Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: March 18, 2004

evening

I feel anxious in my heart, and I don’t know why. Since earlier this afternoon I was bothered by noise, by some vibe I could not identify. My fan fell, and broke, pieces flying out while the motor still spun. It is a restlessness, an impatience, without focus. Maybe I just need to go for a long run tomorrow. A week more of another form of the same cold kept me inside, my head throbbing from sinuses overfilled. So, now that I feel better… again… my body cries out for action, for movement, for exercise. I do not know if this is it, I just know that because of my inactivity I am now unsure. If we can address the causes of distraction that narrows down the sense, crossing off the usual suspects and letting us find the real culprit. In letting things slide, even for good cause, we lose that sense.

This is why the physical meditation of the Eastern religions have much going for them. By settling the body, they seek to settle the soul. Christian life has too long been caught up in the dismissal of the body, ignoring our full selves. Wesley, of course, held very strongly to daily physical activity, it was part of his spiritual discipline. I don’t read of this in the current texts. Too much is made of the mystical acts, without regard to the simple physical responses, interacting with ourselves, pushing our bodies, letting our souls enlarge through activity.

It is a good lesson, and one which I shall certainly keep in mind. Especially in our era of little forced physicality we most go the extra length to engage the fullness of who we are. But now it is too late.

A jet flies over, the cool mountain air brings instant ease to my heart. I gaze at saplings, a crowd of them on the hill, seeking their way in this world. Some are small pines, fighting what may be a losing cause in this environment.

To be honest, there are times in which I am delighted to write, and times in which the discipline of the act kicks in, for I am more eager to sit and stare. This is one of those latter moments, when engaging these words feels awkward and empty. It is not, of course, the discipline keeping me where I need to be, helping even if it does not come out of my soul. I pray God will give me peace, and help me wade through this unsettled time, for whatever reason it may be arising, whether through confusion about or troubles within.

morning

I look to my right and see the sun rising through the trees, the bright orb now revealed to my place of work, if even for a moment. A group of jays, newly awake chatter, and bounce from branch to branch, laying shadows in the light of the low sun. Brightened by the glow, some small flies circle around the cedar, white dots in motion. It seems restful outside, peaceful.

I sit this morning in similar mood, reflecting further on my thoughts of last night, thoughts which found addressing in my reading of Cassian this morning. He spends several pages on the vice of envy and the poison it causes. I am quick to discern myself in his warning, though at the same time not condemning my being. I am not yet lost, indeed, I feel the weight of this in the moment because it is my task to find and root out the vices, replacing them with the virtues. If nothing else from this time I hope to grow in that. So in the quiet of a retreated lifestyle the noise within becomes loud — though how it compares to others I do not know.

Earlier in the year, in beginning this website, I felt struck by the reality of vainglory, its prevalence and encouragement in the wider web. So, this realization first struck me, then made me watchful. I am a sailor caught in many storms. After a while training and experience help to weather what once would have destroyed. Having been shipwrecked at times on the rocks of my own sins, I know am better at reading the signs, at responding with the appropriate measure. So too the warning of yesterday was like red skies in the morning. Trouble was afoot, and I must keep my wits about me.

At this moment the brush beneath my balcony rustles with exploded movement, I turn my eyes. A squirrel runs furiously up a tree, a coyote in pursuit close behind. The squirrel stops in a branch halfway up, the coyote goes to our steps, stands and looks at the squirrel, seemingly nonchalant. It is a smaller coyote, young or female. I go outside the front door, it is gone. The squirrel is on the edge of a limb, chattering in nervousness, having barely escaped with its life, tapping its paw on the limb, warning other squirrels there is danger about. It continues to chatter.

Like I was saying, in Cassian I read, “I shall not be able to be troubled by anyone, however malicious he may be, if I do not fight against myself with a turbulent heart. But if I am hurt, it is not the fault of another’s attack but of my own impatience.” A truth so clearly shown by Christ on his way to the cross, showing patience and love in the midst of evil against him.

He also wrote a little earlier… “Virtues, however, are begotten not by hiding one’s vices but by fighting them.” Not to indulge anymore… but it’s nice to read in a master something similar to what I wrote. Makes me feel like I am in fact learning something.

In all of this is the realization that no one is responsible for my sin or vice other than me. A perfect heart is unimpeded by sin all around, and only weakness allows in disturbances. This can be true for all the vices, from envy to lust. So quick are we to blame others for our failings we become mired together in a tar pit. My only real enemy is within. I win this fight, with the power and grace of God in me, and nothing can overthrow my virtues. That is the challenge of course, and why like a boxer we train by sparring. Our sensibilities want us to avoid these frightful realities, and yet our life and wholeness depend not on fleeing but in overcoming at each step, until the slightest bit of impurity has been washed away, and we can then be lights to this world, as Christ was and as he calls us to be.

The root of bitterness which is within has taken a firm hold on parts of my being. I’ve fed it at times, starved it at others, knowing it lurks underneath. Though difficult, I must face it down, and come to terms with those people and incidents which gave cause. Had I been stronger then I would not have allowed it in. In my burgeoning strength now I face the harder task of disposing of it. This is though a task I must fulfill if I am to find myself further along the Way. A good lesson, and a reminder that I am a man in training. For what I don’t know, I only know what God expects of me. To him be the glory and honor.

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