‘I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It's permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.’
— Martha Graham (1894-1991)
I was led on, to find out a bit about the author of the passage below, which was quoted in the book Write Is a Verb (2007, Bill O’Hanlon), and I found the words quoted above. Both spoke to me of the immediacy and inevitability of life in Christ.
‘There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action—and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly.’
Now, I’ve never been a dancer. Even in a private moment with no one watching, even with music that makes other people dance all around me, I’ve never ‘given in’ to the rhythm and just ‘let go’ and danced. Why? That’s just not me. In youth a geek, thinking that ‘dancing’ was expected of me, I gave it a try, failed, and found a hundred excuses why I don’t dance. There was really only one—that’s not who I am. At last, half a century later, with nothing to prove, I can just be myself, ‘sometimes not pleasant, sometimes fearful, but nevertheless inevitable.’
Being brought up in an environment of vigilant self-denial, surrounded by attitudes of rigorous if pharisaical piety, early on I came to despise the body and praise the spirit. It didn’t help that I was clumsy, unathletic, and too near-sighted to be any good at sports. Does upbringing shape the coffins that we seem to be happy to live in, unaware that our lives are dreams of people dead to the world who can do nothing but dream? Abandoning all thought of interaction with a world I was assured was of no account, I turned inward, to music and literature.
Or is it that our times and places, though seeming to shape us, actually prepare us to discover who we are inside, and at some point accept that inner nature, and maybe even express it openly, as ourselves? I think of Mother Gavrilía, almost an exact contemporary of Martha Graham, who expressed herself in her life in almost exactly the same way as the dancer, though she was a physical therapist and ascetic. Her upbringing squeezed her out of any social or inherited illusions, liberating her to be herself, to express who she was, and that, uniquely and inevitably…
‘When God created us, He gave us life and breathed His Spirit into us. That Spirit is Love. When we lack love, we become corpses and are altogether dead. The Christian must respect the mystery of the existence of everyone and everything. To reach nonexistence, love, love, and love—and so identify completely with the Other, with every other. Then at the end of the day you ask yourself, “Do I want anything? No. Do I need anything? No. Do I lack anything? No.” That’s it!’
It must be an amazing thing for someone to realize that ‘who they are’ is ‘to love’ as Avrilía Papayánnis, the girl who grew up to be known as ‘Sister Lila’ (when she lived and worked with the poor and destitute in India), and later (when she became an Orthodox nun at the age of sixty!) as Mother Gavrilía. Her ‘dance’ was every bit as original, unique, inspirational and, yes, even influential, as that of Martha Graham. In both of these women, the inevitable happened—they became what they were created to be—despite their upbringing (or because of it?), regardless of what others thought of them.
There’s a kind of rebellion that is an affront to God, and another kind that is as pleasing to Him as a commandment fulfilled. The first kind, which grieves Him, is to take what He gives and trash it; or maybe to not take what He gives at all, and to go on ‘a wild goose chase’ only to find despair. The second kind, which pleases Him, is to take what He gives—yourself, as He made you, as you discover little by little what you are—and hand it over to Him with interest, like the faithful servants in the Parable of the Talents. ‘Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.’
Well, almost inevitable. There’s only one charge of ‘living in denial’ that you cannot ignore. Not the ones coming from others, but the one coming from yourself. Everyone knows when they’re ‘faking it.’ To waste what we are given, what we have been created for, is a sin almost as serious as suicide. The words of a dancer—yes, that’s what she was created to be; she only appeared to be ‘merely human’—can be as important and life-saving as those of a canonized saint. If you knew her, and saw her dance, perhaps the message she spoke would have come across just as clearly. ‘There’ll never be another you.’ [*]
If you are young, as I once was (when there was no one to teach me), and you understand these things, then pursue them, pursue Him in yourself, be the man or woman He made you, is making you, and will make you in the world to come. If you are of whatever calendar age, whether you are old or only think you are, look to yourself. Make sure you are not still bound to fallacies, chained to appearances, trained to make-believe about who you are. What gives you ‘a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening’ if you would only let it, to be ‘translated through you into action,’ into joy? Have you accepted it?
‘There is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours.’