All, Culture/Life, Faith, Tales from the Tutu Side

A Lesson from the Little Drummer Boy

This past Sunday was the first day of the liturgical season of Advent, a special time in which we prepare to remember and celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas as well as to welcome Him anew into our lives and hearts. It also serves as a reminder that we will meet Him one day face-to-face and that He will judge the world at the end of time.

One of the primary points of the homily during Mass this past Sunday was the obligation we have to use our gifts and talents for the glory of God and as a means of preparation for His coming. The priest said that God has given us these gifts for the specific day and age in which we live. And we must use our talents to build up the Church and the world.

Later that day the thought occurred to me that the Christmas song The Little Drummer Boyexemplifies this message.

The impoverished Little Drummer Boy wants desperately to give a gift to the newborn Christ Child but has nothing of material value to offer, so he plays his drum, that is, he uses his talent for the baby Jesus. His simple offering of music in love pleases the Baby Who smiles at him in return. His offering of the intangible talent is his gift.

I think we can learn something of extraordinary value from this gentle Christmas carol. A lesson succinctly summed up in the following quote:

“Our talents are the gift that God gives to us. …What we make of our talents is our gift back to God.”

-Leo Buscaglia

The Bible says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” -Colossians 3:17

I think it’s easy to downplay or discredit our skills and gifts as unimportant or to disassociate them from our spiritual and religious lives. Or we can wrongfully use our talents primarily as a means of self-gratification and aggrandizement.

The truth is God wants us to discover, to nurture, and to build up the talents He has bestowed on us to bring His light and joy to others. When we do this, we glorify Him. How we do this likely will change as we journey through the different stages and phases of our lives, but as the parable of the talents in the Gospels illustrates, we will be called to account for how we made use of what we were given (Matthew 25:14-30).

The cultivation and sharing of our talents can truly be a means to our own growth in sanctity and joy.

And “talents” can encompass an array of gifts. Certainly, things like artistic skills or athletic ability or eloquent writing or an aptitude for science and medicine or even impressive culinary skills. All of these things, undoubtedly, can be a conduit for the uplifting of others.

But less obvious qualities can also be a talent. The knack for making people laugh. A gift of being a good listener or being able to diffuse a tense situation and be a peacemaker. A compassion for others’ hardships and the willingness to offer quiet encouragement. The list could go on and on.

We all have multiple talents and characteristics, and they are meant to build up those around us, for we all bear God’s image.

In his Advent homily, Father also spoke about how each person’s talents are a different reflection of God.

That is a really cool idea to ponder.

Just think about it: artists, musicians, dancers can be a reflection of God’s beauty. Athletes can reflect His strength. A scientific or mathematical proclivity, His orderliness. That ready, listening ear, His love and gentleness. Of course, God is not just beautiful and strong. He is beauty. He is might and love. But His creation can and does mirror Who He is.

As a professional ballerina, I feel so grateful that it is built into my job to have the opportunity to touch people’s hearts and raise their spirits in both ticketed productions as well as outreach shows at elementary schools and assisted living facilities.

It makes what I do so much more meaningful and gratifying. Especially at this holiday and family-oriented time of year, it is a good reminder for me that I am a part of helping create special memories for children and adults alike, even as the weeks-long run of Nutcracker performances can sometimes be wearying.

As we prepare for Christmas during this season of Advent and as we plot and scheme about tangible holiday presents, I hope I can remember the Little Drummer Boy and the surpassing value of those intangible gifts we all have to share, not only at this time of year but throughout our lives.

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All, Culture/Life

In defense of thank you notes

Well, folks, the holidays are officially upon us! ūüėĪ

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and before we know it, Christmas and New Year will be here.

People are visiting one another, exchanging gifts, reminiscing about the past.

One sentiment that should be foremost this time of year is gratitude. Perhaps we have forgotten that Thanksgiving isn’t actually about eating gluttonous amounts of food but is a day to thank God and celebrate with loved ones the good things in our lives, which can include turkey and all the trimmings. ūüėČ

Christmas is not about getting material goods but about remembering the gift of God’s Son to our world and in response giving to others.

However, gratitude is something we should practice all year long not just during the holidays.

One concrete way that we can express gratitude is through the increasingly endangered custom of hand-written thank you notes.

Letter-writing, in general, is a practice that I wish would revive.

If you Google “benefits of writing thank you notes,” a whole slew of articles will come up.

Here is my own contribution to the discussion about the value of letter-writing and thank you notes.

