The Word in the Wings
In sum(mer): the body’s work for the glory of God
By: KAYA PRASAD
This summer, The Word in the Wings has featured stories of how the work of Glorify Performing Arts addresses problems with the ways our culture often views the human body. In the 21st-century US, even at times within the church, it is common to discount, abuse, or idolize the body. But in GPA’s work of creating professional, empowering, Spirit-inspired dance productions, we aim to value the body’s God-given capacities for meaning-making and beauty. We aim to protect the body from exploitation by the art and industry of dance, and we orient the body’s efforts toward the glory of God.
To close this series, let’s look back at each of the stories shared by a GPA staff member, volunteer, and board member and how they reflect on this mission to recover a perspective on the body that reflects the values of God’s kingdom and new creation.
To start off, we heard from Artistic and Executive Director Melody Stanert about her vision and purpose behind the dance productions she creates through GPA. Melody hopes that the audience at any of these productions receives more than just a “pretty” visual experience. She hopes that the work provides images and stories that resonate with audiences, with their realities and their longings, so that “something click[s]” and the work generates fresh understanding.
Although GPA artists do endeavor to create beautiful art out of dancing bodies, the body’s beauty is not of ultimate importance. Rather, the beautiful movement that a dancer’s body is capable of points toward that which is of ultimate importance: the beauty and goodness of the God who created the body. In faithful dance, the body isn’t idolized for its beauty, but the body’s capacity for beauty is recognized and oriented towards glorifying God.
Romans 8:11 (NRSV) says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” Christians’ hope for bodily resurrection, the firstfruits of which is seen in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, points to the fact that there is space in the kingdom of God for the actions of the body. As much as our minds are renewed to discern what is good in God’s eyes (see Romans 12:2), our bodies are being restored to act in accordance with the law of the Spirit of life.
Redemption in Christ is about being transformed in mind, body, and spirit for the new creation. Dancing as people transformed in Christ points toward the new creation by engaging the integrated self in generative work.
Later in the summer, we heard from Deanna Pfau, who has been volunteering with GPA since she first attended a show in November 2021. Deanna’s story of recovering from an eating disorder is also a story of recovering a sense of connectedness with her own body. From abusing her body as a way to assert control in disordered circumstances, through disdaining her body as falling short of some ideal, Deanna followed God into a healthier relationship with her body through openness and reconciliation with others.
Deanna’s story illustrates how physical and mental health are intertwined, as are relationships with self, other, and God. In sharing her story of recovery, Deanna advocates that the well-being of the physical body is an integral part of healthy relationships within the Church.
Rather than discount the body as unimportant to faith and spirituality, it is valuable to recognize the role of embodied experience in the integrated life of God’s people. Though the body is susceptible to temptation and subject to death, it is also included in God’s redemptive purpose along with all creation. Therefore it is worth seeking out the ways in which the body can be turned away from tendencies toward sin and decay and reoriented towards its purpose of reflecting God’s image in the world, participating in generative creativity and fullness of life–including through art-making and, specifically, dance.
A few weeks ago we heard from Megan Staub, a member of GPA’s Board of Directors. Megan reflected on the unique capacities of dance to tell stories that carry emotional resonance, offer a new perspective, or hold complex ideas in tension. Megan shared how embodying an idea through dance expresses layers of emotion that aren’t captured in dialogue or even in music. Dance doesn’t have to be limited to people who are trained to analyze the meaning behind the movement; the embodied medium can resonate with any person’s embodied experience to enrich their understanding of a complex idea or circumstance.
Megan highlighted an example of choreography from GPA’s repertoire that helped her experience a complex idea in a new way. In GPA’s ballet Alive in Us about the fruit of the Spirit, the section on “Peace” juxtaposes a group of dancers jumping on a steady beat with a solo dancer moving fluidly through the music. Megan saw in this piece an expression of peace that works itself out “in the midst of conflict and challenges” rather than simply escaping these realities. Dance offers an opportunity to consider a concept of peace that “surpasses all understanding,” and even to allow it to resonate with our own bodies and to “know” in a unique way that such truly exists.
In sum, the stories that Melody, Deanna, and Megan shared this summer point to a theological value underpinning GPA’s artistic work. God created human bodies with distinctive capacities for movement, beauty, storytelling, expression, and communication. To honor God’s creativity and generosity, it is fitting that God’s people may cultivate these capacities of the body and use them to worship God and to build for God’s kingdom, bodying forth reconciliation, hope, restoration, and joy. I hope these stories–and our dances–inspire you also towards integration in the work of your body, mind, and spirit.
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