Early on in my priesthood, my prayer life came to a grinding halt. The church’s scripted prayers and rhythms of worship were no longer practices that nourished my own spiritual life; they were my job, things I led others to do. Turns out that being the custodian and guide of times of prayer and worship requires a focus and a responsibility that precluded me from experiencing that prayer and worship myself—at least, in the way I used to.
I noticed that the times I felt most alive and connected to God were when I was moving my body, particularly when I was dancing. And I felt both guilty and ashamed of this. How could I be a priest to my people if I wasn’t being nourished by—and using the same practices as—the prayers and worship I was encouraging them to use and appreciate and be shaped by?
It was at this time I felt God whispering, “Ballet is your church. Lean into it.”
Except I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant—and I wasn’t sure that it had any solid theological ground to stand on. I knew that creativity and the essence of God were inextricably linked; after all, we are created in the image of a Creator. But in my theological studies, I had never come across a “dance theology” per se. I knew that I felt spiritually alive when I danced, but I wasn’t sure how that translated into a meaningful spiritual practice not just for me but for others. So there were fits and starts: a sermon series, a community ballet class, constant talks of writing a book (which I am still working on… ).
I knew there were countless lessons and metaphors from ballet that lent themselves to spiritual growth, but figuring out how this manifested in a ministry that had legs (no pun intended) kept falling short. But when the pandemic hit, and virtual connection opened up our customary “connections” beyond our physical communities to the entire globe, suddenly I was able to envision what Faith on Pointe could be. After a weeklong silent retreat, the ministry launched in October 2020.
Ballet and Christian faith share several common fundamental precepts: things like grace, reverence, and posture. Faith on Pointe offers a 6-week course that teaches these precepts, as well as an ongoing weekly online community that gathers to practice them. I knew this ministry was onto something when one of the people who attends the weekly class said: “I have never seen an offering like this before, that invites people into community, to use ballet in this spiritual holistic way. You’ve created something special here. This is church.”
An Ekklesia of Dance
The biblical word for the church is “ekklesia,” which means “gathering.” In its most fundamental sense, the church was a group of people gathered together around a common purpose — in this case, to pray and worship. The mission of Faith in Pointe is to bring dance into that sacred space—to teach a new kind of somatic spirituality, grounded in Christian theology and expressive of those truths in a creative, embodied way.
One of my favorite moments was in last year’s cohort at the conclusion of the class on reverence. Each class teaches a brief, simple phrase of choreography that accompanies that week’s theme. We had danced our phrase of reverence, and as we concluded, one of them, a pastor, said, “I have to go into the church right now and do this in that space. This is so beautiful!” Knowing she would take the practice with her into her own daily life and rhythm—that is what this ministry is all about.
The truth is, all we have is our bodies. We are created in the image of God, and in all the diversity of humanity, that includes all our bodies. The ancient philosophers who suggested that the body and the mind were two separate things were wrong. It’s all connected. We know this from the Shemah, the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” With all the might your body can muster. We cannot love God entirely unless our bodies are part of the process. And what better way than to use our bodies creatively and beautifully—living into the image of our Creator, who creates beauty beyond what we could possibly imagine?
Try it yourself!
You don’t have to be a good dancer to try this practice. Some of what I offer, especially in social media spaces, is as simple as bringing some ballet movement into a breath prayer practice. Here is a video you can follow along with—try it yourself!