This I Believe: Becky Myrick (2015)

From the poet Shadow Hamilton: “Take a journey through the African Plains soaring temperatures of 100 degrees. Set up camp the old-fashioned way under canvas, only then will you truly experience the spirit of this dark continent. … Admire the windswept trees, their tops completely flat, and smell the deep-red earth, so pungent and rich in scent. Feel the ground shake as elephants file past on their way to drink. Marvel at the sights of lakes painted pink by the wading flamingos, the vast rift valley and magical waterfalls. All this and far more entice the senses and the wonder of the utter freedom offered. Vast herds on you roam, African land, you bewitch us and your scent lingers on.”

I grew up in the dry plains of South Africa, red crusty soil, mountains in the distance. The only trees to be seen, where I lived, were small ones covered in thorns except for the long row of gum trees in the distance. Our house was surrounded by tall aloes, succulent plants which bore glorious red flowers in the wetter months. Wet, meaning 15 inches of rain in a year.
I was the oldest child of missionaries who came from the far away country of America when I was an infant -missionaries through the United Church of Christ. They taught the social justice message of the Bible to Africans who were ready to be leaders in their communities. Desmond Tutu lived and taught with my parents for a number of years. Little did we know, Mandela and his colleagues were quietly working for the day of freedom only a few miles away.

We lived on a seminary campus. It was my playground, and a wonderful place for a child to roam. We had more bugs to play with than any American kid can even imagine. On that campus, there was a sense of common purpose, and everyone in my vicinity was someone I could trust.

There was a monastery just down the hill from us. Many of the monks felt like my friends. I loved to run with my father up to his office and then sneak over to the cafeteria and watch the African students in their animated conversations over a meal. I lingered with them by the aloes when they would talk and laugh, dance and sing.

In the chapels and village churches, dancing and singing were woven into the worship service. Occasionally a wandering goat would get in the way. If you could just hear the worshipers, if they saw us here at White Bear UUC, they would say the Zulu word for white people, which means “those people who sing without moving.”

My faith was part of everyday family life. My father taught Old Testament, preaching and religious education to the African students. He saw the Judeo Christian texts as first and foremost a call to justice and peace, a mandate for building bridges where there was division and hostility. My mother worked with the women, teaching them nutrition and ideas of empowerment and equality, values that live with me today. Lyndiwe was my nanny who lived in a little house behind ours and took care of us many days of the week. She had her own children, she told me, but she only saw them a couple of weekends each month. What sense that made to me, as she picked out my clothes and made my breakfast, I don’t know. But I loved her and knew she loved me. She was my second mother. She was Earth Mother, Unconditional Love, with the Best (softest) Lap I ever to sit in and big, loopy earrings that dangled in a tempting way.

But now I live in the land of America. I have been here since I was 11 but still I long for the sounds of drums. The echoes of them and the sounds of the students’ deep singing still live within me. Their rhythms permeated the air in ways that are hard to explain. My parents were naturally more interested in Christian hymns and classical music from Bach or Beethoven. But I long for the sounds of drums … a way of coming back to the center, to the heart of the Universe.

Being a child of two cultures, never being able to forget my original home, I pretended for many years that my African experience did not really exist, so I would fit in here. I am what you would call a Third Culture Kid, meaning I have had to create out of my home culture (first culture) and my host culture (second culture) a third culture, a way to make a sense of the contradictions and inconsistencies of the two.

At one point in order to overcome the isolation I felt in this individualistic society, I drew a campus for myself. My house was there, my church, my dance studio, my friends’ homes. I had to see them in the form of a map to convince myself that we were all connected and part of one another, a way to bless the space between us.

In 1985, I became a minister in the United Church of Christ. That brought some rootedness. It was very rewarding and demanding. But all in all, it was too constricting for my crazy soul who wanted to dance and sing with my whole body. My heart kept asking the question that Persian poet Rumi so poignantly put: “Why stay in prison when the door is wide open?”
And so, as I was beginning to prepare myself for leaving the church—which was very scary—I began to dance in a focused way. It was out of desperation. It was like food and water for me. I stumbled into a form of dance called InterPlay. Created by one artist and one minister, InterPlay is about listening to the deep wisdom of the body. It is a practice for spiritual and creative development which gives us courage to LEAP into our own lives, for liberation and delight.

