Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: June 3, 2004

evening

Sometimes the day gets away from a person. It seems like one kept busy, and yet nothing got done. Ah, well. The bright moon is still in the east, the stars above twinkle in the waning, rising heat left over from the warm day. A breeze picked up, then left, then picked up again.

For whatever reason I noticed this evening that the bark of a cedar feels like styrofoam. Odd thought, for I’ve never put those two together before. I wonder if there is change in perception, or if the brushing of my hand walking by stimulated different nerves than other times. Now, moths have come in through cracks and crevices, several on the window, the wall, near the lights. An innocuous insect to be sure, and apparently high in nutrition if survival was at stake. I am not a big fan of them as roommates, however.

This day was filled with peace, even in the midst of burgeoning frustrations. The call of the Christian is to bear irritations. Maybe these words aren’t used but they are within the words which were written, I believe. This isn’t the goal of the typical American male. Rather, men and women are called to assert themselves on a situation, overcoming frustration by force of will, asserting influence in disagreeable issues.

I remember last year I went on a date. Very casual, get to know you, kind of thing. We went to church (yes, a very Christian date, I know) then out for a nice dinner afterwards. It was a hot evening and I ordered a lemonade.

She was, is, attractive and funny, but I knew even then the turning of my heart away from the persistent pulls of contemporary society. Her thoughts and goals related to career advancement, business savvy… mine were thinking of fleeing those. So, while on a certain level there was a connection, the goals were so different, something we realized by the end of the evening, and went our mutual ways.

What stirred this memory is that lemonade. It came and it was not very cold. I mentioned the fact, she suggested I ask for a cold lemonade. I said the ice would melt and the drink would cool, no worries. The waitress came by, she asked the waitress for a new lemonade. It was a nice gesture, I suppose, though I suspect we both interpreted the action of the other in a negative light. She saw me as unassertive, I saw her as impatient.

There is that nasty business in Christian doctrine about putting up with people, even when we have a right to pursue against them. Yes, this is often portrayed as religious persecution, but it’s more than that. It’s a changing of our hearts and mind, a realigning of our perspective to see reality from God’s purview. The little irritations become just that, and would not occur to us to make an issue of them. When we lose sight of that divine awareness we find we have to assert our own, demand the acknowledgement of our being in this world.

In the little things, however, in those frustrating and inconsequential actions like traffic or rudeness, or incomplete service, we train our hearts.

I say this because there were irritations today, last night, which stirred up thoughts which related more to my barbarian ancestors and less to my Christian identity. I turned those thoughts, redeemed them through contrite, even if unnoticed actions, and gave up my opportunity to assert my being.

The issue with the lemonade showed the change in me beginning, a change which many would perceive as unbecoming. It is not a change of assertiveness however, but a change in perspective.

Where Life and Light are at stake I assert God in me. Paul and St. Patrick exemplified this curious aspect. Both were meek in situations, too meek some may say, but press them over points of the Gospel and they were immovable rocks. Jesus of course revealed this reality even more. Discretion tells when to stand and when to give in. Within the meekness is a strength retained for the real issues of life, rather than a strength dissipated by broad and senseless concerns.

Steps continue for me in that direction, steps which likely distance me more from the realities of this present world. Ah, well, this world is not my goal, I suppose.

morning

No breeze blows, branches sit still. the green and white windsock hangs, only the slightest movement. The sun rises, light full into my room, announcing the day in an unmistakable way. Jays are busy, getting their duties done before the sun rises too high. This day is going to be warm.

There are some disciplines which I pursue, some I don’t. I generally don’t tend to fast very much. For a while I did, very regularly. In my junior year of college I was reading Wesley. He fasted two days a week. I began to do the same. From sunset to sunset. Recently I learned he only fasted until 3 pm. So, I exceeded Wesley in my devotion apparently. But not in my persistence. That year was the year in which the bottom fell out in my spiritual life, the first unmitigated journey into the dark night, an endless night.

Fasting was important at the time and a wonderful discipline. I stopped because it’s hard to fast when a person comes home for the summer and works very hard forty hours a week delievering mail. It also became less of a discipline and more of something else. For me fasting contains expectations, more so than prayer alone. I want to be rewarded for my discipline, shown light for the sacrifice I offer. These expectations hampered my spiritual life rather than helped. Certainly it was, and is, a sign of my own immaturity, but denying the reality is not a mature act either. I still don’t fast, for the same reasons. My theology doesn’t quite pierce through my heart in this regard. I can’t get the expectation of reward out of my soul, so I choose other acts of devotion which better serve to move me forward along the path.

I say this because I didn’t eat very much and it reminded me of another consequence of fasting for me. I don’t sleep. Sleep never comes when that tug of hunger is strong. Even if I’m not concious of it. Yesterday I was very active and ate much less than usual. I didn’t feel hungry but at one in the morning when I was laying there wide awake I considered the cause. I ate, and fell sound asleep not long afterwards.

This is interesting to me because it highlights the fluidity of the disciplines. I am called to write, to study, to progress, progress which is best pursued in the morning, at the time of the sun rising. In creating a palette of disciplines for my own progress I choose those things which enable my call, which focus my heart right. They should push me forward and combat my weaknesses, but should not interfere or distort. The disciplines are not the goal, they are not the end. Everything must be judged by how it leads me to what is my goal, what is my end.

That being said, I’m going to eat a little bit better today. And enjoy the light cool breeze which now picks up and blows into my room.

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