being mindful of those touched directly by the tragedy.
We moved on from that morning news to enter meditatively into the week’s program which consisted of a study of Revelation, where we explored, studied, and learned insights of what this new heaven and new earth meant, according to the book’s writer, John.
The afternoon was spent either learning about permaculture or learning the ABC’s of organizing around food justice. Every moment was filled with networking, discussing, reflecting, hugging, taking pictures, or praying. We were an eclectic group of youth, elders, students, lay leaders, pastors, educators, non-profit organizers, and more – but we were similar in our love for God, the land, reconciliation with each other, and moving toward a better earth, until the new heaven and new earth come.