Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Month: May 2004 (page 1 of 7)


I turn on the light. A small, brown, almost translucent cricket is wandering over my rail. Flying bugs emerge from the shadows, lanky limbs making them seem larger than their real mass. A small moth sits along the edge of the window, blending in with the browns, looking like a large speck of paint. I wouldn’t notice it at all, except for the fact I know that large speck was not there yesterday, or earlier today.

The crowds are gone, leaving in the afternoon, leaving only the sound of wind to massage my soul, strong wind, pouring through the valleys, over the hills, roaring like the ocean. The oaks, full of leaves now, rattle in the wind, giving a texture to the whoosh.

It was Memorial Day, the day when we remember those who died so that others might live better. There is evil in this world, and sometimes it takes all we have in order to give it pause, our hope being that this present existence is not the whole story.

Not too long ago it occured to me I am not reading like I used to. I used to be a voracious reader. To be sure I am spending a significant more time writing. Somehow, my zeal for reading, my patience in it, has been lost. Or, for the first time in memory there is not a reading list for me. Nothing is on the horizon. Though I remember back to after my undergrad years. I was working at the Post Office, a fine temporary job, paying me well, helping me on my way. Something bit me, and I ordered the ante-nicene fathers, then quit the job so I could devote myself to reading them.

That wasn’t a responsible decision. I’m not sure I’ve made a responsible decision since then. At least not according to the ways of this world.

Dreams of law school drifted away in the texts of Ignatius, and Clement, and Hermas, and of course, Tertullian.

That was 1999. A year and a half after I finished school, I leaped back into the texts which very few people, I later learned, ever read — even though they establish the foundation of our faith, second only to Scripture.

The bright spot of today was I delved into reading for longer than usual. It helped that the wind was blowing, and I could sit on a comfortable chair on my balcony with the book, losing myself in the thoughts. I’m excited about the reading, because it is something I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I know, a history guy like me, not having read this before is a great shame. I’ve no excuses… other than those reading lists of before.

Volume one, of six, is almost done, and I love it. Very good writing, and interesting insights on the early church.

Might just have to take a peek at the Fathers again soon. Who knows, last time I got back into reading like this I went on to Seminary.

Now, I just hope to write, and learn without the burden of little pieces of paper chasing me around. Much larger worlds await, too large for a single lifetime.


It is saying something when a person wakes up before dawn this near the solstice. Before the birds awoke, I got up. I’m not sure why. There was a burst of creavity in me, and I wanted to let it loose. Human noise dominates now, everyone up here, crowded for this neck of the woods. They, for some reason, feel it is the best sort of day to clean, to fix, to blow dirt about. I’m not sure why. There are people, I am sure of it, who have a home, a second home, up here less to have a place to get away and more for another check on the ‘success’ list. They have so little within they do not know what living amidst nature can mean. So, they continue to manipulate, contine to force themselves upon here, like they do when they are in their suburban home.

It has the character of fear. Unable to cope with nature, unable to settle down for a moment, needing to assert their rights over even the wildlands. Not everyone who visits is like that. Many, sad to say are. Making money does not necessarily make a soul.

I stay inside on days like this, bothered by activity of people. My time in the forest, in the lake is best when I enjoy the nature for what it is. That’s why I came up here.

Indeed, I struggle in part with my current quest because I’m not really alone, I’m not isolated in a cave. The time in which complete solitude is possible for those who can delve into those depths is gone. To own privacy one must be well off. But, that is not the goal of the Christian, nor is it the goal to do everything to get away. The goal is not to wish for other circumstances, to say some other reality would be better. The goal is to find Christ wherever we are at. I pray, and trust God is leading, and so must become spiritual in this moment, not rail against the irritations which will never cease in this life.

That is the quest, to discover what it means to be spiritual in this era, in this context. Too much of Church, too much of christian history has put barriers, barriers which demand that we first become a people of the past. I am not living in modernity, I am not living in the Roman era, but the Spirit is the same from then to now. So, I must learn what it is the Spirit is asking for us, what the path of the spiritual person looks like given the realities of our present world.

I’m closer than I was before. Yet very far from the goal. And I’m confused. The path looks different than I expected.


Happy Pentecost! On this day the Church is 1,971 years old. Three candles will do, I think


It was a winding path today, a path from confusion to light, and back again. Memorial Day Weekend begins. Only a few also realize it is Pentecost weekend. The church was born tomorrow.

There is no fog tonight, the stars are bright and clear, little breeze can be felt.

I spent an hour playing saxophone in the light of the half moon. It was very good for my soul.

Within the darkness there is no light, but that does not mean light isn’t coming. Through the darkness I found a bit of new inspiration, even as I stumbled through the day, rising and falling, I pressed forward.

