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Radical Resilience
Radical Resilience

The Dance of Hope

Friday, January 5, 2024

In his book We Survived the End of the World, Steven Charleston writes about the Paiute prophet Wovoka (c. 1856–1932) who received a spiritual vision of the earth’s renewal, with equality and reconciliation for all people. Wovoka taught the Ghost Dance as a way of embodying the hope of this heavenly vision during a time of crisis. Charleston writes:

The core message—the vision of a renewal and reconciliation for all life—remained at the center of what motivated hope in the hearts of Native people from across the wide spectrum of languages and cultures. The essence of the vision was hope, not fear—and hope for all, not only for a few.…

The roots of fear run deep. The hope we embrace must run just as deep. No matter what happens we must keep dancing, hand in hand, joined in a circle of equality, constantly moving in the slow rotation of justice and prayer. Like Wovoka’s dancers, we must be dedicated to a vision and willing to dance for it for as long as it takes. That level of commitment is not common in our age, but it is what will be necessary if we are to diminish the apocalypse we see rising before us. Not magic, but faith is what will see us through.

Charleston reflects on how Wovoka’s Ghost Dance invites a willingness to go beyond what we think is possible:

As a Native American I am so struck by the fact that this dance, unlike any other, must take place without the drum. The use of the drum as a ubiquitous presence in our traditional worship leaves me wondering what it must have been like to dance without it, without that comforting heartbeat of the earth that formed the cadence for our movement as a people through time and space. The silence it leaves at the center of the Ghost Dance seems eerie to me, like stepping out into the emptiness of space.

Yet I have come to appreciate Wovoka more because of that silence. Without the drum, all I have is the physical sensation of being joined to my brothers and sisters in an endless circle. All I hear is our combined voice rising into the thin air in a lament and expectation. We are weightless and floating. Nothing grounds us but our own faith that someone out there is listening, and more important, someone who cares.

Wovoka’s dance reminds me that there are times in life when we must have the willingness to go beyond what we think is possible. We have never encountered a world like this before; how will we survive it, much less transform it? The silent drum forces me to recognize that in this dance we are moving into uncharted territory. We are stepping off the familiar into the unknown. We are creating a dance ground where none has existed before. The willingness, the faith, to take such a step is the haunting silence of the Ghost Dance.

Steven Charleston, We Survived the End of the World: Lessons from Native America on Apocalypse and Hope (Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2023), 133, 136–137.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Keeping the Candle Lit (detail), New Mexico, photograph, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.

Resilience requires endurance – we keep watch to keep the candle lit.

Story from Our Community:  

I would like to share a way of praying that has spoken to me recently. When circumstances seem too overwhelming even to know how to pray, I start with one word. I settle myself and bring one word into focus. Words like: help, resilience, patience, courage, stillness, breathing, hope, serenity. Then, I sit with God and keep the word present in my mind. I hope you too can experience the centering sensation from a simple one-word prayer with God. —Coleen D.

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