Our Woman of the Week is Clio Pavlantos, chaplain, former professional dancer, and speaker. You see here here as a chaplain resident at a VA hospital and, more recently, on the wards at a cancer center. We asked her to tell you about how her career changed direction from performance to theology and then to chaplaincy:
“'You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?"' — Talking Heads, Letting The Days Go By.
"My mother used to say that if she needed time to grade exams or write a lecture, she would put on a long-playing vinyl record or sit me in the kitchen sink with water, pots and pans. In those times, I came to know what it means to be truly alive, and to be part of the dance of life going on all around me.
"This greater sense of living became the core of my joy. When I pursued dance, writing, or painting in themselves, I felt empty. I came to hate performing. I wasn’t satisfied exhibiting an expressive tour de force. When I moved to New York as a professional dancer, auditions were excruciating, and I didn’t think much of the art that was held up to the world as ‘the best.’ Friends of mine couldn’t understand why I didn’t audition for Chorus Line or Cats, why I insisted on going downtown to the Modern classes and studying with dancers from Twyla Tharp’s company. I was happiest teaching, investigating the anatomical function that made movement efficient and beautiful. I loved helping students find their best selves through moving. It was the helping that made the difference. It was also the recognition that getting better was part of something more, about becoming the person you were meant to be, and to serve others.
"This was reflected in my spiritual life. The Orthodox Church of my childhood, of immigrant parishes, transformed. I spent time alone reading services and found the theology within the prayers, the concrete help of God. My parents taught me to see the hand of God in my experiences. Navigating New York City, the dance world, dating, marriage, parenthood, and divorce, I very much needed a practical theology. I found it in my times alone. In my early years, I’d felt the joy of moving my God given body to music. Now, I experienced the joy of spiritual movement in reflection and meditation.
"Later, I got a second masters’ degree at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. My priest recommended work as a hospital chaplain. I have never looked back. All the time I spent alone with services and scripture, the time of contemplative prayer and lectio divina, performing and creating, teaching, have flowered in chaplaincy. I am able to help my patients find a prayer rule they can keep, to see God in their lives, because of my lives in art and theology. I have had many teachers and helpers to open my eyes, but without my experiences and time in reflection, I would have nothing to offer others. I am grateful for the dance between my life and God’s will."
Clio Pavlantos, our Woman of the Week, walks through New York City to get to her job as a chaplain. (Photo is of her speaking about chaplaincy at an event of St Phoebe Center for the Deaconess.) We asked what changes she's noticed over the last year as she commutes on foot:
“'Go into your cell and it will teach you all you need to know.' - Monastic Proverb
"In the last fourteen months we have been asked to go into our cells. For some of us, that has meant solitude, and for some of us, that has meant more family and together time than we ever imagined was possible. Either way, the question that came up again and again was presence. Whether virtual or with your pod, the issue of being present to another on screen or face to face became a part of pandemic life.
"Before COVID, I have vivid memories of rush hour on the streets of New York, confronting people with faces habitually in their phones. It seemed to me that everyone was spending most of their time in a virtual universe tailored to them alone. How could any human ever compete with that? When lockdown came, there was great excitement about being able to work and play at home. There were so many stories about zoom gatherings and binge-watching movies. Gradually, another truth began to surface: empty streets and echoing hallways; burnout from too many zoom meetings; the lack of physical touch and presence. The underbelly of the virtual universe emerged. My patients spoke of being ‘screened out,’ of wanting their doctor to palpate their lump, to be in the same room. We have come to realize how easy it is to lie in the virtual universe. I haven’t seen one person on the street locked into their phone in months. In being limited in our movement and gathering, we have had time to reflect, to see the consequences of virtual delusions.
"Again and again, COVID has taught us that we do not live for ourselves but for each other. Our brother (sister) is our life. We’ve had to learn and relearn this. We’ve had to distance and mask until we do. If our brother is our life, we need to l learn how to consider our sister’s well-being along with our own. We do not live for ourselves, but for the work we were created to do, and we do not find this until we have put God first in our lives. It is my hope that coming out of COVID will mean coming into a new reverence for the physical fact of the person we meet in our homes, our streets, our churches, and in ourselves. If we can’t find the importance of God in the face of our brother and sister, we will never know his presence in our lives."
As always, we asked our Woman of the Week, Clio Pavlantos, about her routine:
“'First things first.' — AA
"I wake up early in the Summer and late in Winter and my mind wakes up before my body. Beginning with prayer and scripture makes a lot of sense for me. Then, I am sad to say, I move to my phone for the weather and emails. This is often the only time of the day when I look at my emails and respond. Then I see to my body. After a lifetime of dancing and moving, I have a group of gentle warm up exercises that I go through. Then I like to work up a sweat with cardiovascular exercise for twenty minutes, a stretch, and a hot shower. Then I’m awake.
"I take the subway downtown and walk across the park to work, about forty minutes. This is a time of prayer and joy in the day. I walk in rain, sun, cold, heat, snow, sleet, etc. The only thing that stops me is the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I don’t often drink coffee at work. That’s a weekend treat. On the weekends, I like to take a long time in bed reading a book after my devotions. Those mornings are sacred to me and I don’t think I could get through the rest of the week without them."
Thank you, Clio!