The Glass Ballerina

A master toymaker once made a ballerina out of spun glass. He took the greatest care to choose the right materials; he spun the glass with the utmost patience and skill into intricate details that built up into an exquisitely graceful form. He placed the ballerina on a stand in a case in front of a window and rejoiced to see her there. Now and again he would take her out to stand in the sunlight and twirl on a string as he played music for her, and he delighted to watch this beautiful thing that he had made.

Yet one day, he came to the case and found her crying.

“Here!” he said and lifted her out. “Why do you cry, my lovely one?”

“Oh, Master, if only I were not glass!” she wailed.

“What do you mean?”

“If I were sturdy, like your steel clockwork dancers, men would dance with me.”

“But I did not make you to dance for men.”

“If I were strong, like your brass jewel-box dancers, ladies would watch me and give me their gold.”

“But I did not make you to dance for women.”

“If I were soft, like your frilly plush dancers, little children would cuddle me. If I could bend, like your jointed porcelain dancers, bigger children would play with me.”

“But I did not make you to dance for children.”

“Then why did you make me at all, Master?”

He took a mirror and held her up before it in the sunlight, so she could see what he saw, how the light glowed and reflected and refracted to shine out as beautiful colors in ever-changing hues as she twirled on her string to the music he played just for her.

“I made you,” he said gently, “to dance for me.”

© 2018 Elisabeth G. Wolfe. All Rights Reserved.

Sermon illustration, free to a good home

We got stuck behind a gravel truck yesterday, and there was a sign on the back that I completely misread. It was a single word above an arrow pointing to the right (no idea exactly what it was indicating). At first glance, I thought the word was “FUTURE”; only when we got closer was I able to see that it actually said “SUICIDE.”

“There is a way that seemeth right unto a man….”

Worth remembering

There is a limit to the doctrine of the prayer of faith. We are not to expect that God will give us everything we choose to ask for. We know that we sometimes ask, and do not receive, because we ask amiss. If we ask for that which is not promised–if we run counter to the spirit which the Lord would have us cultivate–if we ask contrary to his will, or to the decrees of his providence–if we ask merely for the gratification of our own ease, and without an eye to his glory, we must not expect that we shall receive. Yet, when we ask in faith, nothing doubting, if we receive not the precise thing asked for, we shall receive an equivalent, and more than an equivalent, for it. … If he does not give you precisely what you ask for, he will give you that which is tantamount to it, and that which you will greatly rejoice to receive in lieu thereof. Be then, dear reader, much in prayer, and make this evening a season of earnest intercession, but take heed what you ask.

— C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Evening devotion for May 19

The Rainbow Connection and the Inconsolable Secret

For some reason “The Rainbow Connection” popped into my head a few minutes ago, and I got to thinking about some of the questions it asks.

Why are there so many songs about rainbows
And what’s on the other side?
What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing,
And what do we think we might see?

Now, of course there are standard Christian answers to some of these questions–“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1), and the rainbow is a sign of God’s promise, particularly the promise to Noah that He would never again flood the earth (Gen. 9:13). But that’s not really what the song is asking about. Instead, the real answer is something more like this:

“Listen to me,” cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—”
–G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday

And that, as C. S. Lewis explains in “The Weight of Glory,” is indeed what we’re searching for in the rainbows and the stars:

The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory meant good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.

… At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.

Yes, we do (or should) feel awe at God’s handiwork when we stargaze and gratitude for His promises when we see rainbows, especially unexpected ones. But what keeps drawing us back to such things, resisting those who would tell us that “Rainbows are visions, but only illusions, / And rainbows have nothing to hide,” is that sense that we are seeing only the back of the world, the wrong side of the door, the inconsolable secret that we were made for something beyond this world, that our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.

And thus I say, with apologies to Williams and Ascher:
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection,
We lovers of Jesus–you’ll see.

