• U.S.

Religion: The Sport of God

3 minute read

One night last week five candelabra flickered through the gloom of Boston’s Union Congregational Church—the church in down-at-heel South End to which Rev. Dwight Jacques Bradley went after relinquishing a swank one in Newton, Mass. (TIME, Sept. 24). A mixed congregation of 600 gazed in interested bewilderment at a slim, bare-foot girl in the chancel. She wore nothing but a long flowing gown. Her name was Eleanor Schirmer and she was a Newton socialite whose father was a Boston banker.

While two yellow-robed girls stood sentry-like at each side of the chancel, Miss Schirmer postured, gestured and attitudinized. The organ played Schubert’s “Great Is Jehovah,” and by consulting their programs the congregation knew that Miss Schirmer was interpreting “The Greatness of God.” Registering wonder, adoration, obeisance, awe, supplication she continued with “The Peace of God That Passeth All Understanding” (music by Gluck); “The Universality of God” (Beethoven); “The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness” (Bach); “The Deep Sense of Abiding in God” (Beethoven); “Angels Announcing the Coming of the Messiah” (Bach). The whole thing was a “Sermon in Six Dances” meant to portray “The Coming of the Messiah.”

Pastor Bradley, who believes there is “a definite trend toward use of the dance in worship,” was the first minister to try it in Boston. In Manhattan where religion ferments more vigorously, pious mummery was introduced long ago, notably by Rev. Dr. William Norman Guthrie. Currently Manhattan’s religious dancing is provided not in Dr. Guthrie’s church of St. Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie but in those which are welcoming stately, white-haired Dancer Ruth St. Denis, 54, good Christian Scientist. Three years ago Miss St. Denis founded a Society for the Spiritual Arts whose 100 members meet weekly in her studio for readings from the world’s great prophets —Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, Zoroaster, Krishna et al. Before an altar, serious-minded Miss St. Denis or members of the Society interpret the readings in motion. They believe they have lately had notable success with the Psalms. And last week Miss St. Denis had ready a dance-pageant which she and a “rhythmic choir” were to present this week at the Riverside (“Rockefeller”) Church of Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, later at the Rutgers Presbyterian Church on upper Broadway. Miss St. Denis plans further appearances in Manhattan churches and a new pageant next Easter. A sincere believer in what she is doing, she writes thus of her religio-artistic feelings: “The dance is the sport of God, spontaneous, harmonious, continuous. By renunciation, discipline, and unfoldment we become aware of the King dom within; these are the very essence of the divine dance. We renounce the world, for while we dance we are outside of time, we surrender to rhythm, we create forms of beauty as we move.”

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