Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: June 2, 2004


he wind picked up late in the afternoon, and so did I. Now the wind has stilled, and so have I. Many bugs are flying about, making the air seem to move, all shapes and all sizes fluttering about their own tasks. Cedars are turning a little brown at the edges, oaks are full and green, even and especially the ones once heavily damaged recently, even and especially the one split completely in half by a falling trunk. Sealed back together it now blooms like the rest. Little trees emerge everywhere, some pines still hang on to life, an unforgiving life for the once mighty ponderosas.

I went running today, for the first time in a month or so. It was good for my soul, and my body. Kayaking is wonderful exercise, but running has effects unmatched. Not quite as fun. There was a raven flying over me part of the way, circling as I made my way up a steep hill, a hill that seemed less steep a month ago. I wonder if it was watching me, and I don’t know.

The fun thing about ravens is they are territorial. Well, that’s not the fun thing really, it’s more what is connected with this fact. I see lots of squirrels running around, a whole bunch of jays in the trees, and I don’t have quite a sharp enough eye for their details to determine individuals. Ravens, however, tend to stay in an area. There are two ravens, and these are the only ravens I am likely to see in this area. There are two other ravens who live near a particular shore over the lake. Once I saw five ravens in that spot. The aerial combat was extroordinary.

Knowing one is seeing a particular bird is a fun treat. It builds a connection. For me at least. Ravens don’t tend to associate with the earth bound.

I thought about grace while I was running. Not the salvation kind, the kind that keeps on coming. Grace isn’t a one time thing. The awkward analogy which popped into my head relates to trains, the kind in cities that run on electricity, from wires running over the tracks. As long as they stay on the path the power keeps on coming. The rails, of course, keep them on the path. More interesting would be something without rails, with a conductor who had to toe the line, keep the contact. It would be an art. This art is akin to the spiritual pursuit.

Grace comes when we are walking right. Even if it is not easy, there is energy, passion, hope. Turn away, even in what seems wonderful directions and the grace disappears, we run down our batteries. Most pastors, as everyone knows, burn out after not too long in the ministry. I consider this and consider how it is likely they were not acting within the framework of the Spirit, even when they were doing all the ‘right’ things.

This comes to mind because I think about my own tasks. New books of learning came today and for whatever reason these sparked not only my interest in that direction, but seemed to lift up my whole soul, turning me back towards light. They aren’t spiritual books by any means, very practical resources for helping me learn what seems to be the right task at the present.

So I turn with the wires, realizing when the energy drops, becoming more sensitive to the contact.

I pray and trust God hears my prayers. He responds and asks me to respond. So I do, perplexed at the direction, feeling only the strong power of grace leading me onwards. Once a person gets a taste for it, develops an ear for the tune, it becomes ever more clear in its distinctions. Confirmation, of course, is a wonderful thing, only no spiritual writer I respect seemed to have ‘found’ it by my age, so it would be rather presumptive to think I should, even if I think I need to, and soon.

The spiritual life is a curious path indeed. Much more so than I was ever taught, much more so than most folks are willing to discover. The end is worth it, from what I hear.


It wasn’t that I got started late this morning, rather it was the fact I got started too early, much too early. Two thirty in the morning. I woke up when the dog barked, and stayed awake. Then I sat down and got to work as I usual do at more decent hours.

I enjoy the quiet and cool of those hours, quiet until a coyote nearby, but hidden in the shadows, began yapping. Bark, yap, yap, yap. Bark, yap, yap, yap, yap. It was not the usual crying, it was a different call, from what I’ve heard a more specific call for its mate. When there was no wind, no sounds of other kinds, this yapping echoed eerily, highlighted in mood by the bright light of the full moon.

At six I fell back asleep, but not before finishing the last pages of volume one of Gibbon. I’ve owned these volumes since 1998. Finally, I finish one.

Small grasshoppers, or locust, or some similar wee jumping beastie, are all about, completely camouflauged in the dirt, the only indication is the sudden burst of movement at my feet, hopping away five yards, hidden again in the shades of brown.

It is a hot day, very hot, hotter apparently than even the real valleys. Unusual. The deserts below must be radiating. No breeze means the air remains hot. Ah, well. Summer is soon here.

My schedule is thrown off by the weird sleeping habits. And yet I don’t mind. I’m not one to enjoy the same schedule, the same tasks day after day. I love to be creative, to throw spontaneity into the mix. Not a very monastic attribute. There is an important quality about maintaining a schedule, creating a regular rhythm of being, enabling the steadiness of discipline to overcome weakness of will. But there is also the problems of too much rigidity. Without flexibility there is no life in a spiritula life, the fluidity of the Spirit gets buried beneath static schedules.

There is also the tendency to become addicted to the habits, without consideration of the goal or purpose. The disciplines, the tasks, are all meant as tools, not goals in themselves. Being flexible allows one to drift with the leading of the Spirit, following the paths through odd directions, staying on a course which is often hidden except to the great guide.

I consider this as I think of my reasons for coming here. They were, as I told to others, to retune myself with nature and to pursue writing as more than a hobby. The real reason reveals itself to me, telling me that my reasons were indeed true, only they were secondary.

The reason for my present is to become attuned to Christ, to learn those realities which come in waiting, in solitude, in relative poverty. Lessons which teach humility, teach openness, teach sensitivity. I came here as one who desired so much to impress others with my skills, to assert my wisdom in churches, to develop new patterns of Church and spiritual thought. Within my reach, but never quite within my grasp were these things, and so here I came, abandoning all those for something much more elusive, and yet more approachable.

I consider my soul and realize the steps I have taken on the inward path, wanting still to be making progress on the external only seeing how I would never have looked inward if those had worked out. Much of ministry is asserting one’s own being, making waves, establishing oneself as the authority. The truly Godly have released themselves, their own being, and let it be the Spirit who moves through and in them. Pride is not an issue because that person is always aware of the reality of God.

That person is not yet me. I’m closer, and see the path for what it is. The fact is I’m learning, I’m growing to see that the open doors will never come from my personal assertion of my being, but will only result in the sitting back, in the releasing of everything I dream and hope for. In doing this I find freedom, release, and become a person who God can use, use in a way which assumes fluidity, assumes honor of him more than myself.

Nothing I can do will come from my own skills, whatever talent or abilities I may possess. It is God who works. So, whatever happens, whatever progress I make in this life, will come from my resting and trusting in him, learning the meaning of life being Christ. I say this now because there are no answers, because there is nothing which seems to be working out, little which seems to be able to release me back into what many would call a real life. I say this now in faith, knowing that when and if the tide changes I will only feel this time worthwhile if my passion remains consistent with or without real blessing.

I stand. Whatever else may happen or not, I stand. That’s my goal, the only way to the end I seek.

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