Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Month: June 2004 (page 1 of 6)


I walked outside this evening and the moon greeted me. Rising from the east, not quite cresting the cedar trees on the horizon, almost full. The shadows of its distant terrain were quite clear, the brightness shining even while the sun had not yet fallen on the opposite side of the world.

I stared at the white orb, feeling peace, saying a prayer, not to it of course, but to its maker, the one who decorates the world like we decorate a tree at Christmas.

The moon rising is a beautiful sight, made more beautiful by the rising wind from the south, blowing through the trees, blowing cold on what should be a warm summer day, but never was.

Those of this era are afraid of the lofty heights. I’ve realized that fact again. Statements which prior generations made with utter sincerity are charged with artificiality today, or worse. The terrible quality is that those who disdain the heights, disdain those who seek them, and rather than raising up, these people seek to lower the world around them, so that the goals are met by lowering the standards, removing the standards.

Movies are a great revelation of this, the cultural commentators gushing the most over the gritty, the harsh, which are nothing more than high society versions of Jerry Springer, making a person feel better because they are not as bad off as some.

They call it real life.

I realize I’ve lost sight of true reality, a reality which resides in those heights, in those stirring words which may only reflect what we wish ourselves to be, but are still more valid than what we wallow in when we are at our worst.

Only by reaching out, will I find the light I seek, the hope, taking flight to where none have tread before me, finding a voice, finding life.

Which is maybe why re-reading Paradise Lost has such an appeal, a book which is far beyond the capabilities of any contemporary writer, on a topic of such lofty heights that one is drawn into the reverie, even when treating of the foundations of evil.

To gain the heights. That is the goal, the dream, the task, the call.

Despite what others say, no matter the mocking from those who cannot see out of their own deep ditch.

The person who does this, who forsakes the ties that bind, becomes the apex of the rising triangle, which is the progression of human thought and expression. Nowadays, I fear this triangle has been upended, the geniuses lost, while we celebrate the masters of old, and highlight our own forays into prevalent mediocrity.

I watch the moon rising in the east, listen and feel the wind blow up and over and through me, bringing a chill on a summer evening. Prayers rise to my lips, hopes and dreams which are soot stained again expose themselves.

And yet, there is still only faith. There is only the trust that what I do is what God asks of me. It is a perilous choice. Life awaits, if I press on. Only emptiness if I don’t.

The emptiness has a louder call at times, and it pulls on my soul.


The rising sun in the east illuminates the increasing mat of stratocumulus clouds in the sky. Weird shadows, mystical in look, intermingle high above. Four loud, very loud, bangs reverberate through the hills. Dogs bark, a single chickadee continues to sing.

There is a bird called the gooney bird. Feathers askew give it a look which inspires instant laughter, ungainly wings and feet belie its serious demeanor. It is not a purposefully funny bird (like ravens or parrots are apt to be) but from our eyes it has the character of a clown, constant slapstick.

No, I’m not looking out my window right now and seeing a gooney bird use the driveway for a runway.

That isn’t even their real name, if truth be told. They are the juvenile Laysan Albatrosses who live on Midway Island in the South Pacific. I believe they can be found other places as well, but that historical site is their main breeding ground.

They are masters of flight, their wings carry them almost effortless thousands of miles.

Once they learn to get off the ground to begin with.

These birds are made for flying but not for taking off. They flap their wings, bounce into the air, similar to those old movies of early attempts at human mechanical flight.

The temperature rises, parents come back to feed less and less frequently, leaving the birds each day more and more in need of rising into the sky, and less and less strong. Many die. A great many. Because they are both drawn, by strong genetics, to stay near their nest, and drawn, by strong life-giving urges, to find their own food in the ocean.

I write this because the image of the gooney bird running along the onetime military runways, trying to use their ungainly wings to lift their ungainly body into the sky to rise with the wind and soar high, but not quite succeeding for too long a time, fits my sense of spiritual self.

There is that yearning, that call, to fly, to soar, yet my ungainly spiritual being hugs the ground, tying me down despite my efforts. I am both ally and enemy.

If I do not break the bonds, sever the ties which constrain, I will perish. Maybe not physically, not for a while, but there will not be life to find.

So, I flap my wings, run along, looking silly to those on the heights, peculiar to those who don’t know why to fly. Mindless of appearance, and still not attaining my goal, it is a sad sight.

Until the day. Until the day. Then… glory.