InterPlay teaches people to dance, sing and tell stories from the heart through improvisation. Dancing, singing, storytelling are the oldest forms of healing and empowerment ritual in human cultures. The songs, stories and the dances have taught me the most important lessons of my life, and shown me secret paths to overcome pain and dwell instead in pleasure. Through these works of very personal art, we are led into the depths of our truest selves and connection with one another, a communion of belonging, overcoming divisions and misunderstandings between people. Dance for social justice. Dance for healing. An embodied spirituality. All I can say is Ahhhh.

Isn’t the cosmos alive with divine dancers? Look at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Hildegard of Bingen’s illuminated mandalas, and St Gregory of Nyssa’s mural of dancing saints in San Francisco. And the traditions of dance that circle the world.

Finally, my inner storms grew quieter; the ecstasy of dance changed me. I began to teach others how to access their inner dancer, their spark of joy, their desire to play, in churches and synagogues, amongst artists and secretaries, nurses and accountants, to lead recovering serious people whose souls had gone to sleep. As one InterPlay student wrote after learning how to discover stories by moving his body,

“I was a man with a fire in my mouth,
I was a man whose stories had not been told
I was a man who believed that I had no stories of my own and if I did who would listen?
My stories lay piled around my feet
Like the leaves of an old tree
They became dry and brittle.
But a spark has struck them
A spark of light, a spark of Life
They are transformed into something new
And bright. I am alive and bright.
I have fire in my mouth.”

Being a playmate of the Creator, tapping into the creative Divine spark that lives within, felt like an urgent matter in these people’s lives too, not just mine. Being creative is a divine act. Spirit invites us to, in Tom Benjamin’s words “…awaken to the calling of Life, that it may waken within us and bring us to joy.”

So how did I end up here in this faith community? Finding our unique paths to growing our souls is the overarching call I hear in this place. It is a place of freedom, inviting us to live a spiritual and communal authentic life. My spiritual foremothers and fathers were Unitarians so it is a coming home for me. The Ware lectures are named after my great, great ,great (I’m not sure how many greats) grand uncle, Henry Ware. He was a preacher, writer and teacher precipitating a controversy between Unitarians and more conservative Calvinists. He took part in the formation of Harvard Divinity School and the establishment of Unitarianism there in the following decades in the early 19th century.
But I am just an ordinary Unitarian, with big dreams.

To throw off sleep and drowsiness, and to listen to our inner calling, our internal authority, is the greatest and most important task humans have for their entire lives.
Thoreau said: “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. … To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every human is tasked to make their life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of our most elevated and critical hour.”

Waking up to the vitality and joy that lives within us has become my life’s work. In addition to teaching, I became a holistic health practitioner. For the last three years, I have been doing work that helps people change their brain patterns and therefore their life. Our brain pathways determine how we live in the world. Very often we live from fear or sameness, from our reptilian brain. However, we can live from our higher selves, our braver, more joyful and purpose-filled selves. I teach people how to do that through a practice called Higher Brain Living.
I live in hope and faith that changing the world through joy and opening hearts is a powerful and meaningful way to be in the world. There is either fear or love. In the words of Gandhi, “Fearlessness is the first prerequisite of the spiritual life.” I choose love. I drink of the well of Universal Love from our Creator. That love allows the body and spirit to move as one: the poem to dance, the song to chant, the clay to mold, the fire to light. Creating beauty with the Nameless One.

Sometimes I realize that the two parts of myself, the African self and the American self, have come together like two strands of colored yarn twisted together. I have also created a third strand. My current life. And sometimes my abode really feels like my home.

I find I still desire the company of people who feel at ease telling stories, stories of discovery, challenges overcome, and faithful community. I long to be with people who tell their stories as easily as picking up a fork. Stories can remind us we are part of a long line of spiritual seekers—brave, strong ancestors. May we, standing on their shoulders, wake up to the vitality of life, with infinite expectation of the dawn, like the courage of the morning, within and without.