Ballet Lessons and Carthusian Monks: Pirouette 101

The cross is steady while the world is turning.

- Bruno of Cologne, founder of Carthusian monastic order

I remember ballet lessons as a child. Pale pink ballet shoes, with a small ribbon bow above my toes. Golden wood floors running to mirror-lined walls. And me, stretched out on the floor, self-consciously pressing my unflexible limbs into something remotely resembling a split.

I never felt myself to be particularly graceful. I was the strange child always in dress-up clothes, living in my own imaginary world, dragging my faithful golden retriever along for the adventure I’d concocted. I well-earned my nickname “ice pack” with countless bangs, scrapes, bruises, though, miraculously no broken bones.

So the world of the dance studio was a new one to me. I practiced my new skills at home, roping my younger cousins into playing “dance lessons,” in which I taught them my new tricks and foot positions. While it lasted, I loved it, but I was not exactly cut out to become a hardcore ballerina.

One clearly important life skill I still remember is how to spin without becoming dizzy. When we first learned to pirouette, the teacher would place a large paper dot on the far wall. The goal was to keep your eyes fixed on the dot, then whip your head around quickly, so you only lost sight of it for a moment. Eventually we graduated to finding our own fixed objects as a focal point. Stare, whip, regain eye contact. Repeat.

I turned. The point stayed steady. And locking my center of vision on it kept my body from losing its balance as I twirled repeatedly across the wooden floor.

* * *

The cross is steady while the world is turning.

The cross is the large paper dot on the mirrored wall, our focal point, which gives us a point of orientation. It is steady, its message fixed, unmoving, stable. All the while, the world is turning, and trying to find our way can be disorienting, dizzying, tilting us off balance, off our intended path. But the cross gives us a place to focus our eyes, so that our lives look less like unbalanced drunken staggering, and more like a graceful pirouette.