Friday, June 11, 2010

Freedom and Discipline

In rejoinder to my depressing post on being tired and fat, here's a clip from Tom Howard's excellent book On Being Catholic:

It is the paradox in which obedience to rules, renunciation of various pleasures, and discipline turn out to be the very tactics by which freedom is gained. And further, it is the paradox in which this hard-won freedom turns out to be synonymous with joy and magnificence and perfection and beauty.

We may see these paradoxes at work at a thousand points. The ballet, for example: How has that ballerina achieved this supple and glorious mastery? Oh, would that my body looked like that and that I had the freedom to execute those breathtaking movements. How do they do it?

By obedience and renunciation and discipline. There is no other way. Thousands of hours, year after year, giving up this pleasure and that food, exercising in utter obscurity, placing oneself wholly under the rigorous direction of the master.

And the fruit of all that? Mastery. Control. Beauty. Perfection. And not only for the dancers themselves. The rest of us are the beneficiaries. Their prowess brings us joy. It hails us with truth in one of its modes, namely, the truth that attaches to man as body. In some sense, the form exhibited by Adam, new-made from clay, is a true form. We feel that the bodies of dancers are reminiscent of that form. The rest of us, full of potato chips and sour cream dips and nachos grande, must make shift to hobble about, wheezing and grunting, hauling our tremulous torsos and abdomens in and out of cars and up and down the stairs. Ah, would that I could move like that dancer, we mourn.


The paradox, of course, could be chased all through the fabric of human life. The freedom to do something is not easily won. The greater the perfection sought, the greater must be the remorselessness of our own self-abandon to the discipline that constitutes the steps up to the summit where freedom reigns in great bliss.

... Concupiscence has undone us.

Now Howard is moving into asceticism and love in this chapter titled, "Catholics and Freedom" - being schooled in Charity and the work involved, but his analogy is precise and apt for me today, especially in light of my recent foray into self-pity.

Since I am speaking of the book, I would highly recommend it. It is perhaps the best modern book written by a convert that I have so far read ("modern" so as not to compare it to such great works as St. Augustine's Confessions, or even to Chesterton's Orthodoxy) about what it means to be Catholic. There are issues that I have with parts of it, but overall it is well-written and beautiful and non-confrontational and certainly worth your time.

1 comment:

kkollwitz said...

"renunciation of various pleasures, and discipline turn out to be the very tactics by which freedom is gained."

How true. I base this on having given up TV 14 Lents ago, and not going back. Amazing.

And more amazing is the idea that giving up a good thing can also be good.