Friends who know me well describe me as a highly disciplined person which I always find kind of funny because I don’t see myself that way at all. I like to flop around and read a book more than your average bird, which to me is the height of indulgence… And what they call discipline or drive, I see more as sheer neurosis. But I have been thinking quite a bit about this notion of discipline lately.
When I was in the fourth grade, I had a baby sitter who studied ballet and from the moment I set eyes on her toe shoes, I was obsessed with the idea of taking ballet, which my parents ultimately agreed to. Once enrolled, I was quite disciplined for my age. I didn’t mind the tedium of barre exercises and the long hours of practice required to strengthen one’s muscles and to contort the body into aesthetic positions. At home, I used the kitchen counter as my barre and lived for Tuesdays and Thursdays when I had class. Yet enthusiasm waned over time when the choreography became increasingly more complex, when the initial thrill of pointe gave way to blisters and calf spasms, and when I was asked to come to ballet five days a week instead of two. I hung up my toe shoes and played volley ball in high school instead.
I wonder if our spirituality requires the same delicate balance of discipline and joy. When the Holy Spirit touched me, I felt that same elation as when my feet first slid across the dance floor. I felt I could soar through the air and was beautiful. In God, I felt grace and transcendence and awe. And I also felt the hard work to which I was called.
When we study theology, we marry practice with doctrine. We also pull everything out of the closet, strip the beds and do the wash. We then reassemble and put the house back in order. And like the best of ballet dancers, we do this daily or our muscles will grow weak. And we rely on the barre always before testing our own strength.
I am reminded that contained within the word discipline is another – disciple. And that I am a very young dancer.