Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: April 28, 2004

evening

It is noisy outside. Loud with the wind, blowing strong as it has all the day. Gusts and calm intersperse, a warm day turned cool by the moving air. I love the wind, it makes me wonder. In the middle of tasks, I turn and watch, thinking about the Spirit, watching entranced by the rattling branches. Birds stayed low today, singing songs without flying very much. Coyotes scream with the wind, a science fiction sound, yelping mixing together with an almost electronic edge, sounding almost like voices, announcements over a bad microphone. A branch of an oak scrapes against my roof, squeaking on the shingles.

This was not my most succesful of days, tasks of cleaning and arranging never fill my soul with joy or delight. Tasks I have been wanting done are now done, so it was not a day wasted, though it was a day away from that which fills.

I was thinking today about the Christian life, the calls which we are to heed, the commandments we are to follow. There is nothing higher than to help a neighbor, very little has more import. I consider this because of my own goals and tasks, the inward looking life, which seems to stumble far too often. The outward life, working for and towards others is that which is the highest call. So, how do I justify being here and not there, wherever there might be.

I don’t.

To be honest, I looked, I tried to go outward, to seek to find a place where I could participate in works of goodness. I wasn’t invited to join. I kept looking, offering, suggesting. Then more nothing, until I came here, the only door open, coming here about two months after I really needed to come here.

The inward life is not something to yearn for, I think. We are called to look outward, to help, to assist. Yet, the highest call of all is obedience. For if we are not obedient we help no one. Why did Joseph stay in prison? Why was David in those caves? What kept Patrick praying during the years of slavery, and then the confusion of returning home?

This is not a life which one plans, or should. The inward life, that which the monks call the highest calling, is somewhere a person ends up, finding after a struggle that God wants us for his own, to stop and listen and learn, retreating from the fray for reasons only he knows, and he keeps a firm hand grasping hold to keep one from drifting.

I yearn today to be a part, to have a part, to participate. Not for money, that is not my heart, for the feeling that I am walking rightly, justifying myself to myself, and only then to others. There is a sense of doing which gives far mor measure to the soul than waiting. And yet… we often are called to sit, to wait, to endure not because we wish to, but because that is the way God has for us.

Stopping us, holding us back, keeping us from realizing our potential, so that he can be realized through us. So much of the Christian life as seen now is people using Christian terms for human power, focusing the same skills in a religious direction, pleasing the parishioners rather than the stockholders.

Yet the book of Acts tells us of power beyond power, and tells us the path of holiness. Stop and wait until the Spirit calls, Jesus said.

I wish I was even waiting well. Trapped between what I want and where I am, I find no peace, no glory in either task. I stumble along, bruising and cutting myself, rather than finding my feet walking a steady path.

This is not a path I would recommend, or even honor to very much degree. It results in maturity, maybe, a better finish than beginning, assuring that once started it will go to the end. Yet, I yearn to flash in the moment, to find brightness in the now, to take up that which I tasted and become. The thought stirs and depresses. For it is not within my grasp anymore, and I am glad, for I am where I need to be. Issues unresolved continue to weigh, I find my worth tested in the absence of outside stimulation, forcing myself to stop and stare down inside, and like most every person feeling uncomfortable by what I find.

Part of me thinks I am a sham, a failure couching myself in theological terms, listening to those who think so loud I can hear, “if only he just tried harder.” I write these words, knowing myself, feeling a fake for writing words about God and Light. What do I know?

But with all of this… these doubts which creep in, these pains which ingite within, I consider what it is to climb a mountain, to take steps on a steep path. Going slow is not a sign of weakness, it may be a sign of the terrain.