I stepped outside once today, and that only for a second. Seems a shame. It was a beautiful, no, gorgeous day, with a wonderful wind rustling the branches and leaves, a constant whoosh.

I kept on stumbling around today, finding moments of focus, moments of lapses.

There was a rather long, very deep nap which came upon me after lunch. I rarely nap, and never that deeply. It was a sleep filled with odd, random dreams, none of which I can remember.

This nap had the feeling of an overnight sleep, only for no more an hour in length.

Until late tonight, then, that pretty much did me in, the grogginess keeping my heart and mind shallow.

It was a day I should have gone running. But, it is done, and there is tomorrow, a chance, always a chance, to regain focus and take further steps forward.


It is a delightful thing to look to my right and see chipmunks scurrying around the trunk of a cedar, chasing each other, then having a jay, dressed in bold black and blue, land on my balcony, announce himself stridently, then proceed to eat.

The sun is out, but it is not hot, a cool breeze blows bringing cheer in feel and sound.

I woke up very early this morning, and got to my work, but still feel a struggle to write.

There are ups and downs in writing, and while there may be times in which less comes out, it seems it is better to plod through rather than stop. There is no benefit to stopping, so I’ll do what comes, trying not to slide into the path of not caring, or not considering.

This record does not have worth in the daily contributions, it will gain worth in the long term of daily thoughts, where I can see the flow, discern the movements in a broader way. Which makes pressing on the most vital contribution of all.

Funny thing. I woke up this morning with a renewed passion to write. I didn’t write. But for the few words above. I was quite productive, and now I end the day feeling the creeping onset of acedia. Why? I convince myself of reality, and still that vague gnawing continues, that chasm which opens in the soul, that shadow which grows despite the attempts to throw light in all the dark.

Missteps over the weekend, not sins as much as awareness of imperfection, knowing wrong was done and feeling the consequences, knowing that my own attitudes and actions were not in keeping with the fluid way of the Spirit. Then, moving on the next day, as though there was nothing wrong. Except for that vague gnawing, that deep awareness that shalom was disturbed, and I was the cause.

Petty, even with well reasoned argument.

The worst part, for me, is not my attitude then, it is now. I have trouble caring, I convince myself I should respond properly, but I’m not quite doing a good job of it.

My own frustrations, my own stumblings about, my own misguided assertions of self, when the only problem is really the one I bring.

I pray for wisdom and direction, and frustrate small progress in trivialities.

Give up a fortune and dispute over a single pen. That was how the Abbas described it.

Now, there is only next time. May I be more adept in the Way by then.


The sun crests the hill, three chipmunks dance together through the saplings, as though they appreciate my noticing them these last weeks, and have a daily performance.

While a delight to be out and about this last weekend, it is also a delight to be back, to delve again, to be where I am supposed to be (even if I don’t know why). I see people who I haven’t seen for a while, and love seeing them, while at the same time feeling strongly there is yet more growth, more progress, more learning ahead before I rejoin the ranks of the regularly social.

What is fun is that this is not burdensome. I wake up this morning excited again, ready to get at it, renewed in heart and soul by the break, and wanting to start work once more.

I miss the palpable response of everything I do, but feel like diligence is the only door to walk through right now, faith in the unseen, built upon steady advancement, my part I can play in the wider field.

So, now I begin, my thoughts not settled yet enough to ponder spiritual depths. Back to my cell, where, the monks said, everything can be learned.


Gone and distant


Off and away


A day which began fruitfully drifted into a day with more rest than productivity. A sabbath day of sort, not the modern kind filled with activity and responsibility, the ancient kind, where I didn’t do much, didn’t go far, and let my mind drift away.

Half moon high above soothes the soul. The quiet of the night, especially quiet for a Friday, eases the body. The smells of the forest waft by, and I feel the peace of where I am.

As long as I don’t consider too far ahead. But that is indeed the lesson to learn.


The birds are flittering around, the squirrels are foraging, chipmunks scurry through the saplings, and I returned to my regular schedule.

A cool breeze in the air keeps the temperature cool, though the sky is completely blue, and the sun is in its summer phase. Chickadees move sideways along the striated trunk of an incense-cedar.

I awoke this morning feeling ready to move on, get back to the usual patterns, and press forward in the ways which seem presenting themselves. All this morning I felt the return call, pressing me forward so that I can rest in the presence of the living Spirit.

It feels like I’ve finished a part, an important part, and now I am free to continue onwards. I feel content with life, eager to see what comes, eager to be patient so that I can continue to mature in relative quiet.

So, this day begins.

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