This was my second summer of SIL UND. Reputably much more difficult than Package A. However, I found myself with time to spare. And a lot of that I spent processing. Was translation something I was still passionate about? Was I ready for ANOTHER summer of being a full-time student? Was this really an area where God had given me strengths? We all approached the summer, it seemed, with a lot of doubts. And God responded to my half-formed questions. Here’s the gist of my discoveries.
Art has always been extremely important to me. This past semester, I was attempting to study in the library one day when my classmates were talking about “being scholars,” and I looked up to see this beautiful painting on the wall and thought to myself (v cheesy and a bit embarrassing) “I’m not a scholar; I’m an artist.”
I grew up taking dance classes, but there had been 3-4 instances in my life when an opportunity to be further involved in dance presented itself. And for maybe a day or two, I seriously considered it. But then the opportunities were taken away, and I was crushed. Dancing, or teaching dance, professionally had never been my childhood dream or my Plan A, so why was I so upset (on so many occasions) when the chance was gone? Part of it was that dance, and art in general, had been deemed unimportant and even illegitimate–as a profession and as a ministry. This past spring I told someone about a completely hypothetical position being offered me to teach dance and his response was “Who would support you?” And I cried, knowing that this reaction implied he certainly wouldn’t.
But God showed me His love for art–and for me–later that week at an evening chapel session called The Space. The first few rows of chairs had been cleared so that people could have space to dance, there was a table covered in supplies so people could worship through art, and the stage was set up like a cozy living room. Don’t let anyone tell you aesthetics aren’t important. The blue linoleum stretched out under my bare feet to the foot of the chapel stage like a dark, calm ocean. I didn’t even want to dance at that moment, but as a dancer, there’s nothing quite as beautiful as wide open space. I felt like it was like a gift from God. All I could do was sink down and cry–good tears this time–thinking about how much God loved me. I felt like He was telling me, “I love art not just because it’s Who I am, but because I love you, I care about what you care about.”
Even after graduating from high school and consistent dance classes, opportunities to teach and perform continued to fall into my lap. So that’s what got me through: knowing that God would continue to provide “side jobs” in the arts as He had so faithfully done for the past three years. But I was still struggling. How much time could I justify spending on these “side jobs”? I was at SIL UND to learn about linguistics, not to put on a Skit Night or design a T-shirt. How could I reconcile who I was as an artist with what seemed to be my calling as a translator, something so seemingly intellectual and left-brained.
So one day, halfway through the summer, I felt the need to write down the dance-related “dream-crushing” experiences. And maybe I’ll post them here one day. But I finished writing and my thoughts were still inconclusive when I read an chapter for my Ethnographic methods class. It was about symbolism in language. And art in religion. In Africa (my secret dream location). And I realized: I’m the daughter of an engineer in a western culture that idealizes scientific knowledge over all. But that’s just one part of the human experience and only one part of speech. Language in every culture is highly symbolic. And religion in every culture is highly artistic–this culture specifically revered dancing. I realized that who I am as a person who thinks in metaphors, and who I am as a person who sees places for their beauty, and who I am as a person who processes visually, and who I am as a person who expresses and relates to people through dance–all these characteristics will be valuable on the field.
Understanding and interacting with people and their culture, translating literature that’s full of symbols and allegory, and communicating the mysteries of the invisible God can’t be done with great knowledge alone. Art is important. Essential.
Some relevant quotes from the chapter.