I don’t know. I do know that this is not a commendable path, certainly not better than the person who works with orphans or is a doctor to the very sick. This is where God has me. For twenty years I’ve prayed that God would lead me, that he would open my eyes and steer my path, and I know that others have been praying the same, some much longer than I have. And this is where I am. Doing what? Writing, living an inward focused life, without merit or purpose to some. Has God ignored my prayers, or is this his answer? Have I misstepped all along, or have I stayed more or less on the right path? That I don’t know. That is why humility is the lesson learned above all others. I can’t even have pride in spiritual service now. There is nothing but looking inward, and helping those who are around now. It is not me, I learn to say, but God in me who guides and leads. Should this turn towards a fruitful life where I gather with others seeking and growing I will know that it is God in me and not me who develops the fruit. And if I do not find any hope resolved, if my debts overwhelm, my education and training go without expression, then I still must say it is God in me who has me wait, to learn the depths which busyness cannot understand, which even good works hinder by changing focus.

No, this isn’t the highest call, the inward life of which the monks rejoice. It is the call on me, now, and I must learn to remain obedient, to rest in the absence, to trust and remain ready to come to real life in an instant. If I learn the secret in the here and now, with nothing to show, with nothing to point towards, it will remain with me the rest of my days. It is around, that which Paul spoke of, which the saints have known, exists still in our era. And so I seek it out, seek it out by staying, by trying to find light, by focusing on the minute and precious details. I wish I was more suited to the task. I guess, though, that is why God has me doing this.

morning

Morning haze and cool breeze say this will be a cooler day. The trees move like the water, green ripples all around. A couple of birds sing, a chipmunk wanders up the hill, on top of the woodpile, and away. Flying bugs are back, having come a month ago, and then disappeared when the weather turned cold. Oaks are a light yellow, with just a touch of greeen, slowly filling their branches with leaves, changing the entire look of the forest. With the pines gone, the dominant color of green replaces the orange, making the forest seem alive again, thriving.

My mind is struggling to find a point of focus. Phone calls and dogs barking in the night kept a sleep from being sound. Even now, with the sun shining in my face, I’m a little groggy. I’m continuing to remind myself, as I did this morning, to flee from thoughts of future possibilities, to dwell in the now, to do that which I can, to be settled with who God has made me to be in this moment.

I caught my mind drifting, and was happy to remember what I wrote yesterday. It filled me with calm. At a certain point, I think, we take what we read from others, the words we’ve heard preached, the wisdom of the present and the ages, and have to learn to apply it to our own selves. A person can go an entire life and never do this, always requiring the next ‘great’ speaker, or inspirational book to provide the moment of insight and direction. These are naught but the calls of the Spirit outside of us, words of truth broadly applied to help people start and move. However, it is the Spirit in us who must be the most powerful voice, the words which the Spirit says to us as individuals has to become our source of inspiration, a communion with the Divine which words on paper cannot match.

Even Scripture are broad strokes of truth, not meant to guide our particulars, or to give specific answers to our daily needs. It is the canon which sets the bounds, but is not a detailed list for our life. Learning to listen, and speak to ourselves is a worthwhile task, I think. Taking the knowledge and applying it, hearing what the Spirit says to us through it and through all the manifold ways of teaching. For a long time I’ve felt weary of hearing preaching, of reading yet another inspirational book on spirituality. Besides Scripture, and Cassian, I grow weary of words. I think this is because I’ve heard enough words. Either now I apply it, or I don’t. That is the way of the Christian path, and maybe why weariness in walking it sets in, shown either by exhaustion or an unquenchable drive for new stimulation. We come to the point where we must act, or not, and until we learn to take the words and give them meaning for our own daily lives, we simply cannot ingest more, or even understand more.

But the application requires a great deal from us, significantly more than just listening does, it requires change and sacrifice, our whole lives.

That is the message of the monks, when they say to stay and learn in one’s cell, not going out and beyond. Until we learn what we already know, there is no point to further teaching. This learning is a lengthy process, especially at the advanced levels of truth, where meat is the primary food.

Taking this in, really understanding it all with our being, results in tranquility and calm, contentment in all circumstances. This is not a call to action when Paul mentions it, it is a result of his really understanding, of waiting and listening, of enduring and learning. We are not called to force ourselves to be content, we are called to learn the secret of contentment, and thus be what we want to be.

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