"What we’re doing is praying with our feet, with our bodies."
Centzi Millia, a 31-year-old Aztec dance instructor prepares for an afternoon class, wrapping her long blonde dreads into a bun and gathering small children into a circle. “We honor the Mother Earth with our bare feet, and the vibrations we create — the Mother Earth as a living being feels those vibrations.”
The dance starts in a flurry of drum beats and the bass jangling of Ms. Millia’s chachayotl, the thick anklets of Aztec danzantes made of rattling seed pods.
"It was actually at Knott’s Berry Farm, of all places, that I discovered the danza,” Ms. Millia says after class, sitting in the sunlight of Kuruvunga Springs, a remnant site of the ancient Tongva people nestled between Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire. “My parents would say those were the dances our people used to do, but that’s as far as they would tell me.”
Eighteen years later, Ms. Millia is one of several Aztec dance teachers in Southern California. A child of Mexican immigrants, she represents part of a trend among Latinos in the U.S. who are shifting away from the Roman Catholic Church. Though the Church still holds sway among new immigrants from Latin America, the children of these immigrants have been turning toward forms of Protestantism or are choosing not to affiliate with any type of religion.
However, Ms. Millia and some of her second- and third-generation peers raised in traditional Catholic households have left the Church not to follow any alternate form of Christianity or atheism, but to pursue the spiritual paths of their pre-Christian ancestors. As she pursued dance, Ms. Millia’s elders taught her how it was reshaped and used as a tool by Spanish conquerors to lure the local people away from their native, or indigenous, beliefs and toward Catholicism.
Instead of dancing for Mother Earth, Ms. Millia says that dances became offerings to the Virgin Mary. The special days of celebration for the native people became Catholic holidays. These kinds of revelations pushed her away from the church.
Most definitely! There are two books I’d definitely recommend reading.
The first is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Writings Selected. It’s edited by the religious scholar Ursula King, who is a guest voice in our podcast on "Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘Planetary Mind’ and Our Spiritual Evolution."
This book is a good introduction to Teilhard’s spiritual thinking and biographical notes. Ms. King writes a beautiful summary at the beginning that gets at the heart of Teilhard de Chardin’s spirituality, which “creatively welds together science, religion, and mysticism in one unifying synthesis.”
Ms. King doesn’t just write about him and selectively quote from his writings. This is a good thing. She pulls healthy sections from some of his most notable works — including Writings in a Time of War, The Divine Milieu, Heart of Matter, and The Phenomenon of Man — which allow you to imbibe the sensibility of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his own words. The translations are passionate and very readable, thank goodness, because we’ve come across other translations will make you feel like you’re eating week-old bread with nothing to wash it down.
I’d also recommend reading Amir Aczel’s The Jesuit and the Skull. Mr. Aczel is a superb storyteller and popularizer of great scientific minds and finds. For devotees of Teilhard, Mr. Aczel may not do enough, but his focus on the French Jesuit’s role in the discovery of Peking Man in 1929 gives the reader a sense of Teilhard as scientist who is trying to reconcile his religious beliefs with those of the Catholic Church.
Teilhard de Chardin’s struggle is at the heart of Aczel’s book. It’s an adventure story too, trotting the reader all over the globe, introducing us to countries and cultures of the day that speak to our own ongoing wrestling match about evolution.
Whereas, Ms. King’s compilation will force you to read slowly, think deeply, and savor Teilhard’s passionate langue and ideas, The Jesuit and the Skull lets you buzz through with a liveliness and vitality of a good summer vacation exploration.
Hope this helps!
Trent Gilliss, senior editor