I always have wanted to be included in a musical. Not a stage musical, not a movie musical, walking down down the street kind of musical, where for some reason I start singing about my relationship woes, or happy thoughts, and everyone around joins in on the chorus, choreographed dancing over parked cars, people emerging from buildings, then finishing and everyone returning to their respective business.
In college my roommate and I choreographed a sword fight, using bats rather than swords, lasting about five minutes or so, complete with jumps, rolls, and use of living room furniture. One night when a group of friends were over we got into a minor spat, and with rather good fluidity merged into beginning our choreographed fight and going through it while the group of people sat stunned. Their faces were worth the effort. Ah, the good times.
I think these thoughts because I looked out a different window today, towards the new neighbor’s house, or rather the neighbor’s new house. The forest creeps to the concrete in their backyard. There was a flicker pecking along the ground. A squirrel came up the hill from the west. Then a jay flew into the scene, then another, then another, then another, all interested in the ground, finding bits of seed or bugs. From the south side came a chipmunk, darting up, then around. Another one came from the north. Flicker, squirrel, jays, chipmunks, chickadees in the trees, all within one scene. It felt a Disney cartoon come to life, I kept waiting for them to break into song.
They didn’t. Instead they just kept on their individual ways, paths which merged in the dawn light on a small patch of wild forest hillside.
The day itself is warmer, or at least without the cool strong breeze. A little change of pace from our wintery past few days. I like them both, a little of cold, a little of hot, keeps the mind fresh.
There is a fluidity to the spiritual life which I was never taught. Always it has been expressed in static forms, clear foundations built with established layers. I consider this, and consider how similar the spiritual training I have experienced matches modern architecture. Functional, blocky, useful and without character. Lots of cinder blocks, and standard shapes.
There is not much fluidity. Then with postmodern architecture we get a lot more creativity, function exists, with the understanding that form doesn’t have to be sacrificed. There can be flair, distinction, while retaining even more accessibility.
The spiritual life as I am learning it is almost entirely a fluid experience. Of course, the Spirit is not revealed by images of rocks, or bricks, or ponderous beasts, or settled concrete. The Spirit, difficult to define, is revealed in a dove, fire, wind, water. Fluidity, adeptness, litheness, which the blocky patterns of our established ways do not always mirror.
Not to say all must be sacrificed. Rather, taking the lessons and wisdom of the past we must continually learn what it means to live as a Christian in this era, to be Spirit people now, rather than having to transform into ancients, or more likely, 50s folk.
I also was thinking about swords this morning. A few years ago I was asked to bring an object to a group meeting and share how the object symbolized me. I brought my sword (a copy of Excalibur… at least I think it is a copy, otherwise I’m the king of England). I forget my exact words, they were along the sentiments of being sharpened, a tool for God. I talked for a while then, so I said a lot more which relates. The sword image came into my mind as I sat looking out at the dawning sun, that very sword in the corner of my eye.
Ignatius wrote to some early Christians facing persecution, “Stand firm, as does an anvil which is beaten.” Anvils are beaten when swords are made, the metal being heated to the point of becoming maleable, then pounded into shape. Thrust into water they are cooled quickly. The best swords go through a very long process, heated, folded over, cooled, heated, becoming enormously stronger through the continued manipulation of elements, fire, water, steel, iron, all going into forging a well tempered blade. This art is far beyond my ken, but I appreciate the work.
So too the spiritual life, only we have become experts at producing cheap blades, blades which break, which shatter under pressure and force, which are weak in battle, inflexible, brittle. The art of making the perfect blade has been lost, along with many of the other classic arts. We do not even know what we should strive for anymore, what we should expect.
Yet God does. He leads and guides, manipulating us like blades being forged, the best blades taking the longest time.
Our call is to stand firm, to wander the paths he leads us down, without expectation of continued bliss, without wavering in times of darkness.
We are also called to submit to that which we do not understand, and walk directions which don’t seem right, until we reach the destination. That is the call of obedience, the task of faith being acted out in our lives. To take the next step as it presents itself, following the instincts of the Spirit within, trusting our prayers are being answered. God says ‘no’ much less than we think, more usually giving directions to go, and we thinking they lead nowhere. That’s where the fluidity comes in. Antony lived in a cave for twenty years, a task no one would say is the path to Christian spirituality. Yet God led him, and he has influence millenia of Christians, whether they are aware of his influence or not.
God leads down paths which are clear, then takes us on paths which are not so clear. That is the path I’m on to be sure. Only in following his lead, however, do we reach that end he ordains, that prize for which he calls us heavenward in Christ Jesus, a prize which is not only found in eternity in heaven, but can be grasped in eternity now, if we walk the trail, wherever it may twist and turn.
Ignatius also wrote, “It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality.” That is the goal, that is my task for which I am even presently being forged, through fire and water and waiting.