Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: May 22, 2004

evening

The day was gorgeous, and for a Saturday fairly quiet. I made my way through Gibbon a bit more, finding Diocletian not to be such a bad character. Now a church history tells a different tale, of course. Birds were animated, flying about, an aviary all around. I was delighted to see a short article on the Flicker in this months National Geographic, and even more delighted to see a real flicker landing in the branches of a small oak, and then pecking along the ground.

Standing outside for a while, I watched. Nothing in particular, just watched. And found myself apparently a little more acceptable. There was a bird bath two feet away from me. A squirrel came while I was standing there and drank for a good long while. I’m not yet able to feed them from my hand… it takes time. No sermons either, though I did chat with a particularly noisy jay.

I didn’t get away as much as I thought, returning to other tasks for a while, moving forward when I said I wasn’t going to try. Ah, well. It feels right, and I don’t feel quite able to settle down and relax. There is a strong sense of preparation, work, constant movement in a direction I do not know. I have no vision of the end, only I feel constantly driven to seek it out, to do those things which advance the cause. Maybe this is because I have a meditative life built in. Looking out the window, sitting quiet for a moment watching the wildlife.

This afternoon I was thinking about calling, about purpose and direction, how God leads to unusual places, by unusual paths. I think it is easy to see what he is doing and not accept it, to say, “no, how about something else.” Only there is no ‘something else’, we have to take what comes. Then we are frustrated, not because we don’t hear the voice of God, because we delude ourselves into thinking we don’t hear the voice of God, but we do, and don’t like what God has to say. It is easier, then, to blame God’s silence, his lack of answers, rather than settling back and accepting the answers which come.

I wonder if I have been guilty of that in times past, always looking out in another way. This all now is me throwing up my hands and saying ‘come what may.’

That’s the trick really, that and faith. Our faith tells us the measure of our response, if we will step out because we completely trust in that which we do not see. If, though, we settle into trusting only that which we do see, those worlds which await stay hidden, grasped only when we fight the giants who can be vanquished after all.

I say this because I wrestle with the words of others, those who don’t feel the consuming presence, who don’t feel that which drives and leads. I do to such a degree that I cannot escape it, and can only embrace it… though I may be wrong of course. I wonder if people do feel the same call, the same leading, and yet have a stronger draw to hold onto that which justifies in this present world. Or, maybe there is a distinction, some are called to different roles which allow for less flexibility in response, and thus God’s hand is much stronger in setting the path.

It is a mystery, and always will remain such, for as Aslan told the children, the story of others is not theirs to know.

morning

The sun burst into my room this morning, like a early surprise guest, boldly claiming it was here, and asking what’s for breakfast. Such a different day than yesterday, the greens reflect the light, the blue sky a sharp contrast to the dark forest colors. Birds sing spring songs, cheerily at their tasks. A little breeze gives movement to all around, bringing with it the smells of trees alive and growing. Jays seems more content today, less screeching, more quiet chatter, exploring the branches, and my balcony.

A few years back I took sailing classes. It was always something I thought would be fun, and on a trip out to the channel islands a friend and I decided to follow up, sign up for classes. The sight of a spread of canvas going over the wide blue sea is an incomparable sight, except for the view beneath those sails, which is soul expanding beyond description.

In sailing one learns a great deal of analogies for life, for ministry, for spirituality. So many in fact that it is easy to become insufferable to those who don’t know how bad luffing is when seeking speed, or what to do if asked to open the main sheet.

Another analogy came to mind this morning, one apt for my present state. The ocean is a beautiful, wonderful place to be. It is also not very hospitable. It likes its own, and we are not its own. The funny thing about boats is that the sea is not good for them. Salt water does interesting things, which is why the way of sailing is such a busy life. Always there is maintenance, always repair. Put off tasks for a time, and corrosion sets in. Put two unlike metals near one another, and they will break down, causing no end of trouble. The terrible thing is that this kind of trouble reveals itself at moments of stress, when wind and wave are fiercest. What was done or not done in the times of ease shows in the time of trouble.

There is also the problem of barnacles, little pernicious beasts with hard shells who like to stay in one spot, and the spot they like is often a hull. They float around after birth, merry as can be, food for the various other animals, until they find a nice place to settle. Then they glue themselves on, and feed from the water moving by. Hulls travel, and make for a lovely barnacle buffet.

When barnacles build up, they cause a major loss of speed, manueverability, and other problems. This is called fouling. The problem is that these baneful molluscs are under water, where they can’t be seen. Out of sight, out of mind. So, regularly a ship has to have its hull scraped. If done regularly this can be done by a diver. If put off for too long, the ship has to be hauled out into a dry dock, where more radical measures can be taken.

But because the rising and continual problem cannot be seen by our eyes, the only indication that fouling has occurred is the vessel’s reduced performance. Sailors who are experienced don’t have to look. They know to clean. Those who don’t, learn, with costly consequences of their ignorance.

So too the spiritual life. We go through this world, where many things attach, things we invite and don’t. Our goal remains the same, maybe, but through the passage in this world our progress is slowed, fouled by the accretions of society not amenable to our goals.

A person has to stop, take stock, re-evaluate, clean. This is most useful after a task has been finished, or in whatever natural point of stopping reveals itself. We can barrel onwards, persistent to the end. And while we may feel wonderful about our perseverance we do not notice that we slow, that we misstep, that we are being passed. The stubborn persistence becomes a vice.

That is how I feel today. I have pushed for a long while, a set of tasks which were on my heart pressing me on. Now, with some of that finished, I feel a need to stop, pull the hull out of the water, take stock of my heart and soul in a way which goes beyond just the daily considerations.

This may mean nothing more than a day or two of casual examination, changing pace to spark my mind and let the whispers of my soul have a voice.

Other things loom on the horizon, some started, some still hopeful. Today, however, I have a moment in which I can stop without guilt. And so I think I shall, spending time outside with a book or two I’ve wanted to read, or at least get farther along with. I also have a rather unique tan problem, the kayak tan, dark knees and white shins… something which looks a bit silly while wearing shorts.

This is a day for some light reading, some well written fiction which could swallow me whole. Only I don’t have anything like that handy. My situation has limited my reading explorations, so I think I’ll take up some good classic history. Gibbon, or maybe Eusebius, then again, I’ve been trying to make my way through Bede for a bit now. Maybe a taste of all three. Or maybe a longish nap in a hammock strung between two mighty cedars.

Scraping the hull, that’s the task, however it may work itself out.

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