‘Everything I know about God, I learned from dancing.’

By on May 31, 2022
Photo courtesy of Christine Conkin.

“Everything I know about God, I learned from dancing.” This was the title of a major paper I wrote for my Master of Divinity at Vancouver School of Theology (VST). Writing the paper was an important moment for me as it brought together my (then) recent theological studies with my earlier Christian formation. 

I grew up attending an Anglican church in Calgary. St George was a “church plant” in a newly developing part of Calgary. My earliest memories of church are in a school gym, where I was baptized as a preschooler. I remember touring the building when it was under construction. I was sorry to miss the deconsecration several years ago when maintenance deferred for too long made the building uninhabitable. The building is gone, but I still have dear church friends in and from that community that formed and love me. 

Through my teens and early adult years, I loved to dance and performed with a marching band all over southern Alberta and around the world. After undergrad, I worked at this and that while teaching and taking dance classes. I also found life in youth ministry leadership and other church leadership roles, from episcopal search to General Synod to Partners in Mission (the national church’s global connections). Between undergrad studies in sociology, dance and church, my love for travel and connecting with people across cultures was nurtured and grew. 

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It was at a Christian dance conference held at (not by) VST where I was first inspired to write a book: “Everything I know about God, I learned from dancing.” By instinct, I was convinced that the forms of dance I taught there, coming out of a culture not my own and not typically considered “holy” — the music and dance I loved the most — was as sacred as anything else. “One day,” I thought, “I’m going to write a book about it.” I wanted to combine my three great loves: culture, art and spirituality. Having already spent much time with sociology and dance, I decided I needed to study theology. And so off I went to seminary. 

I also wanted to study because in my late 20s, I finally admitted to myself (and then a few trusted friends), that I didn’t believe Christianity the way it had been taught to me. I couldn’t have named the theological questions any better than that at the time. Even with my questions, I remained convinced (often, anyway) that “there’s something to this Jesus stuff.” Discovering postmodernism, and a community of peers, kept me in the church. I had no idea that I’d spend most of my career trying to explain postmodern shifts to church folks, move the church through it, and on to whatever is emerging now. 

My dancing body and soul always knew God was real. Becoming a sacrament through ordination made sense. Finding God with my head, through academic study, particularly of the Bible, was life-giving in truly incredible ways. My Master of Theology thesis, focused on Isaiah 56:1–8, has turned out to define much of my approach to pastoral ministry and church leadership. “What do you do when what was no longer exists and what is to be has not yet arrived?” If our ancient ancestors figured it out, so can we. 

Many of my favourite church moments are when the ritual and liturgy itself are the sermon. There was that time we almost burned down VST’s chapel by creating a “lake of fire” in the (wooden!) font. And the time I convinced my dance teacher and a few classmates to turn a class exercise into a dance for church — it featured urban-influenced gospel music preaching against Satan. 

I still love to dance, but now, mostly, my artistic expression is embodied through liturgy, often with the goal of bringing the Bible’s stories to life. I mostly recharge outside — on a bike or skis or with running or hiking shoes on my feet. I still love to travel, and I still hope to write that book one day. 

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