1.) Writing thank you notes is polite and considerate. Nowadays, it sometimes seems like what was once known as “common courtesy” is not so common any more. I don’t need to list the ways in which society today regularly divides and degrades people. Any little act of courtesy and thoughtfulness, like a thank you note or a “thinking of you” card, can be a light in the darkness.

2.) Thank you notes or hand-written cards and letters are more personal than typed emails or texts. A person’s hand-writing is unique. When you write something to someone, you are really giving a part of yourself to that person.

A text message or email could be typed by anyone. It all looks the same. It’s kind of ironic really. Out culture is constantly pushing individualism, yet our proliferation of and dependence on technology as the primary mode of communicating is obliterating one of the most individual things about a person, namely, his or her hand-writing, especially cursive.

One can also find several articles about the benefits of hand-writing through a simple Google search, just FYI.

This being said, if you want to thank someone immediately for a mailed present, etc., or to let someone know you received a gift, sending an email or text is a nice idea. You can always send a thank you note later.

3.) Writing a thank you note or other type of letter shows you truly care. Whether you’re thanking someone for a gift or a favor or for hosting you at his or her house for the weekend, it’s likely that person expended time, energy, and thought on your behalf.

The least we could do then is sacrifice a bit of our own time and energy to write a thank you note.

4.) Receiving mail is just plain fun! Don’t you like to receive a letter in the mail? Aren’t you grateful when someone takes the time to thank you or check in on you through good old-fashioned snail mail?Well then, you are not alone in this feeling. Share the joy with another person!

5.) Letters and notes can be a keepsake of the past. If you’re having a gloomy day, you can pull out an old note or letter and be rejuvenated by someone’s kind words.

Or think about how much information and insight we glean about history from reading the letters of people in various time periods.

A hundred years from now, it’ll be slim pickings for our descendants when it comes to letters informing them of our daily lives.

Instead, they’ll have to find old external hard drives and flash drives to read emails? That seems pretty sad.

In whatever form it takes, an in-person thank you, a phone call (which is also a decreasing practice due to texting), a text or email, gratitude is a virtue we all need to cultivate consciously. But making that extra effort to write a thank you note, undoubtedly, is a worthwhile endeavor.

All, Faith

On the Blessed Mother’s Birthday

In the Catholic Church, September 8th is celebrated as the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. In other words, it’s Mama Mary’s birthday! And that is reason to celebrate!ūüéā

This Marian feast is one of my favorites. Perhaps because celebrating a birthday is something so very normal and homey. After all, Mary was a humble Jewish maiden.

It also is fitting to celebrate her birth because Mary’s “yes” to God, her fiat, enabled the Incarnation. It was through her that the world received its Redeemer.  She was the first to welcome and to love Him. And when He suffered, she suffered, too (Luke 2:35).

“At the beginning of the New Covenant, which is to be eternal and irrevocable, there is a woman: the Virgin of Nazareth.”

-Pope St. John Paul II, MulierisDignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) –> I highly recommend reading this Apostolic Letter.

Mary is our mother as well, praying for and loving us with maternal care. She is not a goddess. We do not worship her.  But we do honor, venerate, and ask for her prayerful intercession and protection.

We all have much reason to exult on this happy day!

But what can we give to Mary?

As the priest at Mass this morning reminded the congregation, the best “birthday gifts” that we can offer Mary are repentance of our sins, prayer, and loving service to others. He mentioned specifically the devotion of Five First Saturdays, which you can learn about here

The following is a simple little poem that I wrote last year for Mary’s Birthday.  I thought I’d share with you all today. (Don’t judge.  I’m not a poet, haha).

“The sky a gentle blue like Mary’s mantle

The light of the sun glowing bright like a candle

A quiet, laughing breeze fills the air

Signs of God’s glory are everywhere

It is the memorial of our Queen and Mother’s birth

She whose fiat brought our Savior down to earth

The courts of heaven sing God’s praise

The world joins in on this day of days

Immaculate with grace from the first moment of life

Throughout her years, she knew both joy and strife

Her love and aid are ever near

Patiently drawing us to her Son so dear

Mary, sweet Mother, we lift our voice,

‘Keep us close to you til in heaven we rejoice!'”

Happy Birthday, Mama Mary! ūüĆłūüĆ∑ūüĆĽ

All, Bookworm

On Books

There’s nothing like walking into a bookstore and having the scent of books hit my olefactory sense. Whether it is the pungent mustiness of used tomes or that “new book smell,” shelves lined with books ignite curiosity and bring comfort.

For me, reading simultaneously feels like coming home and setting off for uncharted adventures. Reading a new book and making the acquaintance of the characters dwelling in its pages is like making a new friend. And like human friendships, there is always room for more.

