Through my angsty 20s, into my identity-forming 30s, I felt the strength of my body growing. I was dancing four to six hours every day, and I felt invincible. I was dancing with people who would shift the world of dance globally and who were incredible performers; many of them have gone on to have careers in dance and have travelled the world. I was a hair’s breadth from that, but I did not choose it. I felt frightened by the prospect of total immersion into a craft that could become my whole life; I wanted to be a whole person. While I craved belonging in the dance world, I knew it would continue to want more, ask more, and become a greedy taskmaster. My body, mind, and spirit would be expected to be surrendered on the altar of dance, and it felt like a hard choice. I wanted to surrender my whole life to the God whom I intuitively understood would care for me more truly and beautifully than the fickle gods of the stage, and physical perfection and self-expression. And still, there were “micromoments” in dance of being aware of the Holy Spirit—in Virginia, in North Carolina, at the prestigious American Dance Festival, and in Harlem, NYC.
I commenced a master’s degree in theology, and I began to wonder more deeply about dance and theology. Could they go together? What does the Christian faith believe about the body? What does God want me to know about my body in all its creaturely forms? And then, I found Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, and it was a breath of fresh air: “This is the body—a witness to creation as a fundamental gift, and therefore a witness to love as the source from which this same giving springs.” Or, as Emily Stimpson Chapman puts it in her book These Beautiful Bones, “Matter is never just matter. It is always in some way, a gift. And it also in some way points beyond itself to the one that created it.” Studying John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, I realised that the way humans view the body matters. It matters to God. The body is not just a place where we can mould, shape, or control. The body is for loving, for giving, for treasuring, for remembering. The body is not just for fun, or sex, or TikTok videos. The body has meaning.
God honours the body by sending Jesus in the form of a body, a human man. The incarnation is a total and absolute affirmation of the body: the God–man, who swims, eats, and laughs with his friends, who writes in sand to make a point, who uses mud and spit to change eyesight, who has kneecaps, and elbows, and eyelashes. He ages, growing from a baby to a boy, a teenager, and then a man. God the Son enters into time … and then dies, and—as a body—is resurrected back to life. God cares so much about the matter and “stuff” of creation that he sends his Son to be for us a real human. This redeems the very matter that I think is broken or weak or unimportant or, at the worst, a distraction that needs to be upended and ignored. How God views us—creatures made from dust and the breath of life—changes everything. It should really change how I view myself. Instead of being fascinated with the beauty of youth or with firmer skin, I need to let God’s deep compassion for my body soak into my bones. I must surrender my body to God’s loving gaze at every stage of life. As I allow the Holy Spirit to come near my body in all its imperfect and feeble ways, I see my body as it truly is. Scars and all, I come nearer to the God of love. God honours what God has made in me, and I get to partner with God in a collaborative endeavour by welcoming the life that I have in my body now, not when I lose more kilos, or when I’m less tired, or when I have less wrinkles. God, it turns out, is a God of the body.