When Church Feels Like Ballet Class (some thoughts on Posture, Strength, Flexibility, and Attitudes)

 

Someone asked me recently when last I was “wowed” by church. I didn’t know what to say, but it made me wonder about the question: should I expect to be “wowed” by church? If not, what should church feel like?

I’ve been wrestling with this for days, and the closest answer I can think of is to say I want church to feel like a ballet class. It’s been a long time since I was in ballet class but this is what I remember from the years I spent in pink tights: there was something profoundly good about group dance classes. I could work on stretching and routines at home, and I could have a hundred dance parties with friends… but ballet class was non-negotiable. We all stood in a row at the barre, and worked through the warm-ups, positions, and attitudes of the discipline together. We would stand tall, and the teacher would remind us to breathe, to look up, and we would move our bodies through first, second, third, fourth, and fifth positions; seeking beauty and strength in every exercise.

The studio had mirrors so we could check our alignment, and work on moving in concert with our class members. The teacher would walk up and down the length of the barre, sometimes moving closer as my feet were extended in point to make a micro correction to the position of my hip, or my ankle. I was always trying as best I could to be in the right position, but the teacher could see little adjustments that needed to be made and it was always surprising to me how a little nudge, a little turn of the foot or angle of the neck could suddenly lengthen an arabesque, or make me feel a stretch in a way that I hadn’t before and which I just knew was right.

I cried as I tried to describe this to my husband as my hope for church. I don’t expect church to be a Master Class with Misty Copeland every week. And I’m not a beginner: I can just imagine how overwhelming, foreign, and downright awkward an adult ballet class must be to someone who hasn’t done it before. But church at its best feels to me like a ballet class: where we gather in community to do things we could have done alone at home, but there’s something so good about stretching and strengthening our souls in a group setting. Singing and sitting under teaching feels to me like a series of barre exercises under an insightful instructor: my spiritual walk mirrored by the practice of those around me; and the words of the songs and preacher are seldom BRAND NEW BIBILICAL REVELATIONS!!!! with brand new coreography…. but they are like the micro-corrections of attitude and posture in life by the Holy Spirit. See how I thought I was extending myself in the right direction? No, the instructor nudges, adjust a little that way. Adjust a little this way. Breathe and make this adjustment. And see? Feel that stretch? I know it is right.

On a good Sunday, I leave church spiritually limber: my body and soul attuned to the rhythms and attitudes of grace. My deepest core has been strengthened, I am more flexible than when I came in, and I am grateful.

Of course, it’s already broken

Amidst the pages of adverts for kiddo gadgets and gizmos in my parenting magazines, I came across an article yesterday which was well-written and surprisingly thought-provoking. The author was discussing the chaos that comes with children (and their toys which come in many lose-able pieces), and confessing her OCD-must-clean-now tendencies. Her suggestion: maybe the answer is to be a little ‘zen’…

She writes, “There’s a lovely Zen parable about a meditation master, Achaan Chaa. When his students came to him and asked how he could be happy in a world of such impermanence, the master held up a glass and said, “For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and my elbow brushes it and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

The author concludes that it helps her a lot to think that “the puzzle piece is lost before you tear off the shrink-wrap, and the action figurine is down the toilet or lost under the ficus even before you’ve paid for it.” Every moment before that is, in its own way, precious.

I like it. Even as a Christian, I think there is great wisdom in not seeking to try and maintain perfection and control in a world where, unavoidably, things fall apart. There is wisdom in recognizing the fallenness of the world when it comes to all things pertaining to having kids: discipline, naps, toys, sickness and much more. One day my children will leave the house (and leave this life!) – in fact, they are closer to leaving and closer to dying every day… every day before then is indeed a gift.

And yet I think the Christian faith offers more than the Zen-realism. Where as Zen very wisely counters against a false desire for control and perfection in this life in favour of realism… the Christian faith tells us that the desire for perfection is still not wrong. It’s not that we deny our desire that toys never break, houses never get dirty, children never get sick, and people never leave… Those desires should not just be denied: they reflect part of our human nature! It is a good thing that we long for the perfect! Surely then the answer is not to eliminate desire, but to keep somehow working at locating our hopes in the life to come. Easier said than done – but that’s the path I’m working on. I long for the perfect – but this life, of course, is already broken.