“Books are the most wonderful friends in the world. When you meet them and pick them up, they are always ready to give you a few ideas. When you put them down, they never get mad; when you take them up again, they seem to enrich you all the more.”

– Venerable Fulton Sheen

All sorts of genres: fiction, history, biography, religion, poetry, philosophy, fantasy– they all have a different “personality” through their various styles and myriad characters. They all teach you, comfort you, entertain you, challenge you, in diverse and wonderful ways.

Even now as a young adult, I relish going back and reading children’s literature. Classic kids’ books from the Chronicles¬†of¬†Narnia to the Berenstain¬†Bears series to Charlotte’s Web to the Tales of Beatrix Potter, these enduring stories and others in the canon of time-honored children’s literature impart important lessons that are valuable to young, old, and in-between.

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

-C. S. Lewis

During my senior year of college, one of my echoing refrains was that I couldn’t wait to be able to read whatever I wanted whenever I wanted again.¬† Sure enough in the year-plus since graduation, one of my most pleasurable, restoring, and peaceful past times has been reading. Lying in a hammock in the warm sunshine of a drowsy afternoon or the cool evening breeze with a book or two–that is my happy place.

I have always been a voracious reader, a bookworm, a bibliophile.  As nerdy as it may sound, I am truly grateful for the gift of stories, literature, books, and for the authors who pen these friends in leaf-and-binding form.

Before I was homeschooled, one of the best parts of “regular” school was when I’d walk into the classroom in the morning and find a Scholastic book order on my desk. I would eagerly open it up and begin circling the books I hoped my parents would purchase for me. ¬†Oh the joys of childhood!

I can definitely relate to that song from “Arthur,” one my favorite book series and TV shows from childhood. “Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card!”

I know you children of the nineties are singing along. ūüėČ

Speaking of nineties TV shows, who remembers “Wishbone”? Another of my favorites. A cute, spunky Jack Russell terrier imagining himself as the hero of classic literature like Tom Sawyer and Romeo and Juliet, all the while going on relatable adventures with his owner Joe and Joe’s friends, Sam (Samantha) and David. Talk about truly educational children’s television! (For those of you who want a trip down memory lane, most of the old Wishbone shows can be found on YouTube.)

I don’t really know the point of this rambling and perhaps maudlin post except maybe just take it as a PSA in favor of reading! Haha. Reading really can improve your life, expand your vocabulary, help you to think critically and creatively, and introduce you to new places and people.

To all my fellow bookworms, keep on reading! Even if you’re not much of a book person, maybe listen to a book on CD or online.

I hope it’ll bring you much happiness!

PC: https://www.facebook.com/I-Love-Dogs-And-Books-185755638206971/
All, Culture/Life, Faith

Friendship and the ‘Whys?’ of Life

You know those seemingly random encounters that just really leave an impression? Conversations with strangers waiting in line somewhere or sitting next to you on a plane? Meeting someone at a party or other event?

You’re with these people for a minuscule amount of time–minutes or hours–yet there seems to be a genuine connection … and then you part ways.

Have you ever wondered about these meetings of happenstance? What was the reason? Why this person at this time?

Do you ever think that if life circumstances were different a real friendship could have developed? That if this were the movies a real friendship would have developed?

What are we supposed to make of these meetings?

I wish I had an answer, but the truth is that we may never know the why or wherefore in this life.

However, if the encounter seemed more than coincidental, it probably was more, and we should first just be grateful to God because “all good giving and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).

If the experience made such a mark on your heart and mind, who’s to say that it didn’t resonate with the other person as well? Maybe there’s a lesson that can be learned from the other person or maybe it was simply supposed to be an experience of pleasure and cheer conversing with a fellow human being.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

-Fred Rogers a.k.a. Mister Rogers

Or have you ever wondered why some friendships last a lifetime and other friendships, so important for a period of time, seem to fade? ¬†Again, there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason.

The Thinker-Rodin
Rodin’s “The Thinker” Source: openclipart.org

Sometimes, the years lend perspective, and we can look back and see how God allowed those friends to be in our lives for a reason — for mutual need or help. ¬†“Some people come into your life for a reason; others only for a season.”

I also believe that if the friendship was true, you can pick up where you left off should your paths cross again.

Yet all of these meetings and partings with strangers, acquaintances, friends — they have the capability of leaving behind a yearning ache in your heart. ¬†Humans are by nature social and relational. ¬†We are made for fellowship and for communion with God and with one another.

Sadly, in a sinful, broken world, “good-byes” and “what ifs” can leave their painful, wistful imprint. ¬†Because we can’t see the future and we don’t know when or if we will be re-united.

