A Pas De Trois
She stayed up late to sew the silk ribbons on her brand new ballet shoes. She gathered what she needed: silver needles and white thread, and a lighter to singe the ribbon ends so they wouldn't fray. In the morning she’d break in her stiff shoes at the barre. Plié, relevé, ron de jambe. Repetition, balance, good posture, strong will.
Even the most advanced dancer will continuously practice the basics.
But a ballerina with technical perfection alone is not much of a dancer. As every artist knows, art requires bringing something internal into the external world.
At some point the dancer must let go of perfection, and allow her unpredictable, authentic self to enter the dance.
Eyes closed, she is led by light.
She is moved by the melody, by her fingers, by her belly, by the breath moving in and out of her lungs.
This is the electric sustenance of spirit.
This, mixed with solid ballet technique, lets the dancer transform empty space into living space.
The dancer’s process mimics my own experience of tumbling into religion.
My first spoken prayer, my first taste of bread during the sacrament, my first time leaning into the liturgy.
While there are no rules when it comes to praying, the simple form of a prayer, beginning with some version of “Dear God” and ending with an “Amen” is a nod to tradition.
The order of a church service usually follows some type of traceable pattern.
Prayer, song, sermon.
Lit candles, printed scripture.
These elements of Christianity provide a sturdy, reliable structure. They're the theological equivalent to pirouettes and développés.
But it doesn’t diminish the beauty of rituals to say that they mean nothing if not integrated with spirit.
A personal relationship to God is foundational before any of these tangible pieces feel meaningful.
And relationships are anything but orderly. They require risk, they beg questions, they taunt us out of our comfort zones.
So we close our eyes and we let love in.
We allow the soulful symphony to move us, to push us, and when the chaos overwhelms us, to embrace us.
Sometimes it looks like dancing until our toes bleed. Sometimes it looks like yelling at God.
It might look like crying in the employee bathroom, or shaking in the hospital waiting room, or making a phone call to that person you can’t imagine forgiving.
But this dance of spirit also looks like praising a flock of starlings. It also looks like squeezing your best friend simply because God brought her into your life. It looks like whispers of gratitude and gasps of surprise. It’s the awe of a child watching periwinkle snails slip out their shells.
It’s dynamic, and it radiates grace.
We grasp, and we release. We overwork, and we fall. We obsess, and we fail.
Again and again, we let go. Again, and again, we let love in.
True spiritual creativity requires moving beyond order and obedience and into chaos and relationship.
In his book, The Divine Dance, Fr. Richard Rohr discusses the 15th century painting depicting the trinity by Andrei Rublev. He explains the symbols within the image: each of the three angels at the table represents a member of the trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This painting is less about who is at the table and more about who is not. The Father on the left, the Son in the center, and the Holy Spirit on the right. But there is one more spot at the table, and every finger, every gaze, and every line points toward this open space. Rohr reveals this to be an invitation. A never-ending invitation to participate in this holy, multidimensional relationship. We are not invited to the table because we are good, because we are strong, or because we are beautiful. But simply because we are. We are invited to the table, and we are invited to the dance.
In an episode of Pete Enns' Podcast, "The Bible For Normal People," Enns interviews Rohr for a hearty exploration of what is means to build one's faith. Rohr chooses a diagram to convey his theological process. We begin by entering box one: order. We then progress to box two: disorder. And if we can get through that scary step, we eventually wind up in box three: reorder.
(A disclaimer: nobody is saying this is the only path to faith or theological understanding. It's a simplified diagram. Diagrams are imperfect. But that doesn't mean they don't have value.)
As Rohr says, "there is no non-stop flight from order to re-order." Although that would be awfully convenient. Order is the beginning of a spiritual endeavor. It's like learning the basics of ballet. Disorder is letting go a bit of how you've been trained to think. It's kind of like rebellion. It's doubt, it's chaos, it's questions. It's sorting tradition from spiritual experience to understand that these two ideas, while complementary, are not synonymous. Some call this phase "deconstruction." It might look like being critical of the church. Maybe it entails coming to terms with religious trauma. It may mean redefining your own image of what a Christian is supposed to look like. Pete Enns makes a comment during his episode that the "disorder" phase is where many people leave the faith entirely, becoming agnostic or atheist. But if you manage to sort through the mess, reorder is the stage where your faith becomes your own. It's the continual process of improvising on the dance floor: equipped with spiritual experience and enhanced by scriptural information. Not the other way around. The reorder phase can also be called "reconstruction." This is a productive building up of one's own theology and growing in one's personal relationship with Jesus. It's strengthened by tradition, informed by mistakes, and molded by new and old stories of who Christ was and is. It’s a process of healing. Of processing. Of marrying lived lessons to the lessons taught to us by others. Leaving room to be surprised, to be awakened, to be challenged.
And so we dance.