Andrew Greenwell on Living the Faith: Dancing the Moral Dance
Kant points to the fact that both beauty and morality answer to a rule. In some way, there is a conformity to an underlying law, and ideal, the form.
Finally, though Kant believed that both beauty and morality are universal, he observed that it is very difficult for us to enunciate the universal principle. It is difficult to define beauty in all times and all places, just like it is to determine the good in all times and all places. That does not mean beauty in dance and beauty or good in morality do not exist. To perceive beauty or the good, a certain level of well-formed judgment--both intellectual and practical--is required. One might say that the beauty in dance and the beauty in morality both require a form of prudence.
That brings us to the next similarity between dance and the moral life: both dance and the moral life seek perfection or excellence, what the Greeks understood as arete, the Romans described as virtus, and we translate as virtue. And like any human activity, perfection or excellence requires practice.
Since dance is the movement of a body that is subject to an intellectual rule, it must be practiced to gain facility in it. And this means that there can be improvement: one can dance poorly, and one can dance well, and practice--as well as perhaps native talent, and a good instructor--makes us better. No one can dance a waltz or the tango well at first, but with practice one gains a facility where it becomes a sort of second nature, an intimate possession. The movement then becomes connatural. It is "stored" in us, we have "muscle memory," and becomes what philosophers would call a hexis or habitus, a notion which is only poorly captured by the English word habit.
In this regard, the moral life is no different than dance. To become virtuous one must do more than just act natural like Rousseau erroneously advocated. The virtuous life requires practice, and that requires the formation (learning the form of the dance) and the development of good habits through practice (asceticism, which comes from the Greek word askesis, which means exercise or training) so that these good behaviors become a second nature, habitual.
Additionally, like the moral life dancing is more than a mere intellectual activity. It requires the commitment of the whole person. A dancer--at least if he or she strives for excellence--must do something more than exhibit a lackadaisical conformity with an external form. Dancing is more than just mimicry, routine, or ritual. The dancer must strive for more than mere technical mastery. Dancing is more than just going through the motions. It demands that one be "into" it, that one's heart be "in" it.
The common element of form shared by the moral life and dance means that there must be a formgiver. In dance, the formgiver is the choreographer. In the moral life, the formgiver is God, whose will is known through nature and revelation. The existence of form and formgiver makes dance, like the moral life, not something that "is." Both dance and the moral life are activities that have an "ought" attached to them. "The minuet," the dance instructor can say, "ought to be danced like this, and not like this." For the same reason, the Church can say, "sexual activity ought to be done like this, and not like this."
The Scriptures and the Saints seem to recognize the relationship between the moral life and dance.
When the prodigal son returns home to a moral life after a life of dissipation, the Father throws a dance. (Luke 15:25).
The dance of the moral life participates in the eternal. After all, the form of the moral life--the natural moral law--participates in the Eternal Form, the Eternal Law, as St. Thomas teaches us.
In the traditional English carol, "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day," the Son of God becomes incarnate "to call my true love to my dance," is tempted by the Devil in the desert "to have me break my true love's dance," was brought before Pilate and judged "to die to lead to the dance," suffered death on the cross and the piercing of the lance "to call my true love to my dance," and will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead "that man may come unto the general dance."
In one of his letters, St. Basil refers to the dance of the angels in heaven. And the saints in Dante's Divine Comedy dance in heaven. The Paradiso is full of dance scenes. The Greek Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware describes the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as "an unceasing movement of mutual love - the 'round dance' of the Trinity." It would seem that in heaven everyone is dancing.
Since we apparently are going to be dancing in heaven, we may as well learn to dance on earth.
Let us praise His name in the moral dance (cf. Ps. 149:3)
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: morality, natural law, dance, St. Augustine
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