Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: April 21, 2004


I love the stillness of night in the mountains. The contrast between here and the city still amazes me. When the sun goes down all noise and activity stills, people retreat into their homes. It is quiet. I’m a big fan of quiet, of peace. Only the birds make noise, echoing over the hills and valleys.

Not sleeping all night tends to deflate one’s focus. It was really a day of rest, though I got some things accomplished. Finally, I can get back onto the lake. My permit expired, and I had not renewed it. I debated whether to wait, only I realized being out there is more than just a treat. There is a boon to my soul to go and paddle around for a few hours, a few times a week. I don’t know if it is the sun or the exercise, or the freedom I feel. I write better– I write–when I have that. Running isn’t the same, I don’t know why. Maybe there is a primal draw of water and current which my very blood finds invigorating. I don’t know.

Nothing remains to be said, this was not a day for very much at all. I tend to work on weekends, so I don’t fret over a day like this… as long as it does in fact help to regain focus.

I miss my friends tonight, to be honest. I regret the distance of time and thought which seems to interfere. I’m not sure where the answers to those issues lie, for I’m not sure what else I could have done. That is the question though continually before me. What am I willing to sacrifice in order to find Christ. Jesus said, “Who are my mothers and brothers?” For even family he was willing to push aside in order to attain his calling. Fortunately, thankfully, family is not a sacrifice for me, they stand by more than anyone. But the rest.. what can I do? It is a choice. And I made it.

There is a tendency to feel blame at first, to assail people for not understanding, for not ‘being there’ through thick and thin.

A hermit said, ‘When you flee from the company of other people, or when you despise the world and wordlings, take care to do so as if it were you who was being idiotic.

This is something I am learning, and did not do. It is humility, and humbling. That is the chief of the lessons. For pride sucks out the spirituality at every turn unless we learn how to see ourselves before God. If pride is dismissed, none of the vices can mount a successful invasion. Pride is such a wonderfully tasting delicacy, one which is hard to put down.

So, I learn this, and relearn this, and learn it yet some more, until it goes beyond just a mental acceptance like so much of my theology, and becomes a true part of my character. I have many faults, but that is one which will bite me the most. It is the chief sin, the one which all the others find their strength.

No one likes humility, or to be humbled. It’s such a degrading process. I feel that now, and feel the reasons for my state, and my lack of ability to move outside of this present current. I deserve more than this, more than many of the people I know. That’s the trouble, I have to get over this expectation. At the end of that road, there is a large measure of peace. I see that now, but still would rather skip it, and embrace that which feeds my carnal self. God knows this, and so has me hedged in. I’m not sure why. No use grumbling about it. That didn’t do the Israelites any good.

So, I am learning not to have expectations, to consider my tasks as the odd choice, without pressure for those I used to know to accept my decisions, or the path I’ve been led along. I want company, to be sure, but that is an issue which God alone can engineer. I have to do my part, whatever that is, and be thankful about it. I’m learning… I’m learning…

I add this an hour later, still awake. I hate the gift of discernment. It gives me moods and feelings I cannot explain, making me doubt and wander, only later finding out why. My grandmother fell this afternoon and is in the hospital now. It is not serious, apparently, just enough to be treated as such. Other things happened which I cannot see, only feel, the spiritual world so much more vast and interconnected than our own. I feel what I cannot see. That brings no end of frustrations, though also the occasional delight, I pray for more of the latter. Stories and tales which I am a part and not a part are being written, digging into mines buried. That is creating a stir, and one which I must be watchful about. There is much more to spirituality than disciplines or insightful words about modern trends. The real part is the unseen, that which we do all the rest in order to gain some strength and perseverance in dealing with. That is the real importance of the Desert Fathers and early church writings… they were more cognizant of this than we are, and spelled out that which we dare not. This may be the gift of postmodernity… a willingness to again engage that which is beyond our simple minds, and move past the locked gates which modernity built. The intellect is a small part of the Christian life, not because it is not important or without worth, but because the wider world in which we live cannot be grasped my souls and minds as small as ours, so those deeper instincts come in to their own.

I pray for peace and healing tonight, for there are victims in this war we all wage.


A light mist fills the sky, the sun struggles to emerge. Early sounds of chainsaws distract, though not too much. I sit and watch a raven, large as a hawk, spiral over the small valley in front of me. Yesterday, in my run through the hills, I followed a raven for a while. It did not seem to want to be close to me, and yet I kept after it, amusing myself. The Spring air is cold, a chill breeze blows. Most of the brown which filled the views on all sides are gone, only a few remaining dead pines. This is now a cedar and oak forest, with some firs thrown in for flavor.