But we¬†must¬†hold on to hope and to trust in God’s goodness.

Though only in my twenties, I have lived long enough to know that sometimes those people who you thought you’d never see again re-emerge in unexpected times and places. ¬†So say “see ya later” instead of “good-bye.”

Pray for your friends, acquaintances, and those “could-of-been” friends you randomly meet. ¬†If someone is on your heart, reach out in a tangible way — call or write that person. ¬†Heed the old saying, “If you want a friend, be a friend.”

If the circumstances surrounding that incidental encounter are such that it would be appropriate to try and strike up a true friendship, be courageous enough to do so.  You never know until you try.

Finally, I strive to hold on to the consoling hope of heaven. ¬†If we cooperate with God’s grace and mercy, we can hope to be re-united with those for whom we’ve cared and those we’ve loved, however briefly, on earth. ¬†In heaven, we will have an eternity to love God and love one another.

“Friendships begun ¬†in this world will be taken up again, never to be broken off.”

-attributed to St. Francis de Sales

 

All, Culture/Life, Family

Supporting the Troops

Summer is a time filled with patriotic holidays. ¬†Memorial Day, Flag Day on June 14th (which I just learned is also the U.S. Army’s birthday), and, of course, Independence Day/4th of July.

I was raised in a patriotic household.  We were taught to show respect for the flag.  Stand up and place our hand over our heart for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem.  Never let an American flag drag on the ground.  I always loved learning about American history, especially the colonial and Revolutionary War era.

We were taught to honor the military. Many of my family members served in World War II.  This blog is named for my great-uncle George, who was so convicted of the need to fight that he went to Canada and joined the Royal Air Force before the United States even entered the Second World War.  My mom is proud to share a birthday with the U.S. Marine Corps. (November 10th, in case you were wondering.)

My interest in history and my involvement in performing arts came together in the selection of a topic for my senior thesis in college.  I wrote about the founding and the importance of the USO in World War II.  For those of you who may not be familiar, the USO stands for the United Service Organizations.

It was originally a conglomeration of six religious and charitable organizations that joined together to provide physical, emotional, and spiritual support for the military.  There were USO canteens and centers, mostly at transportation sites where service members could write letters, take a shower, nap, drink coffee or have a conversation with a USO hostess.  These centers also hosted dances and social events for the military.

Bob Hope-USO
Bob Hope entertains troops in WWII. Source: Wikipedia.

There was also the Camp Show side of the USO that performed for the soldiers both domestically and overseas.  Some of the performers included Hollywood luminaries like comedian/actor Bob Hope and the singing group, The Andrews Sisters.  The USO still provides support and entertainment for our military to this day.

I had just turned 11 years old when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 took place.  Growing up in a post-September 11th world amidst ensuing security concerns and the subsequent and on-going war on terror, I think awareness of what it means to be an American and respect for our troops have definitely played more prominent roles in my life than they possibly would have otherwise.

One of the main post office buildings in my hometown is named in memory of a school classmate of my brother’s. ¬†This friend was a Marine who died fighting in Iraq in 2004. ¬†He was a faith-filled, honorable young man.

As a I grow older, my support and gratitude for the military only continues to deepen and become more personal.

As we all know, summer is also wedding season.  This June, I was honored to be a bridesmaid in two weddings of very close friends.  One of my friends married a former Marine and the other married an active-duty member of the Navy.

The latter friend’s wedding included all the pomp and circumstance of the military, such as the sabre arch under which the newly married couple walked upon exiting the church as well as the ceremonial cake cutting with a sword.

Let me tell you: the patriotic, hopeless romantic in me was eating all of this up.  I challenge any red-blooded American woman not to feel at least a twinge of a heart-flutter when she first sees a man in uniform.  They just look so dang sharp.

But I digress…

On a more serious note, meeting, celebrating, and dancing with these guys at the wedding and knowing they are all serving our nation made things more real, more personal. I consider my friend’s now husband also one of my friends.

My friend is now a military wife.  She will be experiencing all the unique challenges, joys, and fears of that role.

I half-jokingly told one of my friends/fellow bridesmaids that now all these guys  are on my worry list and prayer list.

But seriously…

Do we really stop and think about the sacrifices of the military and their families?  We cannot and must not be indifferent.

They are volunteering to go fight, knowing the life-threatening dangers they will be facing, while many of their peers are clamoring for “safe spaces” on college campuses in order to hide from anyone or anything that might offend them or challenge their opinions. ¬†Quite the dichotomy.

Yet they can protest and call for safe spaces because of our military-protected freedom.

“Land of the free because of the brave.” Some may think it sounds cheesy but it is true.

