Last night I witnessed transformation.
Saturday evenings, our students present their creative response homework assignments. It’s a highlight for many of us to see what they’ve worked on all week (or longer).
Last night the dancers went first. We were all impressed at the marked improvement in them after only a few weeks—not only in technique, but in their ability to interpret a heart theme creatively. And then the last dancer got up, and brought the house down.
Holding back tears (unsuccessfully finally), she admitted that she had had to struggle with the assignment of the week—to describe "Personhood"—and she couldn’t understand what the block was. "I couldn't get the movements for the piece of music I wanted to use. Nothing was working, and I only had a short amount of time. I was so frustrated…”
In my experience, artistic blocks are significant precursors to breakthrough; I sat up a little straighter.
We had been teaching and discussing the issue of identity for weeks: identity in Christ, identity as artists, identity as true selves, the selves that pick up their cross, deny the false selves, rip off the masks, and follow Jesus. It has proven to be a major theme of the school, one that each one is grappling with in some way, no matter the life stage.
All that led up to a guest lecturer’s class and assignment: on personhood in Christ, simple being persons with Christ, not pastors, missionaries, evangelists, artists, daughters, sisters, mothers. Simply enjoying the gifts God has given, not trying to perform, do, or meet expectations, but resting, abiding, creating.
This dancer listed the number of statements that had been made to her in her young life, things like, "You can't do this...you'll never amount to much as a dancer..." She described the conflict of only half believing them, and rebelling against them, and yet not fully embracing who she was and what she was made to do. And that's when the tears started flowing.
“…and then I realized what was happening."
Now she could hardly get the words out, but did: "'They' weren't the problem. I was my own worst enemy, telling myself I wasn't a dancer, only someone who liked dance, who used dance to work out for physical exercise. I had decided to just shift my focus to my skills as an administrator, and away from dance.
“Today as I worked in the studio, God helped me to see dance as a legitimate gift. He created me to dance, and I realized that I’m a dancer as well as an administrator. God is calling me to embrace both gifts.”
Big smiles erupted around the room. Anticipation was palpable.
“So I didn't finish the assignment, but I want to play this song for you and I'll just move around a bit."
With that, our beautiful dancer launched into what looked like a completely choreographed piece, with abandon and delight, her face now radiant with the most beautiful smile, free. The tears were now in our eyes—to see a person dancing with abandon before the Lord, as if none of us were in the room. It was a holy moment. I’ve seen it before—with non-artists as well as artists—when someone realizes who they are, who they were made to be, and the joy that that explodes in them as they spontaneously worship.
This was beyond dance. If we had had eyes to see, we would surely have seen the Lord dancing with her. This was worship, in spirit and in truth, and the glory of God was revealed in the glory of his dancer.
When she finished, there was a sacred silence, followed by a hushed: "We've never seen you dance like that before!..."That was truly YOU!"..."Your smile....did you all see her smile!?"
On and on it went, with God’s dancer alternately laughing and wiping tears, until finally she rushed off stage and into the arms of a fellow dancer, where she broke down in sobs. Those of us who knew something of her journey gathered around her—whether to hug, pray, cry, I don’t know. We were like athletes in a match rushing to a teammate who had just scored the winning goal. Our hero, who had broken free from the pack of lies holding her back from who she was and who God called her to be. And in the breaking free, God had tossed her both her call and a new identity.
We did hug, pray and cry. We blessed the work God had done in her to get her to this point. We prayed for her future, we prayed for the work yet to be done. But this pivotal dance would be a turning point for her, and a memory I will cherish as a highlight of the school. Turning artists into Christ-centered, spiritually mature artists is no small feat; we long for it, but can only set the stage for it to happen, and ask God to do the rest. That night, He seemed to roll up His sleeves and say, “Watch me work!”