After auditions for the annual local production of The Nutcracker, my young daughter was anxiously awaiting the posting of the cast list. She hoped to acquire the role of one of the party girls, or perhaps be cast in the Chinese Tea dance. As she heard that not all dancers would even get a role, she eventually just hoped to get any part. Finally, a week or so went by and the list was posted at the dance studio. I drove her over and she ran inside and came back after a few minutes. She looked a bit down, and I was trying to prepare a little encouraging speech in my head, preparing for the worst.
“I’m a sheep,” she announced, disappointed. She went on to say that it felt like a babyish part and felt, once again, like people treated her as much younger than her eleven years. I decided to overlook her negativity and congratulated her on getting a spot in the production! After all, she did get what she wanted, a chance to participate and enjoy all the related festivities. As we drove home, I asked her what she remembered from last year about the part of the sheep. As she described the role, I remembered being enchanted as an audience member by those dear sheep. I recalled that there were only 4 sheep total, compared to the 15 or so dancers on stage for the party scene and the Chinese Tea. I also remembered that the song went on for quite some time, 2 and half minutes compared to a minute or so for the Chinese dance, and the role required actual ballet technique, compared to other parts where the dancers just walked prettily or jumped around. “Wait a second,” I said. “Do you mean to tell me that you are disappointed over a role where the casting director trusts you to actually dance, for quite awhile, with only 4 others (Bo Peep and the 3 other sheep) on stage at the same time?” She started to smile a little smile, and her excitement over her role grew and grew….
It reminds me of S.C. Biela’s description of the helpless sheep in his book, In the Arms of Mary. At first thought, this sheep without a shepherd doesn’t seem to be something to be desired. But, spiritually speaking, Jesus is moved by these helpless sheep:
Those who recognize their own weakness and helplessness
and trustfully await everything from God
are likened to, in the Gospel, the “sheep without a shepherd.”
the relationship of Jesus to such persons is very special –
since going out of His way in meeting their expectations,
the Good Shepherd is disposed to make for them
an additional effort,
and even to perform miracles.
(S.C. Biela, In the Arms of Mary, 2nd ed., rev.[Ft. Collins, CO: IAMF, 2005], 59)
St. Mark’s Gospel (Mk 6: 30-34) describes Jesus wanting to get away and pray, but the people were coming in great numbers, hurrying after Him, and his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. He taught them and eventually, because of their trust and thirst for Him, even performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes for them.
I have been struggling with my spiritual attitude lately….neglecting my prayer life, relying on myself to accomplish the tasks of the day, getting my responsibilities done, but not always with love and charity, so therefore rendering them worthless. As I reflect on my daughter’s initial response to being a sheep, and how it transformed to one of great joy, I find a renewed desire to be ok with being the helpless sheep. In fact, I am learning that in trying to be the strong sheep, I do not call out for Christ or attract His attention at all. I am encouraged by the direction I find here:
Try to begin the day with the prayer of the helpless sheep:
kneel before the Lord and in the presence of the Crucified
Jesus, or before another of His images, pray with the prayer
of empty hands or with a focused gaze directed at the
Cross. Remain in the presence of Jesus with the attitude of
the helpless sheep. This prayer should accompany you
throughout your whole day….
…You are the last one, dragging yourself – your prayer is so poor, you are accompanying Jesus in such a terrible manner. It does not matter!
It is critical that you put your hope totally in Him,
when in response to your attitude, God fills you with His presence, then,…
…you await everything from Him…
…You can also discover more fully the truth that God really loves the
sinner in a special way,
and the truth about the lost sheep whom the Shepherd carries on His shoulders.
(S.C. Biela, In the Arms of Mary, 2nd ed., rev.[Ft. Collins, CO: IAMF, 2005], 78)
Surely I will view the Nutcracker performance this year in a whole new light, especially watching Bo Peep and the little sheep in Act II!