Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: June 23, 2004

evening

I turned off the light in the kitchen and looked out the living room window. There, peeking out from the branches of a tree was the moon, only a quarter, but bright enough to light the deck. A star was nearby, the branches swayed in the light summer breeze.

I drove up the hill a ways today, and sat for an hour at a table, watching the birds, listening to their songs, looking at the wonderful shades of green which are revealed in a shaded grove when the sun only barely sneaks in.

There were ravens, twenty or so, flying about, cawing loud, a bedraggled bunch, juveniles. One had several feathers missing at the tip of its wing. The soaring showed it was not bothered by the loss. While impressive in the air, these undevoted birds had not the dignity of our breeding pair, whose responsibilty for a nest have given them a measure of gravitas.

Gravitas is a funny thing to notice in a bird, and funnier when you miss it in others of its kind.

While pondering the ravens, I also read a little, more of Kandinsky.

I have found throughout my life that the most important theological influences have rarely been writers of theology. Of course there are the Fathers, exceptions to my rule. In general, I have learned of God through other subjects, and despite what a philosopher might say, I think this is just fine.

At some point in history, philosophy took over theology, to the point now where we assume these two are connected. Yet, philosophers have never really been known for their piety and zeal to the gods, only for their ability to talk about them in a removed sense. God becomes managed, managed by words, managed by thoughts, thoughts which are stretched in order to fit what has been revealed, revealing the thoughts to be more important than the revelation.

But, always the question is not who is God, or the gods, but what have they done. The God of Israel knew, knows, this (which enters into a complex discussion of verb tense from an eternal perspective when entered into time) so he said, “I am the God who brought you out of Egypt” or now, “I am the God who sent the Son to die and Rise again.”

It may be the fact it is late, but I’m thinking that philosophy has done its bit with theology. No one knows theology except philosophers (and the occasional historian who strays in life), because it has become a field which speaks only to itself, rather than outward to the world, which of course is the purpose of theology to begin with.

What then? The question assumes there is no other path, so convinced we are by the philosophers sophistry.

Kandinsky called music the most pure of the arts because it alone did not require form, it alone had no measure of reproduction, but was always a direct path from and into the soul. It affects us, and yet we do not have to intellectually grasp the particulars of a melody. It bypasses our intellect, seeping into our being. If we are trained in its art we can respond, letting our souls speak in words only other souls can understand.

It is beyond us. So too is most art, or anything which taps directly into that core of who we are. It is this which conveys theology. Where words cannot suffice, more words do not overcome. Going beyond words, tasting of the divine by participating in a freedom which marks the image of the divine within us.

I sat on the mountain today and realized there is that spark within me, that call to be free, to be whole, if only I dare. The true theologian is not the one who has mastered the Germans of the previous centuries, or who can debate the nuances of free will versus determinism ad naseum. The true theologian is the one who catches sight of God himself, who has tasted of heaven and can speak of what the sensations.

This is not abandoning the intellectual, indeed it is super intellectual in a way, but it may push aside the rational, for the rational only tells us what we already know.

I stumbled and wandered this day, and still I tasted of what it is I’m looking for, if only I ever learn to take that leap of soul, a leap I cannot describe, for I have not learned the words. It is the jumping out of the plane, skydiving without a parachute, reaching out beyond to take hold of that which calls us onward.

To do this means releasing much, letting go not only the material, but much of the internal, those drives which bind us to the mundane, and ever seek to restrain the real quest.

Right now it is like a word, known but not remembered, in a context where only that word would fit. I can almost taste it, but cannot come to it. When I do, that will be a day.

For now, this day ends with my little rambling.

At least I’m writing.

morning

Another early morning, before the birds, before the sun. I watched as two chickadees awoke from their slumber in the trees, and joined together in a song amidst the cedar branches. Now the chipmunks scurry around, through the branches of various saplings, having found a new playground for themselves. Everyday they scurry around the ground, into the branch, back to the ground. These small trees, no taller than ten feet, are perfect chipmunk sized. One sits on a sloping trunk, washing his face with his hands, grooming his leg, swishing his tail. Another searches around an old small stump, digging, shoveling, looking for a snack.

This morning I got back to a bit of writing, though not the same sort as recently. I delved into the thoughts of the rabbis of old, finding their wisdom on topics of contemporary importance, and transmitting those in a way which our era would read. The danger, of course, in trying to bridge academics and church is laziness. I notice I’m a little less particular of sources and a little more willing to smudge the ‘rules’ when I seek to translate. This is something I’ll have to overcome, but can only be overcome if I don’t let that academic side of me slip away into some nether region of practicality.

I like the side of me which loves libraries, which treasures research. Like any art or skill, however, academics takes practice, continued work and effort. I do not necessarily see my path as leading into academia, but I do see the that side of my own thinking being absolutely essential to what my calling seems to be. I worry at times about how much I am praying, or how I am pursuing the other spiritual disciplines. Study too needs to be a concern of mine, so that I keep it up, so that I retain the sharpness and insight, so that when it comes time for me to speak, I will have something to say.

This morning I ventured back, and found I missed it all. A great reminder, a great project.

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