And how are we using that hard-won freedom?  Are we using it responsibly, working for the common good? Do we engage with our political opponents respectfully or do we resort to mean-spirited, personal attacks?

Do we show respect when the National Anthem is played?  Do we proudly display the American flag? Do we learn the true history of our country, warts and all, appreciating the good while learning from the mistakes? Do we remember our troops and their loved ones in our prayers?

Do we thoughtfully and actively participate in the voting process?  Could we perhaps donate our time or our money to a worthy organization that supports the military?  Do we thank service members when the opportunity presents itself?

How can we be more patriotic and self-sacrificial Americans?

To all veterans and active-duty service members and to your families and loved ones: THANK YOU!!!  Americans can never adequately express the debt of gratitude we owe to you.  God bless and protect you all!

American soldiers
Photo credit unknown.
All, Art, Culture/Life, Faith, Tales from the Tutu Side

The Gift of Dance

In the words of Porky Pig, “That’s all, folks!”

Porky Pig 2.png
Enter a caption

The final curtain has fallen on the 2016-2017 ballet season in my neck of the woods. As I think back over the past months, one of the outstanding take-aways for me is gratitude for the opportunity that ballet affords me to encounter other people and, hopefully, to have a positive impact on them.  This interaction happens primarily through the performances themselves.

After one show, an audience member told one of the company’s directors that watching one of the pieces was the first time she had felt joy in two weeks!¬† What a blessing that we as dancers and artists have¬†a platform to uplift others!

In addition to regular ticketed shows, I’ve also had the chance to dance in numerous outreach performances at elementary schools and at senior living communities/assisted living facilities.

Let me tell you that these are special audiences, and they make these performances some of the most meaningful.

I could write a whole separate blog post about the exuberance, hilarity, and joy of the shows for kids.  They really do say the darndest things!

But dancing for the elderly has been truly moving.  Their faces brighten when we simply walk into the room.

Occasionally, we have been able to chat with the residents of the assisted livings and retirement communities after we’ve performed.¬† Invariably, we receive nothing but love and encouragement from these lovely souls.¬† In return, we are able to listen to their stories, such as tales of their¬†own involvement¬†with dance, or we simply offer a friendly smile and a warm hand-shake.

It is such a humbling and beautiful experience to be able to put dance at the service of others in this way.  Like other careers, the dance world can sometimes lead a person to be self-absorbed and to focus on self-aggrandizement in a demanding and competitive environment.  These outreach shows can be a good check on that attitude and a reminder that dance, like all talents, is meant to be shared and to benefit others.

Often in these facilities, we are dancing on carpet or on parquet or a combination of the two.  Sometimes we have to dodge low-hanging chandeliers (a particularly humorous situation for an above-average-height dancer like me).  In any case, definitely not ideal surfaces or conditions for a performance.

But that is not the point.

Of course, from a business angle,¬†we are there to promote our company and our upcoming shows.¬† However, from a human and personal angle,¬†I’ve come to realize that the purpose of these shows is not flawless technique or mistake-free dances.¬†Naturally, I want to do my best, but the reason for¬†these shows, especially the ones at retirement homes,¬†is¬†to uplift hearts and to spread joy.

Particularly in some of the facilities caring for lower-income senior citizens, our dancing, and simply our presence, is needed and appreciated.  One of the most memorable shows for me was at an organization that cares for children, elderly as well as mentally-challenged adults.  Some of the audience actually had tears in their eyes while we danced.

Even in places where the residents are more well-off financially and physically, our shows can be a morale boost.¬† One woman, whose granddaughter happens to be a professional dancer, explained to us that she had decided to wear a skirt that evening because she “was going to the ballet.”¬† She also repeatedly said that she was tired of “only looking at old people!”¬† Clearly, she was excited to see some youthful faces!

These authentic interactions, whether while dancing or in post-performance conversations, are an affirmation of the dignity of every person.  They are an opportunity for us as dancers to partake in an act of mercy for a group of people that is all too often disrespected and neglected.

I am so deeply grateful that our visits to these various places put a little more love into the world and, hopefully, a ray of sunshine into others’ lives.

“Whatever you did¬†for these least brothers of mine,¬†you did¬†for me” (Matthew 25:40).

These shows are truly a gift for both givers and receivers.

 

Beautiful Ballet Pic
Image credit to Musetouch Visual Arts Magazine

 

All, Faith, Family

A Time to Trust

The French language has two words that both signify “to know.”¬† Savoir indicates knowing of or about something or how to do something while connaitre implies more intimate knowledge: to know a person or to be familiar with someone or something.¬† One could say that savoir is a more academic, aloof “knowledge about” while connaitre indicates a relationship.¬† Both words mean “to know” yet the¬†level of knowing is¬†as different as the shallow and deep ends of a swimming pool.