Only time and God can tell if I am on the right path.

Now, I go to sleep, but not before enjoying a very late dinner.


The ground is wet, the deck is soaked, my kayak sitting outside looks as if a storm came by. Trees drip from their branches. Yet it did not rain last night. The fog was thick, so thick it collected on the trees and all the plants, saturating the air.

The sun came out this morning, clear and bright, no indication of the fog remaining.

I, for some reason, have little or no desire to write today. I find myself intentionally and unintentionally being distracted, taking up other tasks, and letting the time go by.

Ah, it is the sabbath. To be sure I rarely ever take a real sabbath, less now than even when I was in school. Certainly less than when I was working regularly. The lack of validation drives me stronger, keeping from resting when I should, making me press on past this present stage. Not so much for a change of tasks, but for a measure of support.

The monks said it was good to work, and so they made baskets, copied writings, did what they could to facilitate the real aspects of their lives, the complete quest for Christ.

That is the difficulty of now, my complete quest is hampered by realities, so I work to find a way to facilitate, pursuing passions at the same time, trusting God is in control, waiting on him.

Today, though, I weary of work without reward, tire of tasks that take up most of my week and still make me feel I have to justify my existence as though I watched tv all the day.

There is no validation for spiritual pursuits, and to make this pursuit fully in this present world is well nigh impossible to combine with the pursuits which do deliver validation.

So, I choose. And sometimes the choice becomes tiresome. Most of those I know, most of society is fairly comfortable making the choice, and choosing to sacrifice the spiritual pursuits for ‘being responsible’, most everyone I know feeling that vague sense of spiritual incompleteness. But since everyone has the same discontent there is a measure of peace in the choice. I have made the opposite choice, feel a similar discontent for the lack in the other aspect of life, and yet have no one around to share this choice of path. So, the road becomes lonely at times.

With God there can be both, but the path is long, and sometimes a person needs to sit down along the trail and rest a spell.


It came earlier today. Over the past few weeks it has waited until the sun was long through its downward arc. Today, around two, the mists came pouring through the valley, over the hills, shrouding the land, hiding the sun

A coyote, large and smiling, wandering up the driveway. A large pile of branches, including some large sections of trunk from an earlier cutting last year, caught its eye and nose. It poked around as I watched, going to different sides. I suspect this may be a chipmunk home, or at least a hiding place. So, I walked out, made myself known. It left, trotted away, then turned about fifty yards away to take a good look at me. I took a good look at it.

Coyotes are afraid, they are intelligent, realizing there is no worth in danger. I prefer, myself, not to see a chipmunk or squirrel become a small dinner. They’ve become my friends of sorts these last few weeks.

The day continued and so did I. A success? In part. I advanced at least in some regard. Though I wonder if how I went about moving today means I’ll have to go back and do it over again anyhow. I’m not the sharpest in this present mood.

I stumble and fall, scraping my knees, gashing my legs in the thorns of the brush which surrounds the trail. But I continue on, acknowledging my weakness and seeking to become stronger. I think I have. There is much being weeded out of me, those subtle emotions which run deep, those entrenched attitudes which hijack becoming attuned with God. A person expects a short journey, and it never is. No hurry, I’ve all of eternity to continue onwards.


There are words to say when one sees a rainbow, wishes to make when one sees the first star in the evening sky. Before I opened my eyes, emerging from sleep, I listened to the first bird song of the morning, a chickadee chirping cheerily. All was silent, and then its voice rang out. I’m sure that is worthy of a verse or two.

Haze from the west has covered the early blue sky, wind blows it in, and makes what was becoming a warm day seem now to be a little softer, fitting into Spring a little nicer.

Squirrels have been at the seed all morning, leaping from the roof, crashing down, and enjoying a long breakfast. One sits now, its long tail curled up over its back, front paws raised to its mouth, chewing a morsel. My green and white wind sock flutters about directly above, not concerning the squirrel in the least, a change from earlier weeks. Squirrels become accustomed much quicker than jays, who still keep a wary eye on that waving fabric.

That’s it, it is certain. I’m fully depressed, feeling that weight which crushes one’s being, like walls pressing in. Gravity seems stronger, the air seems thicker, my heart is heavy, my thoughts emptied of light. All the tricks, all the responses which I use to fight the pull have gone by the wayside. Today is a day in which staying in bed, staring at a wall, or losing myself in a mindless video game has great appeal.

I’m not going to do these, other things keep my head out of the water.

What is distinct about this is not the feeling, it is my separation from it. The depths of depression have surrounded me, but they have not swallowed me. I have a rather peculiar sense of amusement at my own present, very strong, depression. All the thought typical to the state are passing through, yet I let them by with a smirk.

