Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: March 30, 2004


I walk outside for my evening gaze and am surprised to see my breath. So, I breathe in deep, and exhale deeply, watching the faint fog rise. Jupiter is high to the east, Arcturus shines through the branches of the tall cedar, soon to be my only large tree remaining near. The sky is not very clear, making me guess the moon is shining, or else some hazy layer has come. Neither can I see, I can only tell that the sky is not as dark as it has been.

Every once in a while I get annoyed by reading something new. No, not the thing I mentioned last night. A friend loaned to me volume six of Merton’s journals. I’ve always appreciated Merton, citing him as one of the few latter day spiritual writers. The fact is, though, I’ve only read one book of his, New Seeds of Contemplation. It was lying in the backseat of a friend’s jeep one fine afternoon before I began seminary. So, I started reading it, and then asked to borrow it, finally buying my own copy, which is somewhere around this room, though I’m not sure where.

It made a big impact on me. I forget why. One of those books where I appreciate it because I absorbed it into myself. Willard’s earlier writings had the same effect, as did Yancey, both of which I now find not as fun reads. Merton, though, I loved, because of fond memories and vague, but important, insights at a crucial time in my own spiritual development.

So, in being stuck with my own fiction, this friend mentioned Merton had some insights. The journal was borrowed, and after a week or so, I’ve finally gotten to look at it. Which brings me around again. It bothers me.

Not for any good reason, really it’s a bad reason. I’ve never read his journals before, and so I was irritated to see that he opens most of his entries with thoughts on the nature around him. A more mature person would say, “Ah, he does it as well” and be content with the shared response. My mind, selfish and vain, says, “People will think I’m copying his style.” Who these ‘people’ are I have not a clue. Especially given the fact that very few go through the effort of reading, let alone reading Merton’s journals. Still, it sticks in my craw.

I remind myself of the standard adage that if we think we are original we just haven’t read enough. Nothing is new under the sun. Which I knew, and expect, just don’t want to be found as one who is seeking some kind of artificiality to substitute for my own drives.

In a way, it’s nice. He’s not the worst of models, and it is a point of pride to think I was following his style before I knew it was his style. And it is such a minor point of the writing anyhow. Only, it does speak to an inner fault of my own.

Originality is something I want, yearn for, need. I don’t want to pick up pieces of others, I have no desire to duplicate the work that has gone around or before. I don’t know if it’s a creative drive, or a prideful search for my own importance. I do know it has given me problems. To get started in this world one cannot insist upon originality at the beginning. People resent such presumption, especially if they make their mark in this world by parroting.

So, I notice and am bothered, and am bothered I’m bothered. A vicious circle. The only way through is to finish off Merton, and wade through my own irritation at his genius and creativity.

Why do I write about what I see outside to begin these daily thoughts? Because it makes me notice. More than that it makes me aware of my surroundings, finding (hopefully) nuances in the sameness, forcing my being to become in better tune with what is around, if even for a moment. Creation speaks of the Creator, and in noticing the shape of a flower, the song of a bird, the movement of wind through trees we taste of truths which are far beyond our contemplation, reminding us of the character of God.

When I feel the dross of the day collecting, I stop and I look and listen. When I come to this, it makes me put down those tools which had occupied my mind, and forces me to look inward and outward, encouraging my focus for good or ill. I often will think I do not need to look, always though I say it is both a discipline and delight. It is the marker of my spiritual gaze. So that is how I write.

Today was spent doing more pastoral tasks than I’ve done in a day for quite a while. Not working with people, rather doing the same kind of preparation as I had done in churches, seemingly so long ago. The results will be apparent in a week or so. It felt good, and the time went by quickly. I would gladly do this full time, if anyone would have me. Only, it comes back to that earlier point, my drive for originality, and my overarching frustration with inefficiency. I haven’t the politics in me to play the game as I should, to earn my way to welcomed contribution. I know nothing else, though, so I pray that in continuing down the path I am on, I shall eventually forge my own way in this world. Well, not I, I pray, rather the Spirit in me.

We’ll see what comes of it all.


All manner of flying things are busy this morning, whether birds, or flies, or bees. The air is filled with movement and sound. A light breeze, delightful blows, bringing cool air, the sun is hazy behind thin clouds over the horizon.

Curiously, I feel much the same way. I added what I hope to be another aspect of my devotional life yesterday, one that seeks to take seriously the call of prayer for my life. A year ago, I would have thought of all these things, and likely even began various tasks, hoping to restore that which I desired to have. Only now, though, after several months of persistent seeking after peace, do these things rise out of my soul. I add them not because I want to, but because I cannot not do them. It is a restoration of my instincts, not an exercise of my devotion. Piece by piece I put together this puzzle.

A day in the sun yesterday leaves me with a delightful weariness, my skin a little redder now, my body in need of fluids. So, I go a little slower today, getting to my tasks, climbing the daily rungs.

There is movement, there is progress, there is a point to all of this. However, it is not that which those who are carnally minded can perceive. Which is why I too have occasional trouble perceiving as well.

The day begins.

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