Belief also,¬†I think, is a bit of a sliding scale.¬†There is a vast difference between giving one’s intellectual assent to something –a savoir-type of belief– and a deep-down-in-the-heart-and-soul, connaitre-type of belief.

You might be thinking to yourself: “this parsing of words and meanings is all fine and good, but what is the point of all this?”

Well, this sliding scale of knowledge and belief is, arguably, a good description of faith in God and of spiritual progress.

I am in a season of life when many things are changing in little and big ways both for myself and for my family.¬† Sometimes I wish I could just wave a magic wand and fix some of the challenges with which we are presented.¬† I am recognizing more and more my “control freak” tendencies.¬† Sometimes it is hard to know where one’s responsibility lies¬†or how much responsibility one holds.

When we’re children, if we are blessed with a loving family (which thankfully I was),¬†our world is filled with security and comfort.¬†¬†We are¬†shielded from the nastier sides of life and obviously the big, stressful decisions do not rest on¬†a child’s¬†shoulders.¬† However, as¬†we grow up, the monumental realities of life, both good and bad, become inevitable acquaintances.

Yet, we are still meant to have that child-like peace and security.¬† Christ tells us, ” ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven'” (Matthew 18:3).¬†God is our Father and we are His beloved¬†children.¬†¬†Yet so often we can¬†accurately be called “ye of little faith.”

I think the only way to develop that child-like faith, that unwavering trust, which brings peace and lifts burdens, is to have a personal relationship with Jesus.  To get to know him through prayer, Scripture, the sacraments, and through the wisdom of others.  To not simply know or to believe in a savoir, detached manner, but to believe and to know in a relational, connaitre manner.

To truly believe in His goodness and love, His promises and His providence.  To remember His blessings and help in past insistences.  To remember that He is our Savior and our Friend, Who always, always has our best interests in mind.  And also, to remember that just as God is working in your heart, He is also working on the hearts and minds of those around you, and maybe, just maybe He is asking you to have a little more trust in them as well.

Fr. Jacques Philippe writes in Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart, “In order to resist fear and discouragement, it is necessary that through prayer–through a personal experience of God re-encountered, recognized and loved in prayer–we taste and see how good the Lord is (Psalm 34).”

In A.J. Russell’s daily devotional book, God Calling, one of Christ’s exhortations is¬†to trust Him for everything.¬† That really hit home with me recently.¬†¬† When He says everything, He literally means everything!¬† From the majorly consequential to the little trivia of everyday living.¬† All our hopes, desires, worries, and concerns for ourselves and for others.¬† EVERYTHING.

Another frequent assurance in the book is that “All is well.”¬† A reminder that Jesus is the One with the final say.¬† And He is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28).

My great-Uncle George, for whom this blog is named, certainly must have had a goodly amount of trust in God when he decided to go to Canada and join the Royal Air Force during World War II.  That was, undoubtedly, one of the biggest decisions of his life.

If I let it (and I am trying to do so), this season of life can be an opportunity to strive to develop this type of trust in the Lord. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this will also be a life-long lesson.  It is hard for us prideful humans to let go of control, but so often when we finally do surrender a person, a situation, a problem to God, the solution readily becomes evident.

I will leave you with some words of encouragement from the Psalms:

“Commit your way to the Lord: trust in him and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5)

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:11)

Serenity Prayer

 

 

All, Art, Tales from the Tutu Side

Corps-eography

Performing is one of my favorite parts of being a dancer.  After all, performing is really the purpose, the point of it all (pun intended).  All of those hours of training and sweating and rehearsing in the studio, while rewarding in themselves, are meant to lead to the sharing of those honed skills and artistic gifts with an audience.  Ballet is indeed a performing art, and one could say that a performing art is a relationship, a relationship between the performers and the audience.  Performing is simultaneously one of the most gratifying, humbling, and exalting experiences in the life of a dancer.

 

Music major quote
These words¬†can definitely be applied to dancers as well.¬†¬†Image credit to Classic FM’s page on Facebook.

 

 

Moreover, during performance weeks, the regular class and rehearsal schedule is almost always different due to theater time, costumes fittings, etc.  I like the change of pace.  It is a welcome break from the usual expectations of the day-to-day.  There is also a palpably different energy surrounding performances.  Excitement and nerves are in the air.

