Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: June 6, 2004


Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m irritated. Quite. Neighbors who come up and proceed to turn all their lights on, making the mountains like the suburbs or city are beyond my comprehension. However, even before they came up, bothering my nightly gaze, I was irritated, as though I was being prepped for a real reason for irritation. And yet, I know in my depths that to succumb to this irritation I’ve already succumbed to is not the fault of the ones whose careless rudeness and inconsideration give me identifiable reasons.

Only I control my heart. Whether with reasons large or small, only I am the real source of the irritation and frustration.

Is it a test? This whole weekend, pushing my boundaries internal and external so as to gauge my reaction? In the past I would dance to the music, letting my soul be trampled by unspiritual response.

I feel the bother (a bother I feel, because I tend try to be very cognizant of the sound and display I present, understanding that the mountains should be a place for peace, and for the residents it is… a person can tell the vacationers within moments), and I know I shouldn’t. Justifiable indeed, only not for my call and cause.

It is the case that I’m pretty even keeled, rarely becoming angry… except in certain instances. Invasion of my space through sight or sound is a big one. Bright lights on dark evenings, loud music on quiet days will bring out the berserker which generally sits quietly in my Oden blood. It may also be the British in me, a natural desire for propriety and consideration.

Either way, my task is not to assert myself, to combat others in their assertions. It is a losing battle. No, the best path is to endure, find peace within the irritation, let the force be absorbed. Only then will I find what it means to be at peace, when there is no disturbance outside of me which can cause chaos within.

Germanus asked Abba Daniel how it could be that a person could be feeling wonderful, exuberant about life, and then almost suddenly turn downwards “filled with anguish and oppressed with a certain irrational sadness” which makes a person wither up. Daniel replied this a common occurence and there could be three reasons for such a change. The first is when we ourselves destroy the peace through our own negligence, the second is when the devil attacks our soul, and the third is when it is the Lord’s design and trial.

There are two aspects of that third reason. The Lord could test us in order to reveal our need for him, letting us taste what it feels like for the grace to be removed, in order to keep us diligent in its pursuit. Or, it could be a test of our perseverance and steadfastness of mind, as well as our desire, so as to manifest within us the depths of our own state, revealing the quality of our own soul.

The response is not to go out and solve the problem, asserting one’s right over the situation, even when there are good rights to assert. The response is to bear the irritation, suffer the anguish, put up with the bother, so as to correct the wrong within ourselves. I am not accountable for any one else, no other responsibility will face me on judgment day. Letting myself loose in the rapids of irritation, whether it be in traffic, rudeness, or egregious persecution is not my calling. My calling is to find contentment in all circumstances, becoming fluid and lithe within the complications of this present world, so as to always be impenetrable by wickedness and assault.

If I am the sort to always be pushed aside, to collapse under pressure, then I will always be one who will be assaulted this way, constant disturbances arising because they work. I give in, and for the rest of my life I will be easily distracted. Now is the time to learn. Yes, I value my peaceful nights, quiet rustling of branches, sparkling stars high above. Yet, these are not all which are required to build a strong soul. It is in the resistance I shall find growth, it is in the overcoming which I will find peace.

And yes, I’m very aware of the pettiness of my complaint, the ease which a simple conversation would provide (maybe… those who like to assert themselves, tend not to like their assertions argued). However, training in small things makes for useful responses in real times of persecution, in profound moments of assault. Interestingly, today while feeling my heart bothered in other respects an image of my kayaking came to mind. I tend to dawdle in calm weather, moving slow, enjoying the sights. When the wind picks up, when the lake becomes choppy and rough, something stirs within, I sit up straight, put my shoulders into the paddling, and become alive, forcing myself through the chop, with more energy and force than before. The opposition stirs a response. So too when I run. The driveway here is very steep, and after a long run around the hills it can be a frustrating conclusion. But, for the longest time I try to end my running with more speed and energy when I begin, so even if I’m dead tired, I sprint up the driveway, forcing myself past the weariness so as to end well, better, what I began and endured.

Tests, physical tests, bring out a response, making me more focused, more energetic. Spiritual tests should be no different.

That’s what this is, I know, all of this. My time for rest and peace in life has not come… I strive for my soul while in these hills, and the tests to determine my state should not be surprising. No matter the cause, no matter the instigation, my response must increasingly be one of joy in all things. Only then will I be a worthwhile servant for the God who is overcoming all things.

A person of real maturity would feel thankful for the test, feel delight in the moment of probing. I’m not mature yet. But, I’m getting there. Ten years ago I would have let my heart be filled with disturbances and embraced the filling. Now, I may not be delighting in the bother, but at least I’m aware I should. That’s a step.


Yesterday is trying to have another go today. Only difference is the chipmunk sitting on a stump, three feet off the ground, chirping, each chirp accompanied by a swish of its little tail.

Once again we’ll see how this day goes. Is it a test?

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