Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: March 29, 2004

evening

Apparently it is very hot in the valleys of southern California. In the mountains is it wonderful, cool and breezy, now dark and cool. There are some aspects I miss about Pasadena. The climate is not one of them.

For some reason the steller’s jays decided to expose their rather broad vocabulary. While sitting inside, engaged in other tasks, I kept looking up to see what new birds had come. Always it was a jay, speaking in tones and gurgles I had not heard, pleasant sounds, sounds of Spring. Tonight, though, all is quiet. And I am getting sleepy as I write.

My day was spent in fruitful pursuits. For a long time I have been stuck, not in everything, just with the particular piece of fiction I’m trying to work through. It’s a story of the spiritual life. Because of illness and other things, I have lost the rhythm and flow of the tale, the plot has dried up in my head, though I know where I want to eventually go. Rather than dwelling today any longer, I switched tacks, finding that if I cannot force out a plot I need to at least renew my rhythm. If I can get into a flow, lovely things happen. So, I turned to older pursuits, like a musician practicing scales. I imagine this will work out nicely. Like always spending a few hours of writing fiction in the morning always turns my heart to joy. When for whatever reason I don’t get to this, even when I spend an otherwise productive day, I feel my peace slipping away. So, I must keep at it, and add all the other aspects as well, of which there are many. The more enjoyable activities, besides writing, put me outside, where my soul also rises, and my very being expands. I was made, I think, for communing with nature and the Divine. Now if only I could make a fruitful living, all would be just fine.

One of my tasks, and I do see it as a task, has been to work my way through the Da Vinci Code. My first impression was that it would not make it out of a freshman composition class, the writing is very juvenile. The story is fast paced however, with some twists and turns. I’m reading it because my sister-in-law asked if I would, for she read it after a co-worker suggested it. Needless to say it’s not the most orthodox of books. That’s fine with me. A couple of degrees in higher education have made me used to most every kind of argument for and against my own beliefs. I have no fear, because I’ve waded through most of them.

But this is a little different. There are points which are arguable, and some which are just plain silly. But, underneath this all I sense there is more to Dan Brown than a search for a rousing tale. He’s couching something in his fiction, something that I can’t quite put my fingers around, but which has a distinctive smell to it, one which is very old. Well, maybe I can put a term to it… good old fashioned gnosticism. It’s a celebration of the hodge-podge, taking from many sources and putting them into a pile of intelligent sounding religiosity. It only sounds like it, because whatever topic is pursued one quickly finds how plain made up most of the facts were. That though isn’t my present concern.

It just occurred to me in reading this how much we have lost, or more precisely how much we have which we don’t know. All the battles we fight today were fought thousands of years ago by folks more erudite than we. It is a shame, maybe even something insidious, we ignore these texts. Before the Church ever had power to force its way, it had intelligence and passion and scholarship, to prove its truth. I was reminded of this, and maybe this with some other things, are doing a good service to me, renewing my zeal for these ancient truths.

Irenaeus, came to my mind, and so I picked up his volume on the various heresies. Despite the best efforts of some professors to make me find Irenaeus distasteful, I still value the words he opens his great text with, and with these I shall end the day, for they are more fitting than anything I could say:

Inasmuch as certain men have set the truth aside, and bring in lying words and vain genealogies, which, as the apostle says, “minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith,” and by means of their craftily-constructed plausibilities draw away the minds of the inexperienced and take them captive, I have felt constrained, my dear friend, to compose the following treatise in order to expose and counteract their machinations. These men falsify the oracles of God, and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation. They also overthrow the faith of many, by drawing them away, under a pretence of superior knowledge, from Him who founded and adorned the universe; as if they had something more excellent and sublime to reveal, than that God who created the heaven and the earth, and all things that are therein. By means of specious and plausible words, they cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them, while they initiate them into their blasphemous and impious opinions respecting their version of god; and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from truth.

Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself.

I could go on copying his words, they are so apt. Worthwhile pursuits to read, to be sure, and I am finding myself more eager than I have in years to do just that. It is easy to sell our souls for temporary gain. It is more wonderful though to try and hold on, giving ourselves only to those tasks which merit eternal reward. I’m learning this, and it is taking time. Maybe in sixty years I will finally understand.

morning

For the first time since Winter took hold I look out in the growing light and see robins, with their bright orange chests, bouncing around the ground. A raven flies low through the neighborhood, landing on a dirt driveway, and pecks for some morsels. Jays screech, faint clouds block the sun’s bright glow.

