The Tight Rope Walker
Sr. Ruth Droege, OP, PhD
At Lourdes, our home for retired Sisters, I have been presenting a program called Spiritual Literacy obtained from Spirituality and Practice. In this program, each letter of the alphabet is assigned a quality necessary for spiritual growth. For example, A is for Attention, B is for Beauty, and so forth. Zeal for the letter Z is the last episode of the last CD in the program.
Since “Last Words” are often pregnant with meaning for those to whom they are addressed, I gave a great deal of thought as to what the connection might be between ZEAL and tight rope walking.
So that the reader may follow my line of thought, I am typing out the full episode for you.
As I climb up the rope ladder, all the way up, the wooden slates mutter to me, “if you are afraid of falling you will fall…if you believe you cannot fall, you will fall.
I listen politely, and I know it is true. Then I go out sparkling, flashing, and dance on the void. That is the challenge, the moment of hope: to dance as near to the edge of destruction as possible, to be willing to fall and still not fall.
And the audience cheers because it is beautiful. They know at this time I may fall. This is precisely what makes it beautiful for them. I have made it beautiful. Sara Maitland. From A Big Enough God.
It is not only the sequined costume, the flashy makeup, or even the dexterity of the performer that creates beauty. It is the choice of life over death that captures the attention of the audience and, for a brief moment, allows them to experience true beauty.
It seems to me that the tight rope walker’s passion for living, her love of life, her commitment to risk the choice of life over death, even though in this life both life and death are possibilities of the choice, is an amazingly accurate depiction of Zeal.
Just as the tight rope walker’s choice to dance on close to the edge of destruction as possible is beautiful, so also is the mother’s choice to conceive and birth a child, the gardener’s choice to plant seeds, the choice of a first responder to answer, a call, or the choice of a friend to truly listen. All of these choices in their own way are beautiful because they risk letting go of self-interest, they risk love.
At this point on my reflection on ZEAL, I would like to pose the question to you that Teilhard de Chardin often posed to his readers: would true zeal for creating beauty, for acting in a manner that transcends self-interest persist over a lifetime of one human or the life span of all humanity from the beginning to the end of time if there were not for some perception or vague longing for absolute BEAUTY, for everlasting LOVE, for the hope that BEAUTY AND LOVE are eternal?
Teilhard thought not. He wrote: “At all times, and in all that I have done, I am conscious that my aim has been to obtain the Absolute. I would never, I believe, have had the courage to busy myself for the sake of any other end.” Heart of Matter. P.198
It is the absolute BEAUTY in all created beauty that we seek. The tight rope walker’s dance at the edge of destruction creates beauty by her courage, her zeal. Those who perceive a transcendent Beauty in the dance may be so drawn by it that they risk, in their own way, to act beyond self-interest, to love.
In risking to love our hope, as her hope, is cantilevered on a promise of fulfillment that is both seen now darkly, as, in a mirror, that is now and is becoming, that will be fulfilled in the promise of Christ: “He who loves me will be loved by my Father. I too will love him and give myself to him.” John 15: 21.
These words of Jesus were said to his disciples on the eve of his passion, death, and resurrection. May we, in faith, hope, and love, ponder their meaning.