Squirrels run around the stumps, curious about what happened to the trees they recently climbed.

I sit, a little distracted, debating my tasks for the day. I feel called to write (whether anyone else feels I’m called to do this remains to be seen), and yet my last two weeks have been filled with a great deal other than writing. The lack, the distance, is in my soul. I’m very thankful for this present purpose, it keeps me from being completely distant. Yet, I am not without excuse. They are many and varied, and not so bad.

Oddly, enough, the last week it has been a lot of computer diversions. Somewhere along the line I got to know computers a little bit, and am pressed to learn more. I didn’t expect this, didn’t want this. I’m content when the power is off, I love nothing more than to run through wild hills, off the trails, under and around thick brush. That is my soul. The computer stuff is something which is before me.

Some of it is my own. A great deal is me helping those who are stuck by the side of the road. I’m around, they need help, I’m able to provide it. This is a wonderful image for more substantial hurts, I’m learning it applies to any form of help. We are not called to seek just for ourselves, we are called to assist, to enable, to provide ease to those who God has also called. This may mean going to poverty stricken Africa, it may mean helping those who are around us now. Too many I know will forsake the ones they walk by in order to help those in distant nations. I suffer extended family issues for partly this reason.

The tasks are not supposed to always entertain or provide benefit, either financially or for our pride, they are to help a person who needs help. I’ve been doing that, in ways I don’t appreciate, but for people I do value and can see great things coming from their efforts, efforts aided by my own.

It’s a vague sense right now, one I can’t quite explain. Suffice it to say the selfish world in which we live has always it’s first priority to prove ourselves, to attain our desires before we help others. The Christian life is about service, placing others first. Sometimes we are given the opportunity to help the really needy, and get proper acclamation for doing so. Sometimes we are called to just help those in need. The Christian life interlocks people, or at least it should, so that our weaknesses and strengths mingle together, moving forward as a whole. The Church seems set up to demand only our strengths, and makes us feel terrible about our weaknesses. So in order to be involved we seem to have to already be fixed… though those who seem fixed are just those whose strengths match the present idea of Church, and whose weaknesses resonate as weaknesses of the church as a whole.

To be honest, I don’t feel a need to prove myself. I am capable and sharp, with a good sense of self worth (God loves me, so why should I not?). There is not a sense that I need to prove my abilities or justify myself before God and man. Yet, in not feeling these I walk in a way which desires to do what is right, and find solitude in the quest.

I could have leaped out and away, showing myself a fine fellow to a world that values the anemic qualities of men whose only talent is manipulating money. Instead I chose to stop and wait and walk besides those who needed me, and I learned I need as well. There are bonds which go beyond money, and we forget these too easy.

Yet, I feel the need to ‘make it’, to in fact justify myself, if only to prove that I’m not off base. The idea that God blesses those who walk with him is not removed from my mind, even though I’m aware that this doesn’t always work out as we think it should.

There is only that to do which is before me. When the trails twists and turns, we go with it. If we have leaped into the raging river, we are pulled along with the current, into the rapids, into the calm. We don’t tell the trail where to go, we don’t maneuver the river as we float. So, I pray for wisdom, for guidance, for, my biggest prayer right now, freedom. Having prayed, and continue to pray, I trust God is indeed answering the prayer. The tasks before me are all I can do, and the only way I can move forward. I see nothing beyond today, and pray for peace and my daily bread.


I woke up with the wind. Branches danced in the early light of the sun, bright greens bouncing and shaking. I watched for a while this natural rhythm, feeling joy in it, feeling an odd sense of purpose. There is delight in watching cedar branches sway in a heavy wind, one which speaks to parts of my soul my intellect cannot capture.

The weight of last night still rests on me, however, as an unusual insomnia struck, leaving me awake and not wanting to be there, until almost dawn. I struggle to understand its nuances, not knowing if it is acedia or a drive to new directions.

That is the task for the day, to be sure, a figuring out of what is going on, a re-analysis of my place and purpose. Tasks begun are likely needing to be restarted, other tasks need to be put aside, enlivening activities demand attention. I have been here six months now, and feel like I am only beginning to see. This troubles me.

So, I must pray and seek wisdom, counsel, direction. Asking for prayer, doing those things which may or may not be right trails. Wishing for peace, for rest, asking for freedom. I do a number of things which people get paid for, and find my work to be without practical reward. That is a burden. For I work, and still must justify myself to verses which say a person should not eat if they do not work. I weary of no confirmation, no progress, no answers, and no practical encouragement. Some people are kind in their words… my soul needs to find more than words.

There is only forward, as I have said, so that is the direction I will try and go today.

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