Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: March 20, 2004

evening

And so I was right, I had a hard time praying today. Days like this always remind me of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, in which Danny Saunders, a Hasidic Jewish teenager must endure a father who never speaks to him, except in academic conversations, and those rarely. It is why I always have a hard time praying. Though, honestly, I don’t know if it is God who is silent or I who cannot hear.

Like I said earlier, this is not a measure of my faith concerning prayer. In times of need, in times of pressing matters, I pray with a fervent and complete faith. I have no doubt God hears me. I just miss the response, the connection which one should feel during times of prayer and meditation.

The most fruitful part of the day was the hour or so I sat outside and just stared into the trees, not hiking or diverted to other tasks, just sitting. In that I felt elation growing. Then I sought to return to tasks, and felt the anxiety return, the frustration, the condemnation of every act, and nothing brought relief. It’s too late now to go kayaking I suppose.

We read the honest writings of the greats of the faith and they too had times, sometimes years, of silence, in which even while the world congratulated them they felt it all worthless before the silent God.

Not having a regular community weighs on me tonight. But there is a caveat. I still have no desire for the words of community, being surrounded by people more lax than even I am. I want people around who stir me to faith and action, who allow me to participate in their lives as I participate in there’s, without having to always retreat to the level of milk and prefaces.

I feel the weight of time on me tonight, the weight of stillness. I feel the weight of youth, with a lifetime of journeying ahead of me before I even begin to understand and act accordingly. “Do not let restless desire overcome your resolution,” Evagrius said. A commentator adds, “This section reiterates the need to avoid the pressure of friends urging lax standards. These temptations are not even friendly advise but provocations leading to self-doubts, a weakening of the will, the entertaining alternative scenarios, and eventually to assent to giving up the solitary life.”

An earlier paragraph quotes Evagrius saying, “Do not develop a habit of associating with people who are materially minded and involved in worldly affairs.” Then the same commentator adds, “live alone or associate only with the like-minded. Worldly people (that is, anyone else, whether of worldly values or just caught up in worldly business) will subject one to social pressures, vain conversation, material desires, anger, depression, scandals. This extends to parents and relatives, who will being with them their worldly affairs.”

My restless heart yearns for restless occupation, forgetting easily the words of patience, and eagerly grasping onto words of worldly possibility. I grasp on to these temptations, and given my state and decisions they mock me more than anything else, convincing me that I live such without real spiritual merit. Like someone who fasts until they can get their hands on some food.

I feel the fraud. And yet, within this are the words of promise spoken in times past, the memory of my call, of that which led me here. So, I feel what I feel, and do distrust it. I have to play this game out until the end, there is no other way of life and hope. Tomorrow is another day, and in it I shall again forget what is behind and move forward, come what may, whether good or ill, happy or sad.

Yet, with this all in mind, I can’t escape the call of the wider world, which draws me out of my ‘cell’ tomorrow. Practical aspects of spirituality call. Maybe this is exactly what I need.

My minister side thrives on helping others, and this aspect has been starved for attention in the recent past. And so, in feeling the nuance of stirring I respond, and can only pray that all is right and good. Yet, with this whispers continue, taunting me. Realization again that such as Mother Theresa and John Wesley, among many lesser knowns, heard these same whispers does not help, but it does speak that not is all as it appears, and engages me to keep my eye not on the worldly benefit which most pursue, but rather the prize that will never fade or diminish. I do that, and everything else will come into order. I keep my eyes on the everything else, and there is nothing. If I do not have faith, as the prophet says, I shall not stand.

That is my hope and my challenge in the midst of storm and tumult.

Spring is the season for birth and rebirth, for finding life, for bare branches to bud anew. This is the first day of Spring, and so I await the life which will come, in whatever way the great Giving God decides is vital for my being. I expect all things, learn to be content with no things. That too is the challenge and hope. Keep my eye on the prize and all will be well. Even if I stumble a few steps every once in a while.

morning

Morning birds sing morning songs in bright cheery voices. Webs connect house and tree, bush and ground, balcony and branch. Small, thin, flying bugs interweaving the danger. The sky is hazy, though only slightly so, another beautiful Spring day in the Southern California mountains.

Spring came last night, officially, the sun showering down equally upon north and south. By this point, it’s preferring the north a little, a very, very little. Though the birds do not know the position of the sun relative to the earth in any precise way, they and the squirrels know the season of birth and rebirth is upon us.

On my mind this morning, from my first waking moment was and is prayer. I feel called to pray. This is a discipline for me, to be sure. While there are some who delight in focused prayer, spending hours in conversation with the divine, it has always been hard for me. I believe in prayer, fully and completely, expecting that when I pray for others God does hear. I expect him to respond in some way. For myself, I know, prayers for calm and peace, connecting and restoration are also effective. And yet, with all of this, my regular prayer life is one punctuated by forgetfulness and strained effort. Partly, I have sought to resolve this difficulty in the past by seeking out others to pray with, to enjoin together the conversation. In an evangelical church, however, prayer is too often pooh-poohed for more effective efforts like meetings and ministry. Regular daily gathered prayer is not an interest, and so I am where I began, knowing I need this, knowing also I need fellow travelers to encourage this most important of tasks.

Over the years I am more and more confident in the power and worth of prayer, knowing also that the one who wishes our destruction is likewise similarly aware, and so has effectively diminished the role of prayer.

And yet, still I struggle, easily disturbed, more easily diverted, I spend more time thinking about prayer than praying. I see it before me, and it is a barrier to another level of being. If I can embrace this, envelop myself in it, not just as regular petitioning, but as a part of my breath and soul.

I am told my people who knew him, that V. Raymond Edman, president of Wheaton College during the mid-twentieth century would pray daily for every student and staff of the college by name. He would wake up at four thirty, and not stop until he finished, with some saying that it was exhausting a process to join him. When asked why, he replied, “If God knows me by name, I should pray for others by name.” All who knew him speak with emotional words the holiness of this man.

I have a hard time praying for a few friends, and spending even an hour in focused prayer. I excuse this, at times, by saying I am always in prayer, the pattern of my life keeps me focused on God in a way which is itself a ‘prayer’ of sorts. This isn’t the same, however, for the holy among us have the latter and the former.

It is a wall to me, another rung on the ladder which I have not reached. And so, that thought in mind, I continue my day, seeking to add where I am at a loss, to gain what has been low, to strive where my nature depresses.

More than one day, however, is this pattern. It is a life, and one which will define me above all if I choose to respond to this vague yearning within me. I honestly do not know if I will. I know I can… but the enemy seeks to dull me, no more than in this area. So I shall stand, and see what happens. And… I think I will pray now.

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