Here where I dance, we just completed another performance.¬† I¬†danced as a sylph in the corps de ballet of “Chopiniana” also known as “Les Sylphides.”¬† The ballet does not have a narrative.¬† The only plot line consists of a poet (the only male role in the ballet) who is dreaming of and dancing with¬†a “flock” of¬†sylphs.¬† The ballet was created over one hundred years ago and is of the romantic style, meaning that the tutus are long and the arms and heads are held in a particular way.¬† It is much softer and more¬†ethereal than other styles of ballet. I truly feel as if we are a painting come to life.

The corps de ballet is the large group of dancers that are often on stage with and behind the soloists and principals.¬† Though the corps members¬†are not the “main” dancers in any given ballet, one would feel¬†their absence were¬†they not there.¬† A well-known example of corps de ballet work is the dance of the Waltz of the Flowers and the¬†Snow scene¬†in “The Nutcracker.” Those particular two pieces are extremely aerobic and¬†physically taxing.¬†¬†But the true on-going challenge for the corps is pronounced right there in its name. “Corps” means “body” in French, and that it is the task of the corps dancers: to move as one¬†living organism.

The corps work for “Chopiniana” was not as technically or physically difficult as Flowers or Snow or other¬†corps roles, but the challenge was the meticulous care put¬†into making sure the small details, the slow movements, the spacing, were uniform and correct.¬† Even eye-lines and head angles were under scrutiny.

Being in the corps teaches one to be a team player and to be spatially hyper-aware.  If, during a performance, the person in front accidentally goes off the intended mark, one must follow in order to keep the integrity of line.

I once saw the corps of Nutcracker described as the “unsung heroes” of the ballet because they had danced in every show.¬† That is another challenge or benefit (depending upon one’s perspective) about dancing in the corps.¬† Unlike principal and soloist roles, which often have multiple casts for a run of a show, the corps is usually the same for every performance.¬†I read once that a professional dancer said she was in¬†her best physical¬†shape when in the corps because she was so strong from dancing in every show.

The next time you attend a ballet or watch one on video, I encourage you to be more aware of the corps de ballet.  Pay attention not only to its actual dancing, but also to its smaller movements, its poses, its angles and headlines.  Many hours of rehearsals and painstaking polishing of details went into that seemingly effortless final product.

Even though it may be an “unsung hero,” the¬†corps is an integral part¬†of a¬†performance and without¬†it the beauty and richness of many classical ballets would certainly be depleted.

 

Swan Lake photo from Ellman's
Image credit to Ellman’s Dancewear Facebook page.

 

 

All, Bookworm, Faith

Musings on Narnia

NOTE: I wrote these¬†reflections a few summers ago after I had re-read “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” I¬†thought that they would possibly¬†make a decent blog post, so now that I actually have a blog I¬†decided that¬†I would share with y’all.¬† Edits and additions have been made.¬† Hope you enjoy these ramblings/informal book report from¬†a bookworm! ūüėČ

I feel like the older I become the better I can appreciate C.S. Lewis’ genius, his societal commentary, and the very spiritual Christian insights he incorporated into his writings.¬† He is, undoubtedly, one of my favorite authors.¬† The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the third book published in the Chronicles of Narnia series but the fourth in Narnia chronology),¬†like all of the Narnia books, is simple, beautiful, profound, and¬†enjoyable for both children and adults.

During the first chapter, it struck me how much pointed humor his series contains.¬† When I was younger, I could not appreciate it as much, but now some comments stand out to me that were previously less conspicuous.¬† An example is Lewis’ description of Eustace’s family: “They were very modern and up-to-date people.¬† They were vegetarians, non-smokers, and tee-totalers.”¬† This is not intended as a compliment.¬† Eustace is obnoxious, bratty, and¬†arrogant.¬† He has no imagination, believing solely in science and rational facts.¬† He and his family have abandoned the timeless truths and principles of wonder, respect, and belief in a Higher Power.¬† They are politically correct, but they are insufferable.¬† It’s not that being a vegetarian, a non-smoker, or a tee-totaler was necessarily wrong.¬† The problem is more that they have no permanent foundation of beliefs for their lives.¬† Instead, they go¬†along with the latest trends, whatever¬†is in vogue at the moment.eustace

Eustace ridicules Lucy and Edmund for their belief in Narnia.  Even when Eustace experiences the wonder of Narnia firsthand, having entered this other world through an enchanted picture frame, he seemingly cannot give his assent to the substantiality and rationality of this fantastic realm.

Eustace continually tries to hold Narnia to the limited standards of his legitimate but incomplete world of science-only.¬† A world of chivalry and monarchy where a girl is given deference over¬†men when it comes to living quarters is unfathomable to him. (Lucy was given the use¬† of King Caspian’s room while Caspian, Edmund, and Eustace bunked below the Dawn Treader’s deck.)¬† Eustace tries to tell King Caspian that this is demeans girls, not seeing how this simple distinction does not diminish femininity but actually shows respect for Lucy.