I wake and pray, feeling again strongly not just the need for such, also the demand. It is the turn of the path for me, one which I must embrace, finally. Prayer is something which has marked my own relationship with God. There have been times, to be sure, I doubted its efficacy. There have been times in which the depths of my soul cried out with all my being, forcing me to field or forest to find relief through holy outburst. Most of the time, however, I walk with a belief in prayer and a continual battle to continue its practice. I pray for those who I say I will pray for, taking those words seriously, only I do not sustain my prayers, nor do I often enter into the rhythm of conversation which marks the truly advanced.

A weight descends, one which brings distraction and frustration, wondering if I speak empty words to a deaf god. Part of me knows I speak effective words, surprising if there is not an answer, the other part highlights my own present confusion. God’s heavy hand guides and protects, it also limits and suspends. So I feel the weight, and wish to not dwell in places of mystery nor enter anymore into realms which have not yet presented answers.

The modern church speaks much of prayer, and does little of it. I, a product of my generation, wish to also pursue the doing rather than the being, trusting practically more in my own abilities to act and produce than in the quiet, sustained trust in the Three-in-One. Prayer becomes a marker, a signpost that the surrounding tasks shall have an air of holiness, a task which has more of the symbolic than real conversation.

This fact is why, I think, that prayer is sought in schools, that the ten commandments are placed in courtrooms, and other religious symbols are foisted upon believers and nonbelievers. They are symbols of the divine, decorations of the religious, marking a territory for the Christian much as a dog urinates on a tree or hydrant to establish his ownership.

Those who dwell most deeply in the realms of Light, however, have no interest in the disciplines as symbols. Fasting is hidden, prayer is focused, Scripture is withheld from swine. There is no need to mark territory for the truly spiritual, for all is known to be of God and nothing must be proved. They are sought and pursued because they are efficacious in resolving confusion and forging paths.

We do not do, instead proclaiming to the world that which we want to do, that which we are called to do, feeling some measure of satisfaction in highlighting that others do these even worse than we do. Our delight becomes not in the full pursuit of God, rather it has an anemic joy in comparison, in highlighting the lack of others. So we bounce around talking of prayer, focusing on evangelism, eager to do those things which make us feel good and right, even if we do not have a great deal to show for it.

The true Christian way has an air of ruthless practicality to it, which by nature despises show and anathematizes a religious circus. We do what expands, and discard quickly what merely sustains our own vain sense. In prayer alone can we realign ourselves before God, and thus walk the direct, practical path which is our calling.

The sun, right now, has emerged above the line of trees to the east, and shines full upon my face, warming and delighting my flesh and spirit. Hidden during the winter months, it emerges now in Spring, bringing bright light to where there was only dull glow. It makes me smile. I don’t know why.

Prayer which has been lost as the hallmark of the Church has become nothing more than a shibboleth for many. Which is why suggestions that prayer be a daily gathered task is not just met with doubt, but confused looks which betray an understanding that many other things are better uses of time. Meetings, reading, coffee, administrative tasks, tasks of all kinds are excuses to keep from praying. Yet it is prayer which defined the earliest communities.

And so I learn again, having known in my heart and mind, having fought this battle for many years, that prayer is not just a part of the Christian life. There is nothing else. Outside of prayer all is waste. Only with prayer does what we do become sanctified. Patrick, the saint, is the great reminder of this. He who prayed ‘a hundred times a day, and almost as much at night’ went to Ireland and converted a nation, from paganism to Truth, not by war but by revealing the Power of the Gospel. One man, through prayer, did what hundreds cannot do simply through their own passion and desires.

There is nothing more important to the Christian life than prayer. There is no other way under heaven which marks the truly spiritual, and separates the Holy from the carnal. We have become a carnally minded Church, our eyes solely on the palpable. To be fully the Church, however, is to be a people who pray, who pray continually.

I awoke today with a charge to pray, a delight to pray, and facing myself east, on my knees, I did pray. Trusting in the one who hears, and asking for the perseverance to continue and grow. There is no other way. Prayer to the Three-in-One is the Way.

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