When I moved to California about three years ago, I could hear neither myself nor God.
Just two weeks prior, my husband and I were residing in Oxford, set to return to America and make our “new” home in Illinois. I had grown up in that state, had been away for the greater part of ten years, and was excited to return. Instead, we were led to San Francisco.
Upon crash-landing into San Francisco, I decided I needed a retreat. The five silent days praying about my vocation were grueling but also mysteriously glorious. Gratefully, a very clear encouragement arose: I was to “be” and to dance (among other things). I had known that I was a dancer since I was four even though I went on to train in karate for the next 17 years at the encouragement and sometimes mandate of my father who was also my coach. I knew how to train my muscles, but I didn’t know how to open my heart.
So, by faith, I entered a very unknown land: an intentional time of doing “nothing.” I went against the undercurrent of cultural, familial, and even personal expectations for myself. I found more of my identity in Christ than I had previously. I danced, wrote, and simply was. I moved, reflected, and prayed. I embodied concepts, expressed, gave, and was open. And I tried hard not to turn this into something “professional.” Gratefully, I had a friend and guide to talk through my ideas and reflections, hear heart cries and questions that arose from dancing and other things from the season.
I initially explored European-American based movement like ballet and contemporary modern, and then included other dance forms outside of these, such as Afro-Cuban. I was a complete beginner in classes, but I moved well and could sometimes hang in advance classes due to my extensive experience in knowing my body and doing karate, which is also a total-body art form like dance. Soon, I began to experience “moments” of transcendence—something previously outside of my paradigm yet common in the dance world. I began to wonder, are these actually moments of transcendence or actually moments of recovery, as in recovering something lost that is a part of our humanity? Does this shed light on a different way of knowing ourselves, our surroundings, and God?
About a year and a half later, I felt a nudge to apply to PhD programs. Initially, I was hesitant. Through crafting my research proposal though, I could see that I was excited to study formally what I had embodied in order to see if it held up: dance allowed some kind of knowledge to be gained about myself and God in a deeper way, perhaps a way that is diminishing against the backdrop of a more data-driven society and its quest for “knowledge.”
Over these past three years of living in the mecca of tech start-ups, much has arisen out of nothing, as only God can create ex nihilo. I’d like to think that simply being and dwelling in Christ, that being encouraged by my friend, and shaped by the Holy Spirit, have encouraged me to live more fully into my personhood and creatureliness. My hunch is that this isn’t just limited to me or fellow dancers, but that it is a vital part of being human. This needs recovering.
Jessica Lipps (M.A. Regent College, B.A. Trinity International University) has been on the Jr. US Karate team, earning multi-national and international medals. She continues to explore the somatic realm dancing, doing neuromuscular practices, and volunteering with hospice. Jessica has deferred entry into the PhD program at the University of St. Andrews until Sept 2015, and in the meantime, may be found walking the streets of San Francisco with her husband Jonathan or writing atbirdandbabe.com, her blog about living an integrated life.