Almost every Sunday morning my daughter groans and asks us, again, “Why are we going to church?” Sometimes we skip church and attend an indigenous-led water ceremony by the Mississippi. Then the question is “Why do we have to go to the river?”
My daughter is questioning like kids do, but it’s been an interesting exercise for me to take her questions seriously. I’m asking myself, “Why is it so important for me to fight with her about this every week?”
My answer usually comes down to this: She needs to know how to make meaning and be in community. She will inevitably face hardship – more than I want to imagine. I want her to be full of stories that give her meaning and a map for growth. I want her to know what it feels like to live in community with others because her relationships will be her greatest wealth.
We bring her up in the Christian church because that it our heritage, but I’m actually not too concerned about which story she is guided by, as long as it points her to love.
It’s easy to have the stories in the news dominate our thoughts: so much is division and destruction. I believe it is essential that we each have a larger story we tell, that can help us contextualize and move through the news stories of each day.
You can’t have too many guiding stories! Sacred texts, folk tales, and myths are all here to help us. Our daughter was complaining that many children’s books were too nice. We decided we needed to share with her some more myths and folk tales – they are full of catastrophe! And they also have meaning.
Through Greek dance I have found myself studying the story of Demeter and Persephone. As children many of us learn the Greek myth about how Persephone, daughter of Demeter, spends part of every year in the underworld. When her daughter is gone Demeter is in mourning, plants die, and we experience winter. When Persephone returns there is rejoicing and spring arrives. This myth is much more than a quaint explanation of the seasons: it is a rich story about how we find meaning and hope in the context of loss and limitation. The initiations into the cult of Demeter through the Eleusinian Mysteries were the most widely practiced secret rites in ancient Greece. My teacher Laura Shannon has researched how some of these ancient customs survive in some of the women’s ritual dances in Greece today.
The story of Demeter and Persephone can empower us to find our part in healing ourselves and our world.
- Persephone invites us to connect with our intuition and tap into the mystery of renewal.
- Demeter helps us transform how we relate to loss and limitation.
- Dionysus (son of Persephone and Hades by some accounts) brings us joy, connection, and dance.
This myth can help us navigate not just the barrenness of winter but also our present ecological crisis. How would Demeter respond to environmental destruction? How might Persephone inspire us through her journey from adolescent to a goddess who can travel between worlds? How might the collective joy of dance brought to us by Dionysus help us respond to our chaotic world with creativity and innovation?
We will be delving into this myth through dance at the upcoming spring dance retreat. I’d love to see you there even if you have never danced before.
What story is helping you find meaning these days? Where are you finding community?
Come Alive: A Dance Retreat for Personal and Collective Renewal
Join in the ancient tradition of dancing to help the world come alive in spring. March 21. Learn more.