Dancing with the Spirit: Grenada October 2005
March 07, 2007
Hurricane Ivan swept through Grenada on September 7, 2004. It wrecked 90% of homes, flattened most of this Spice Island’s spice and fruit trees, and destroyed or seriously damaged 32 of the diocese’s 54 churches and chapels. Both a place to live and livelihoods were gone.
Viewing this as an opportunity to re-envision Church for his Third World Diocese of St. George, Bishop Vincent Darius, O.P. invited me to come for three weeks to “work with” his people. Fr. Sean Doggett, an Irish missionary of 26 years in Grenada and head of diocesan rebuilding, gave me a blank slate.
I believe that the only way to design worship space effectively is to start with a people’s understanding of sacrament and of themselves as Church. The three-day formation and visioning retreats were held first for clergy, religious, architects and engineers, and then for laity. Interestingly, a few priests returned with their parishioners. These retreats were grounded in quality prayer, contained lots of music selected to highlight the sacramental theology discussed, and presented hundreds of images to spur imagination of the possible.
We also worked in the four deaneries. The second evening in each ended with a ritual symbol session. This fresh understanding of symbol broke open incredible things as worries, fears, hurt, and frustration poured forth. The ongoing trauma of the hurricane mixed with frustration over Church. Incredible honesty and wisdom surfaced. Our numbers grew each day. Familiar faces returned thirsty for more. As the energy grew, it became apparent to all we were dancing with the Holy Spirit.
For the final retreat weekend, 32 people signed up to stay in a center designed for 30. By the end of the Friday evening, we had 61. They doubled up, slept on the floor, or returned home for the nights while the staff scrambled for food to feed them.
I wove an African refrain, Bambelala (“never give up”), through the retreats as the theme song. This twelve-hour Saturday session finished with Taizé, a meditative sung evening prayer. At the closing sign of peace, the people spontaneously started to sing Bambelala. The keyboard picked it up, and they began dancing. My feet left the ground as they hugged me and passed me from person to person. Fr. Sean would later say I had brought them hope.
The next afternoon 30 more people took buses or hitchhiked to join our 60 packed in that hot humid room on the mountain top to begin “Visioning” for the destroyed Cathedral. Just before we broke for tea, I led an exercise called Spirit of Place. Near the end, Christopher my tenor cantor for all the sessions said, “We are a wounded people,” and the room said, “Ah.” A women in her 30’s, whose sister had died in the revolution, added, “We are a wounded people unwilling to forgive,” and the room went, “Oh.” I waited for the priests or the bishop to say something, and when no one did, I stepped into the void to talk about God and forgiveness. And that conversation changed everything for the people in the room.
They brought me in to build churches, but for those who accepted the invitation to participate, we built Church, as well. I suspect sustaining the spirituality of this newly discovered sacramental theology will be a challenge for them, but some of the priests and communities will do it.
That experience of Grenada is hard to put into words. During the day, I was shuttled from parish to parish, leaving a strong memory of incredible devastation and narrow mountain roads with no guardrails. There was no air conditioning or hot water. I peeled off wet clothes and showered three times a day. I ate mystery foods and drank good wine, found large ugly bugs in my room, and sugar ants in my food. The constant barking of dogs tried to drown out the people still singing everywhere. And I loved it. I would return for two more weeks in 2006 and am going again this winter.
On the plane back from that first trip, all I could think was, “Okay, God, I’ve been to the mountaintop. So, now what do I do with the rest of my life?” Little did I know Dominica had an earthquake. But that’s for another story….soon to come.
Christine Reinhard is a liturgical design consultant who lives and works in Fenton, Michigan.