This isn’t me forcing myself out, or denying my inner self. It is rather a curious combination of my natural and spiritual states. A Christian Spirituality does not remove the rhythms of life, with its hights and lows. It merely gives a person the tools of response, the perspective of seeing within and without.

It does not mean a life full of bliss, only a life which listens less to the lies, and embraces the hope which may not currently be felt.

I feel it with my entire being, the responses unable to turn the tide, and I look at myself with a bit of amusement, seeing the vagaries of human life for what it is, and being content to commit to keeping on, pressing forward in the little ways I can today, whether or not the tasks contain any apparent worth in this moment.

In the past I’ve lost myself, been overcome by depression. Given the popularity of this particular trait with some of the most holy and creative folks in history, I don’t see it as much as a handicap as some do. But I do see it as a way to throw me off track, to make me lose sight and heart, and thus lose response.

So, of course it is a tool used against me. I’ve let it be most effective. Not today. I feel the fullness of the crushing weight and dismiss for what it is. The listless perspective continues, only I press on, slogging my way through the various tasks I’ve set up for myself. It is a hill to overcome, taking more effort because of the incline, but one which will strengthen me if I do not falter.

That is the day for me, a slog. Heaven awaits, and keeping my eye on that prize, I wade through this present morass with hope despite the loud hopelessness.


A gentle breeze, barely a whisper of wind, stirs my windsock, making a slight rustle. Various flying bugs wander about, attracted to the light I turn on. I sit for a while outside, my feet on the rail, letting the peace of the evening enter into my soul.

I’ve gotten out of the habit of just sitting, stirred to press onwards to discover the meaning of this moment, forgetting my own purposes. Watching is enough for now, immersed as I am within the view. There is more to be sure, and yet, I feel not the slightest bit of rest, not the barest contentment. I press onwards and stopping has no rehabilitory effect.

I wonder if it should, if I am merely losing touch with that deeper side, or if indeed I am in touch and God does not have me content in the meditation. He is pressing me somewhere, to be sure. I must consider further what this means. Am I letting acedia disturb me, and theologizing it as direction. I honestly don’t know.

Scripture came to mind today, and yesterday for that matter. Not a specific verse, just the whole topic. Passing through the channels last night I stumbled by Jack van Impe. He’s a ‘prophecy’ guy who looks at current events and has a bucket of scriptures he relates to the goings-on. In talking he quotes and references, throwing out addresses as apparent authority. I’m not convinced by his predictions, nor really by his use of Scripture. Proof texting is what it seems to be, that is using verses out of context which vaguely relate.

Then I remember Paul does the same thing, so does Jesus, according at least to modern exegetical standards.

I’ve never been a memory verse kind of guy. I know Scripture, however. Mainly because I came at it from a different direction. I love to read, always have, and when I was young my parent bought me a Bible, an illustrated Bible. Not the kind with the NIV interspersed with EuroJesus. Mine was essentially the Bible in comic book form. I’m sure there were, and are, those who would vehemently fight against such sacrilege. I began beating adults at Bible trivia games when I was still young.

The pictures are still in my head. Just the other day when I was reading about Solomon and his riches the picture of the crates of goods, including peacocks, sitting on the beach brought a smile to my face.

I didn’t know the verses specifically, but I learned the story, the narrative, the overall flow and the characters of Scripture, old and new testaments in a way which propelled me into more professional studies with almost too much ease.

This came to mind because I realize in comparison with other writers on spiritual topics I don’t lace my comments with a lot of verses. It’s not because I lack the appreciation, it is because Scripture for me is such an assumed part of everything I do and write.

The earliest writers didn’t note their quotations, forcing editors of the past couple of centuries to add footnotes. Patrick, my namesake, is said to have a rather poor written latin, except for those times in which he uses Biblical phrases within his own thoughts. They knew Scripture, much more than we do really, and it infused everything they wrote.

That is my goal, to get there someday. I don’t want to be someone like Jack van Impe who throws out verses, watering down the authority by misuse. I want to be someone in whom, through whom, Scripture flows as part of my own thoughts, where I write about the Spiritual life without specific quotes. I want to know Scripture, and swim within its depths, to get to the point where I may not write exactly what Paul said, but write something Paul would agree with. Though I do want to write what Paul said, I suppose, only not with the assumed authority of adding addresses. Who really is convinced by addresses? “Oh, a verse in the second letter to the thessalonians says it,” the pagan will never say, “so then it must be true.”

We’ve become a people who know some verses, but don’t know the story, can’t reflect on the rhythm and flow, melody and harmony, which Scripture presents. This goes beyond the conservative harmonizing, making seemingly opposing verses fit together. It is an understanding of the God who was, is, and is to come. How we can read Ecclesiastes and Revelation with the same mind, how Romans is intimately connected with Judges.

Because there is a connection, a wonderful glorious revelation of a very complicated and unexpected God.

Maybe this is merely a sign I am not of the previous generation. Because the Bible tells me so? No, for me it is because of what the Bible is saying, what it is telling me. The story gives it authority, not vice versa.

The task is to get to know it as a whole, not bits and pieces with dubious purposes. I explain myself and exhort myself all at once.

I also realize I’m tired now. Off to bed.


I opened my eyes this morning and spent a long while not moving, instead laying there, staring outside at the forest, the increasing light, the surprising amount of spider webs which reflected the sun. A squirrel ran across the roof of a neighbors house, not a single breeze stirred the branches.

I drank a lot of water last night. Before I went to bed I had a glass, then another. I realized I was very thirsty. For whatever reason I’ve always felt better when I drink a lot of water, but I often forget to so. Dehydration affects me in ways which doesn’t always tell me it is thirst. So, today, in response to my thoughts of yesterday, I will pray, and I will also drink a fair amount of water.

That is the physical side of spirituality which the Christian greats have not addressed too specifically. Yes, there is a lot of emphasis on fasting, which sharpens the mind, regulates the body, cleanses, and keeps one from eating overmuch. There is also as strong emphasis in the early monks for physical work, long walks to the river to get water, long walks back carrying sixty pound jugs. Exercise not termed such, for it was for necessities.

Now, physical labor is not often a part of our lives, at least for most of us. And certainly in America we have very little emphasis on a good diet, a diet which encourages health and strong minds. Joseph asked Poemen, “How should we fast?” Poemen said, “I suggest that everyone should eat a little less than he wants, every day.” Joseph said to him,”When you were a young man, didn’t you fast for two days on end?” He said to him, “That’s right, I used to fast three days on end, even for a week. But the great hermits have tested all these things, and they found that it is good to eat something every day, but on some days a little less. They have shown us that this is the king’s highway, for it is easy and light.”

Other religions, especially eastern, religions have a more focused emphasis on the physical aspect of spirituality. They are not as laced with latent dualism, and understand the reality that humans are of body and spirit, one, not two.

The fact is that our bodies are intimately connected with our souls. Trauma in one does affect the other. In order to keep myself attuned fully to the nuances of the Spirit in my midst, I must always be sure to do all I can to make sure my physical side is not intruding its own demands. When dehydrations makes me tired, depressed, unfocused, I can see this as a discernment issue, but I am wrong. When I do not exercise, letting my body succumb to the wasted aspects of too much sitting around, it is not a spiritual battle when I am not alert or cannot think as well.

For me, exercise, nutrition, regular care and focus on my physical aspects are as vital as prayer and study. One facilitates the other.

I end with a good quote by Evagrius which stood out to me this morning:

A wandering mind is strengthened by reading, and prayer. Passion is dampened by hunger and work and solitude. Anger is repressed by psalmody and long-suffering and mercy. But all these should be at the proper times and in due measure. If they are used at wrong times and to excess, they are useful for a short time. But what is only useful for a short time, is harmful in the long run.


It is cold again tonight, a chill in the air even without the wind. Clouds came this afternoon, filling the sky by dark, though not a fog, higher up. Something patters across the roof, I’ve no idea what, maybe a flying squirrel not quite flying.

I felt lethargic all day, pressing on despite the feelings, even exercising for a couple of hours. It is the ebb, I believe.

There is a rhythm to the spiritual life, which I don’t remember reading about (to be honest, I tend to read a lot and absorb it, forgetting inspiration, as it is ingested within, forgetting it came from somewhere). It ebbs and flows, light the day, like the tide, like so many other things. I wonder if there is, for me at least, a sense of grace being there when needed. I’m in a time between tasks, for the most part, so I am not charged with the same spiritual focus.

Or it could be creeping acedia, silenced beneath the weight of occupation, only stifled not silenced.

I don’t know, either way there is only to keep on with that which I know to do, those things which present themselves in the present. I pray for direction, for freedom, for understanding, and having prayed I must then do what can be done. Fretting is not worthwhile.

I end the day having made forward leaps, and yet feeling an emptiness, an emptiness that comes from perception of teases, carrots before my eyes which always retreat before me, never within grasp.

Not that this is an evil thing, I suppose. Joseph had his cup-bearer to be sure.

At the end of the day there is only obedience in doing what is right, and making progress in what I can. Having committed myself to the void, there isn’t any purpose in flailing about. Even if my heart is not in it, and feels an emptiness of being.

This all will make coming to the other side that much more beautiful.

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