Late one night, as I was listening to a classical radio station, the studio host told a story. It was about a visitor who once called on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his wife, only to find the couple dancing furiously in their parlor. Hearing no music, the bemused visitor asked Wolfgang and Costanze what they were doing. Husband and wife explained that they were out of firewood, and with no money to buy more they were dancing in order to stay warm.
The story may be apocryphal, but it beats with a profound and simple grace. Wolfgang and Costanze, by all accounts deeply in love, were supporting each other under very trying conditions in the best way they knew how. In one sense, many of us, like the composer and his beloved, have learned to dance when there's no other way we can stay warm.
Music and dance provide rich metaphors for the transcendence of the human spirit over the daily details - not to mention the tragedies - that threaten to keep an individual strapped irreversibly to the gravitational pull of the dirty ground.
Some years ago, my teenage daughter insisted I enroll in the elementary ballet class she was required to take at her high school for the arts. I demurred, but she came back a few days later with the news that she'd already signed me up. OK, I thought, a little physical exercise can't hurt. But little did I realize, as I put my left hand on the barre and set my feet in first position that first night, that I was embarking on one of the most rewarding spiritual adventures of my life.
I now take at least two hour-and-a-half ballet classes a week with a major company, and, although I'm probably never going to perform in public, still, I'm making progress. And what I really love about these sessions are the simple truths they repeatedly make me ponder about life and love.
Take, for instance, that basic concept of progress. I've improved immensely on pirouettes, but have come to see that my spiritual progress requires regular, applied commitment as well. Also, what if I'd never started ballet in the first place? In order to make progress, we must begin. We have to start with the simple basics in our spiritual journey, too. We have to acknowledge that God is good, and that He/She loves us. We have to accept that God is All.
I'll probably never stop finding spiritual lessons in ballet. My notebook is full of things the instructors have said at different times that I've jotted down. Here are a few:
* Push against the floor! So often, resistance is seen as bad. Yet in ballet, the dancer uses the resistance of the floor to get back up. In daily life also, the very circumstance that might make us feel we've hit "the pits" can motivate us to push off from the bottom with fresh energy and another try.
* Find your center! Daily life can seem pretty scattered, even meaningless. But if we can learn to step back from the materialistic humdrum every now and then to acknowledge our spiritual "center" - our understanding of that good, all-powerful God whom people call by many names - we can accomplish more that is of genuine value to ourselves and others.
* Don't forget to breathe! Are your daily tasks all there really is to life? Ballet, like all the arts, is in the business of pushing the edges of what's defined. You are not defined by what other people call you. Nor, perhaps, by what you call yourself. As productive as we might be in our careers as engineers and schoolteachers, as editors and fishermen, as carpenters and CEOs, the spiritual universe is teeming with infinite truths from God, just waiting to be inhaled.
The woman who founded this newspaper saw in the arts evidence of humanity's natural desire to reach beyond the imposed limits of time and space. She wrote, "This age is reaching out towards the perfect Principle of things; is pushing towards perfection in art, invention, and manufacture." And then, with a characteristic search for the deeper meaning behind even the best the world has to offer, Mary Baker Eddy went on to say, "Human skill but foreshadows what is next to appear as its divine origin" ("Miscellaneous Writings," pg. 232).
So please. For all our sakes. Keep dancing.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society