For those who have read Joyce Rupp's previous books and engaged time with Mary Southard's Earth Calendar, The Cosmic Dance will be a meeting with old friends. And for those who have experienced neither, this lovely book will be an opportunity to delve deeply into an experience of the Sacred Cosmos. There are, of course, conditions to be met in order for the reader to fully engage with the art and text: time and attention.
Against the tapestry of Southard's images, Rupp weaves her own prose and poetry to capture stories of her dance in the Universe. She describes three discoveries which have marked her journey: they are all characteristic of unity. First, she notes we are all made of stardust:
Star-breath washes over me
Filling the soul of a new creation,
Awakening my soul's withered bones,
Lifting them into lightness and dance.
I open my small, isolated self to the stars
And am once again healed of my disparity,
The falsehood of a separate identity.
Secondly, the air we breathe has been breathed in and out by many other creatures and living beings throughout our Earth. Rupp muses, "Now I understand that the air I breathe is the same air, recycled through trees and plants, on the journey from other people and far away lands like Asia, Africa, and Australia. Again and again, wind circles around, uniting us all in the cosmic dance of the atmosphere."
However, Rupp's most profound discovery is the dance itself. The dance which all elementary particles are engaging in as they weave in and out of possibility and unity. She describes it as "little dancing feet full of energy enlivening every particle of the universe, tiny skipping, hopping, jumping, strong feet stomping, jiggling, prancing, leaping to a rhythm that defies regulation."
At the core of this book is the belief that awareness transports us into The Cosmic Dance. Only when we stop and pay attention will we be able to experience the pain and destruction as well as the hope that awaits us in the Universe. In both visual and word images, we become aware that there is light and shadow, death and destruction, and that both are necessary for the transformation of life in the cosmos. It is a story of which we humans are only a part.
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Rupp gives us four stages from which to view the dance: the Heavens, Earth, Creatures, and People. In each arena, we sense the pain and hope available at this point in time. We get in touch with our vulnerability, lack of balance and need for kinship with all.
neither the birds nor we had time
to say hello.
We never gave each other
A chance to get acquainted.
We might have liked each other
But fear fed the flight
and we never touched.
In the chapter entitled "People," Rupp honors the various images of unity that many traditions hold out for us. Scientists describe it as the eternal movement and fading in and out of atomic particles. Many Christian traditions speak of the Body of Christ. Buddhists call it the practice of compassion for all that is one. Native Americans honor each person as their brother and sister. In modern tradition, many speak of the global village.
Perhaps the best gift which Rupp and Southard hold out to us is the gift of becoming aware. Rupp says "This awareness is essential because my experience of the cosmic dance depends on whether my senses are alert and whether my heart is attuned to looking beyond what is visible....Daily I must start out, again and again, to have an open mind and a compassionate heart. The cosmos holds out her cup of life to me, filled with visible packets of energy.
In her Afterword, Southard notes "The Universe is a dance, alive with holy energy that brings forth and engages all things in rhythmic relationship - stars and galaxies, suns and planets, birds and butterflies, winds, waters, and soils, toads, and humans - all in one grand harmonious dance! Earth is a divine work of art in process."
This is a book to be slowly savored, roasted over the coals of the reader's emotions and tasted sometimes through the tears of recognition and the quiet joy of beauty.