Editor’s Note: This post was written for the Stunt Gym blog, but I felt that it would be appreciated by a wider audience, therefore has been reprinted here, too.
I recently had a conversation from a dancer in California who found the school site and was surprised that I call my school a “Christian Gymnastics School.” She wanted to know how I could consider it a Christian school since she had been told that dancing was carnal. She desperately wants to dance before the Lord, but has been discouraged by her congregation.
For the sake of her privacy, I am going to call her, Sydnee. Sydnee seems to be a new believer and was very confused. The congregation she attends seems to be legalistic. She had questions about the Sabbath and other matters which hindered me from explaining how physical activity can be an expression of the spirit.
God has no interest or joy in religion. Religion did not come from God. It came from Adam and Eve who tried to cover their sin with fig leaves. That was the first religious act of mankind. Religion is inherent in our carnal nature, which is why most of the world is religious. The books of Romans and Hebrews explains God’s take on religion. He gave Moses the law to show the world that it was impossible to please God through religious effort. Through Jesus Christ He took away religion completely. But mankind hangs onto religion because the carnal nature wants to justify itself through religion, not to please God.
Spirituality versus Religion
Spirituality and religion are two different things. I never did get to tell Sidnee on the phone how gymnastics can be regarded as a Christian activity – as can dance and many other physical activities. It is hard for her and many others to understand because of the Gnostic assumption that the material world is evil and only the spiritual world is good. But God proclaimed His physical creation “good” in Genesis.
This is confused in Christian thinking because of the Bible’s use of the term, “the flesh,” as evil and the Puritanical heritage that sex is evil. The flesh in the Bible does not mean the body, but the choices and desires of people based on natural thinking. Neither is sex inherently evil, but all sexuality outside the marriage covenant of one man to one woman is sin. And, of course, many evangelical groups have discouraged dancing since historically that referred to a man dancing close to a woman, which incites sexual arousal. The ban on dancing in such groups was not on modern dance or ballet, although there are many dance forms that focus on sexuality and immodesty, thus wisdom suggests avoiding. In my industry of acrobatic gymnastics there have been many routines with girls immodestly dressed and dancing movements that were inappropriate for the sport. This is very true in cheer-leading, too. I have left the competitive environment partly for that reason, but primarily because the Lord has closed that door for me.
When visitors first come to the home page of my HTML site for the gym, I provide a link to a page that explains how I use gymnastics for Christian discipleship. This page states how I use the natural object lessons in training and correlate it to Christian behavior.
This use of the gym for training beyond gymnastics goes back to the roots of gymnastics in Ancient Greece. On another page I share how gymnastics and academics went hand in hand during the era of Aristotle and Plato. The Greeks believed in a “sound mind in a sound body”.
Body Soul and Spirit
On yet another page I outline how gymnastics impacts our body, soul and spirit. But the intimate connection between the human spirit and human body is what I wish to explore here.
The Creation of Man
To understand this connection the mystery of the spirit needs to be explained. For most part Christians do not understand what the spirit does, nor the difference between the human spirit and the Holy Spirit. Everyone has a human spirit. It is what gives us our life. To assume that spirituality only means the leading of the Holy Spirit, is a slam against non Christians. Many non Christians are very spiritual, but their spirituality is from an unregenerate human spirit, which often is influenced by demonic spirits. Genesis 2:7 tells us:
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground [body], and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life [spirit]; and man became a living soul. (KJV)
Our souls are the result of our spirits combining with our bodies. The soul is an expression of both our spirit and our body. This is why our soul is pivotal to our salvation. We can can either express the soul through the body (carnal; the flesh) or express our spirit through our soul (spiritual).
Our human spirit is made of the breath of God, whatever that is, since God does not need to breathe air as we understand breathing. Jesus gives us insight into what the “spirit” within us does.
The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (NIV)
Our spirits are the source of our lives. Another insight comes from the rest of the verse. His words are “spirit” and “life”. Since He is talking about His words, this can be broken up for explanation. Words are only two things: a meaning intend by the speaker and a form used to express that meaning. The meaning is independent of the form, but the form shapes the expression of the meaning. The English word, “pasta,” for example has the meaning of noodles for dinner. But the same word, “pasta,” in Russian has the meaning of toothpaste. The form is the same, but the meaning different. Likewise the meaning of a surface area for dinner plates is “table” in English, but is “mesa” in Spanish. The meaning is the same, but the form is different. The meaning of a word is the point or reason for the word. The spirit, as the meaning of life, is found in the point and reason for existence. When the Bible is read, the spirit of the text is found in the point of the text.
The meaning of the human spirit is expressed in three functions. The first is our conscience, which gives us the meaning of right and wrong. The second is our intuition, which provides an a subconscious understanding of the meaning of things which bypasses our reason. And the third is in the experience of spirit to spirit – whether that is divine to mortal; demonic to human; or human to human.
When Adam was created, the meaning of his life came from the breath of God, but was expressed in the form of his earthly body. The meaning of his spirit was imprinted in his body through his DNA, which goes beyond merely the growth and shape process of the body, but imprints the gifts and talents and destiny of each person.
The body expresses the spirit and the soul at the same time. Mixed signals are received when someone says one thing with their mouth (soul expressed through the body), yet says another thing with their stance and posture (the spirit expressed through body language). Many times what is called spiritual discernment is merely an intuitive reading of body language. The spirit and the soul together form the heart of man.
Dance as Art
Artistic Gymnastics has failed miserably in living up to its namesake. The early fathers of modern gymnastics wanted to bring the exercise of gymnastics up to an art form. Instead, all that has been accomplished is the refinement of a craft. Art is an expression of the heart. Dance has expressed the heart as an art form for many generations. It is impossible to express the heart through a system of rules. Rules refine craft, but kill the heart. For this same reason, the Law could never create life, which is found in righteousness. Paul said that the letter kills but the spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6). Life is the heart of art. Acrobatic gymnastics leans more to art than Artistic Gymnastics, but since its merger into the FIG, the art is being suffocated by rules that are intended to raise the craft.
Dance expresses the spirit and the soul (the heart) through body language. Emotions (the soul) are read on the face and posture of the body, whereas the spirit is expressed through the point and purpose of the story. Since so many dancers and choreographers are not Christians, their spirit is carnal, hence the fear the Church has of dance and body activities. Dancers are frequently sensual people,which is also true of gymnasts and athletes. However, the sensuality of sports is in athletic achievement, not sexuality.
The Body as a Spiritual Expression
The bottom line is this: spirituality in movement is determined solely by content and intention. Dance as worship towards God is a spiritual activity, and I believe that God receives it as such. But as Nigel Lithgow once said on his show, “So You Think You Can Dance?”, to a Christian dancer, “Worship to your God does not include the audience.” It is for God. I understood the dance as I watched it performed, but I also understood Lithgow, who felt left out of the dance. As an art, the dance has to have an intended audience. So if Sidnee wants to dance before God, it does not matter what anyone else thinks, since the dance is intended for God, not people.
The body is good, not evil. The flesh is the abuse of the good creation of the body by wrong choices. Dances can be demonic or holy, depending on the content. David danced before the Lord in celebration of the return of the ark to Jerusalem. He was not dancing for the benefit of Michal who despised his dancing. And David did not care that she despised him because he knew before whom he was dancing.
Dance, Sidnee, dance. But keep the content of your dance edifying and modest. Bring hope and joy into the viewer’s hearts as you dance, Sidnee.