The Dance of Perfection: The synthesis of Action and Rest

My wife is always trying to get me to dance. I argue that you cannot teach a pig to sing; it annoys the pig, and it offends the audience. I do not possess a sense for rhythm and movement, and I would be a danger to myself and others out on the floor.

We were introduced in the last post to Gregory of Nyssa’s idea that perfection was an ongoing reaching forward to God, now and for eternity, forever experiencing God anew and never getting to the end of Him. He baptized for the church the idea of change in a Hellenistic culture that dreaded change. Change is good and necessary; it is the very process of perfection itself. One may, however, wonder how this ascent of never ending and relentless motion can bring peace to weary souls longing for rest. The idea of rest, as we know, is profoundly biblical, the central idea of the 7th day of creation, the goal and perfection of creation itself. How do we reconcile action and the biblical notion of rest?

There is another great theologian, St. Maximus the confessor (7th Cent), who pondered this issue. He united Gregory’s notion of active perfection with the idea of rest by using the imagery of the dance. All of creation is, in fact, a dance, a cosmic dance, where all things revolve around God in an ever moving state of rest. He would say that our experience and understanding of motion and change is directly the result of sin and death, a confusion of contraries, meaningless motions running riot. In contrast to this, seeking perfection is like exiting the chaos of this fallen world, stepping out into the divine dance stage with God. Unlike the motion and commotion of the world, as we draw closer to our divine Dance Partner, we find that we are entering into a state of utter simplicity, for God is infinitely simple. Union with our partner is not totally a passive thing where we get absorbed into transcendence and lose our identity. No, for then there would no longer be a dance. It takes two to tango. God sets the music and draws us into motion by divine love; we may join Him because He empowers us to dance, or we may refuse and move away.

We see, therefore, that in the divine cosmic dance motion and rest become one. We are passive in that God initiates and leads the movement, yet active in that we engage our wills to the dance. No one considers the dance as onerous, an energy depleting task. It is simplicity itself. Perfection is entering into simplicity itself. Have you not seen persons who seem to attain a high degree of sanctity? They seem so simple. My mother was like that. I kept trying to pry into the secrets of her sanctity. She would struggle finding words for me; she would emphasize that it was not at all complex, but simple.

Who knows, maybe someday I will break down and join a dance class with my wife. She told me that this would make me the perfect husband. Perhaps she is right. Perfection has a lot to do with the dance, at least according to St, Maximus the Confessor. What do you think? With this post we conclude our discussion on Christian perfection which we started way back on December 10.

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