Non Nobis Domine

I’ve been surprised recently by some traffic coming to this post on catcalling from this article on lust and beauty by my friend Alan. It has “given me furiously to think,” as Poirot would say. I’d hesitated to post those thoughts because they’re neither particularly detailed nor particularly original (not that I’ve tried to track down sources). But after reading this post by my friend Amanda, I think they might be worth sharing anyway.

A good chunk of our problems with beauty–desiring it, chasing after it, not recognizing it in ourselves, whatever–is a serious misunderstanding of the purpose of human life. We’re not made to please ourselves. Others are not made to please us, nor are we ultimately made to please others.

We are made to please God.

Now, that’s not as onerous a purpose as it sounds. Pleasing God can mean taking delight in His creation, enjoying the fellowship of others, and receiving His gifts with gratitude and grace. It can mean giving as freely as we have received. And for some people, it can mean all the great things that come with marriage when it lives up to the allegory of the relationship between Christ and the church.

But recognizing that, in the immortal words of VeggieTales, “God made you special and He loves you very much” should shift our understanding of what we’re doing here. We shouldn’t be obsessing about our looks in the hope of feeing better about ourselves or of getting attention. We should be caring for our bodies because God gave them to us and expects us to be good stewards of His gifts. We shouldn’t view others’ beauty as something that is owed to us, and we definitely shouldn’t view ourselves as “God’s gift to men/women.” We’re meant to reflect God’s glory and His beauty to others and back to God Himself, regardless of what our outsides look like.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”)

“You have made us for Yourself,” prays Augustine in the Confessions, “and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” I don’t think any of us will completely get this right until that day, when at last we will be His finished handiwork and both as fully like Him and as fully ourselves as we can be. But all the same… “Not to us, o Lord, not to us, but to Your Name give glory” (Ps. 115:1).

On Friendship and the Value of Mere Christianity

In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity. — Augustine of Hippo (attrib.)

Three of my heart’s-sisters are Baptist. So are quite a lot of my other dearest friends and relatives (to say nothing of one of the two church families that nurtured me through high school, my beloved alma mater, and the college where I currently teach).

Another of my heart’s-sisters–one who’s been mistaken for my biological sister, in fact!–is Catholic. And I’ve had a goodly number of other godly Catholic friends and mentors over the years, some life-long, some converts from Protestant denominations of various stripes. As for favorite authors… Bede, Bernard, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Chesterton, Tolkien–need I go on? To say nothing of the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, the Presbyterians, the Methodists….

None of these friendships have altered the basic principles behind my theological views or my (virtually non-existant) comfort level with liturgical worship. And that’s not because we never talk theology! We do, in just the way Amanda suggests in this post: respectfully. I understand, even when I don’t agree on the definitions of things or the relative importance placed on them.
More importantly, though, what I’ve found in such friendships is that what we have in common matters far more than what separates us denominationally. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis likens the concept of “mere Christianity” to a hallway from which the various denominations branch off like rooms; it’s important not to hang out in the hall indefinitely, but neither is it good to deny that the hall is there connecting us. He also notes that people whose beliefs are closest to the heart of the teachings of their respective denominations are, paradoxically, closer to each other in terms of faith and practice than they are to people on the fringes of their own denomination. And having known some really fringe wackos in my own church, I can vouch for the truth of that!

No, my Christian friends and I don’t always agree on the details, especially on the points where I’m most adamantly Pentecostal. We all have different gifts, and a lot of us have different callings. But we serve the same Lord, are saved by the same Name, read the same Bible by the light of the same Spirit, and as such are part of the same family of faith. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man or woman availeth much, no matter what name is on the church he or she attends. And every one of my friends–Catholic, Protestant, young, old, married, single, whatever–has made my life far richer than it could have been if I’d even considered letting denominational differences stand in the way of that friendship.
We’re brothers and sisters in Christ. That is what counts.

And besides, every family needs a weirdo to spice things up. :mrgreen: