Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: May 6, 2004

evening

After three days, the wind has stopped. I go outside to have a look, a smell. A spider, light brown, almost translucent, hangs down above my head, from a beam on the roof, then goes back up. Some dogs bark, the wind begins to stir the slightest bit, and the big dipper shines dull above, made so by the rising moon to the east. It is likely the oldest of recognized constellations I read today.

Today was the day of prayer. I prayed my usual amount, not making this particularly a day of prayer for me. I suppose I should feel a measure of guilt about this. I don’t. It has the feel of a Hallmark holiday for me, though anything which sparks prayer is worthwhile.

I speak highly of prayer not because it is a gift, or a well developed habit. It is a discipline, and yet I realize it to be the key aspect of this present Christian life. It is the mark of holiness, the difference between the spiritual and not-so-much. This, however, is only true in the case of those who pray as they ought, not for spiritual points from others.

No, prayer was not my main focus today. It was a worthwhile day, forging ahead, shaking off frustrations, pushing forward.

And tonight, Friends, the sitcom, had its final episode. It may seem odd to write about Friends here, but it was in many ways an interesting part of my spiritual life these last ten years. I was a freshman in college when it came on the air, and I didn’t watch the first season because I didn’t have, or have access to, a tv. That was the year in which I sought to will my way into spiritual maturity, to struggle through confusion and difficulty by way of pure effort, spiritual fortitude.

I got an ulcer that year, or something close to it at least. And I lost thirty pounds. That is a different story.

Friends was a funny show, there is no doubt about it. Especially those early seasons (my friends had a tv my sophomore year — spliced the cable from the dorm director’s apartment… that too is a different story), it had excellent writing, always good for a laugh.

Only one problem. The show was terribly immoral. Some shows showed more, spoke worse, that is true. This had an immoral philosophy behind it, especially in its sexual ethic. However, that being said, it also was a show about community, the ups and downs, the commitments and betrayals, so there was in fact a very strong core morality which I have only rarely found in a church setting. Church communities choose their canon, focusing on some moral issues, forgetting the deeper issues, so those who are labeled immoral by churches are oftentimes no more immoral than the churches themselves, only it is more the vices of the barroom which the churches rail against. Churches have different issues, certainly no less unrighteous. Though not all, to be sure, not all, some walk as right as possible. I haven’t been a part of one of those in a while myself.

This also isn’t my point, though I may have to admit I have several points by the end of this. My point is that Friends is one of those shows in which as I grew in my own spiritual awareness I found I had less enjoyment in watching. The philosophy of life was divergent from my own goal, I suppose. Or, maybe even more, the jokes and comments which increasingly became part of the basis of the show’s humor were increasingly distasteful. Yet I continued to watch, for it made me laugh.

Tertullian has a great little writing called On the Shows in which he challenges the idea that Christians should watch the plays and entertainments which were popular in the Roman Empire during his time. He admits the allure, saying however that there is a higher cause to have our concern, and we should not endure that which mocks all which Christ died for.

This is true. Whether outright or implicitly much of modern entertainment mocks the foundations of Christ’s life and work. But, it makes us laugh, or cry, or scared, so we watch. I always wrestled with watching Friends, not sure I could admit I liked it, because I didn’t know if I should like it. I chose to react to this not by cutting off Friends, but rather by not including additional shows in my television pantheon which offended the same way. I never watch Will and Grace for that reason, even though it too is often funny.

The cultural or spiritual snobs will of course say a person should never watch TV. I think having access to good stories, and worthwhile entertainment is a fine thing myself. We have no bards or poets around anymore to sing and tell tales of adventure or folly. So I have the TV, or movies to fill that innate void in the human heart which yearns for stories outside one’s one existence.

Friends now is gone, and with it, if I may add my entertainment commentary, is the end of the era of great sitcoms. TV has changed in the last ten years, we have the internet and reality television. Rather than developing the next great draw, NBC has Donald Trump exposing himself to the world. So, the worry lessons, because without the choice humor forces on me, I can more easily turn off the television.

That was always the trick. Friends made me laugh, and for a good number of those years I desperately needed to laugh, to find humor in life, to be restored if even through a momentary escape into whimsy.

I think that Church should have this role, though churches now have twisted the meaning of community to mean some sort of emaciated spirituality which everyone is supposed to yearn for, but no one really does, which makes everyone but the pastors feel guilty, while the pastors blame the people for not giving their ministries fulfillment.

So, it is in many ways an end of a particular era, one which I cannot say I am sad to leave, but it is a passing which causes me to reflect.

I think I’ll miss the show, despite myself. It’s hard to find a laugh these days. I’ll have to spend a while looking elsewhere… though with the lack I have noticed my own humor becoming sallow. That also is another story.

Midday

Four ravens dance in the sky, breaking off into partners, weaving and diving, touching in midair. Or is it more akin to an aerial dogfight, wingmen against wingmen, two flying always close facing against the other two flying close, a battle over territory. Maybe it is just good fun being had by animals who are aware how brilliant flying can be. They fly in rising and diving circles, through the trees, all around, acrobats in the sky. Four ravens, teams, together or competing.

Now another pair comes in and joins them six ravens interweaving, and now a single, seven ravens twirling about in master flight over the banks of the lake.

And me? I’m in the middle of the lake bobbing with the wind caused chop. I write here, for since I need to write, and wanted to go kayaking, it seemed a good combination.

So, what is this I’m writing? The third month of twice a day journaling has begun, and I wonder myself. Why this format? Why this style?

One reason is that writing and journaling are fine disciplines, making a person pause in the day and consider. Prayer is also this, but prayer is outward directed, a getting back into tune and rhythm with the Divine.

Journaling is getting back into tune with oneself, or maybe it is a discovery of the tune itself.

I have journaled irregularly for over a decade now. Why publicly at this point? Because it feels right, that’s the core reason, it feels like the right thing to do and I do it. Additionally, it is a way of accountability. It is also a marker for myself and others to see.

I’m standing and walking (well floating right now) in faith, and so this is a way of marking it all, showing the highs and lows before anything else is seen or discovered.

There is also another sense for this. During my college years, during the first dark times of my soul, I was lost, very lost. Those to whom I spoke could give me no wisdom, only more confusion, for they did not have answers to my questions, nor balm for my wounds. “It is sin,” they said, “or immaturity. Be happy and thankful.” Or, “You are just wrong about it all, lost, ignorant, and need to act the part of a Christian.”

Then I began being exposed to the Greats, and reading — the Fathers, Wesley, many others who spoke of the depths, depths which the Church never taught anymore — which it seemed to me, no longer knows. So I wandered, lost and confused, but at least with the guidance of centuries ago to help put me right. I was terribly lonely in and through it all.

Now, ten or so years later I have a heart for those with the same struggle, a desire to come alongside and help them along, to identify and reforge trails long overgrown. I want to discover and help others discover to not only say one is a Christian, but to really become a Christian.

I want to become the person, the teacher, the leader, the counselor I needed, still need. So I write about the journey, not because I’ve come to my “strangely warmed” moment, but because I have not, because my soul is being poured out into the void still, and I wait. It is the time of incompleteness, not victory, which I write about.

Too much is made of the voices who have arrived, or say they have arrived. What comforts me is to read of or listen to those who have not made it into a hagiography, or for those who have, to hear what it is like being there, getting there, with all the complications and realities of real life. While the words of honor and success are exciting, the words of struggle and effort are helpful, for then I hear how they moved past and beyond.

Wesley had two sets of journals, private and public. The public tells of the joys, the success, the outward efforts of faith, the Christian game as it was meant to be played. and were intentionally published. The private tells of the depression, the struggle, the times in which he was sure he did not love God and God did not love him.

I am no Wesley, to be sure. I am still yet to be determined, however, and in this era, I think, we can finally do away with the religious facade. I want no artificial veneer of spirituality. I want to explore faith and Spirit in fullness and honesty, and maybe in doing so find people to accompany me, or people farther back who need guidance forward, or wise people farther ahead who can lend me a hand along the Way.

I am no Hermit, I am not one who seeks exclusive solitude, so I write, expressing my heart, and somehow connecting with the hears of others who are likewise called to live out a life they do not feel naturally suited for, a life which is directing the soul to Christ above all else.

I have walked alone these many years, and will continue to do so if others are not found to be walking the same direction. That is why I write, to explore the trails, and tell of what I find, building community through sharing thoughts with those who are on the same path, to the same end.

morning

For assorted reasons, none which are important, today will have an afternoon and evening format. I wrote other things early at my peak, and distractions unique to this day came when I was about to start. All is well. I need to learn how to discipline myself to write earlier, while also giving myself grace to focus on the other, more important tasks, I write this now, because of the seriousness I take this discipline.

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