How often do we behave in a way similar to Eustace?  We measure God by our own limited, finite vision, experience and life.  Often we are blind to His work in our lives even when it is right in front of our eyes, like Eustace when he first enters Narnia.

We must strive to adopt the attitude of Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, who not only continually pondered and spoke of Narnia, but also always hoped and expected to experience it once more. Their faith was rewarded, and, thankfully, Eustace was pulled along with them for the adventure of a lifetime.

The crucial moment that begins Eustace’s journey of conversion is when he is transformed into a dragon.¬† Having wandered away from his traveling companions during a respite on an island, Eustace stumbles onto a dragon’s lair and falls asleep upon a mound of enchanted treasure.¬† During his sleep, he undergoes a metamorphosis into a dragon: “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.”¬† His outside now reflected his interior disposition.

However, Eustace’s time as a dragon is a bit of an epiphany for him.¬† He recognizes how beastly he has been behaving and for the first time experiences true loneliness and a longing for companionship. Once he is able to communicate who he is to the others, he becomes most helpful, bringing them food and a massive tree from which to fashion a new mast for the Dawn Treader.¬† He also offers his services (the fire in his belly)¬†as a source of warmth on cold nights.

Eventually, Eustace is transformed back into a boy, and the process by which this is wrought is filled with Christian symbolism.¬† Aslan, the mighty lion and Christ figure,¬† appears to Eustace and tells him to “Follow me.”¬† Aslan leads him to a well that is filled with water and¬†directs him to bathe in it after undressing first, meaning after removing his dragon skin.¬† Eustace tries three times to scratch away his skin on his own, only to find that there is more underneath.¬† At last, Aslan says that Eustace must be undressed by him.¬† When recounting the encounter to Edmund, Eustace explained that this process hurt, but it was a good pain: “And when he [Aslan] began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.¬† The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.”¬† Aslan then tossed him into the well water, which also smarted and hurt at first but then became “delicious.”

One can easily compare this scene to repentance and Baptism. We must first shed the “dragon-ish” parts of ourselves, namely, ¬†our sins and shortcomings through repentance.¬† However, ¬†we cannot remove them ourselves.¬† If we try, we are only frustrated by our failure.¬† We must let Jesus and His grace work the transformation in¬†us, a process that can be painful sometimes but that ultimately brings joy and peace.¬† We are ready to accept God’s forgiveness and be made clean in the waters of Baptism, which we will ultimately find “delicious.”

Eustace is frequently described by Lewis as a “beginner.” Baptism is meant for Christians at the beginning of their faith journeys, either as infants or as adult converts.¬† In fact, it is one of the Sacraments of Initiation.¬† Lewis says that Eustace was mostly a completely changed person after his encounter with Aslan, but he still had slip-ups and it would be more accurate to say that he was becoming a better person.¬† When we first make a commitment to Christ and to the faith, we often do have setbacks and slip-ups but we are now striving and improving and have hope¬†rather than remaining in our mess.¬† Indeed throughout our whole lives and faith journeys, we must continuously strive for conversion and re-commit ourselves to Christ through prayer, the sacraments, and acts of charity.

Lastly, Eustace’s conversion was prompted first by being immersed in a world of believers, by being immersed in the world of Narnia.¬† Lewis mentions that the good effects of Narnia began to work on Eustace without him even realizing it; case in point, when he is struggling to climb a mountain, he perseveres to the end instead of giving up like he would have been wont to do before experiencing Narnia.¬†¬†This small¬†event exemplifies both the importance of evangelization¬†as well as the reality that¬†both our chosen companions and environment have an affect on our attitude and ways of thinking.¬† Secondly, his conversion was motivated mainly by an experience of hardship, that is, becoming a dragon.¬† Eustace’s suffering impelled him to make an examination of conscience, so to speak.¬†He realized his nastiness and wanted to be reconciled and be friends¬†with his companions once more.¬† So often in the real world, it is suffering and trials that drive people to conversion or to a re-awakening of faith.¬† We take a hard long look at ourselves and our lives and realize where we have fouled up and who we have wronged, and we desire to make amends.

These¬†musings only cover a small portion of the insights contained in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as well as the whole Narnia series.¬† If you have never read these books or if it’s been a while since you’ve read them, pick them up again and discover the beauty that C.S. Lewis has to offer!

narnia

 

Images taken from the Chronicles of Narnia page on Facebook.