Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Month: July 2004 (page 1 of 4)


Moonlight fills the living room, light dull and bright all at once, a mystical hue of heavenly inspiration. From the couch I can see the shadows of crevice and crater. Bats are busy closer, darting around, sudden turns, quick dives and then back into the darkness. The evening is cooler, a wonderful thing. Only the drooping cedars, lower branches all brown from drought, dropping on the ground, gives pause to a delightful evening.

God is in the business of saving us. That is what he does. We don’t often think of it this way. Even if our theology says otherwise, our hearts and minds and lived out reality indicates we think it is our business, it is our duty or goal, ourselves and others. We participate, we are not passive, but it is not our work.

Christ came to save us, and he will do it, unless we actively protest.

I say this because it is one of the most difficult lessons to learn at the beginning of the trail along the Way. Letting go not only our passions, letting go also our ambitions towards God, changing our mind so that we don’t insist on the fact we are in trouble if we don’t do all the right things as we see them.

That is the freedom of Christ. It is not just an issue of salvation, or even just an issue of sanctification. The freedom is real freedom of thought, letting us release all those things which consume unspiritual humanity, so that we can join in on the dance. Learning to release that which we even consider as virtue, those drives which enslave us by their noble endeavors is a wonderful thing.

In doing that we learn obedience and the restfulness of understanding of God’s light yoke.

Release and patience. Those, I think, are the two prerequisites to maturity. When one can taste of these, a person is starting on the right road that will lead to even more wonderful light.

I’m still at the beginning, so I can’t even begin to say what the rest of the road may look like. Hearsay only. But, I think I’m on my way.

I also realized this morning that this present writing is reflecting a common pattern in my soul. Neither high nor low, neither answers nor new problems, drifting along in the ‘alright’. Common, but little commented on, for these are the times in which I never write, not having anything bursting out of my soul for attention.

The doldrums of seasons and of my soul. Whither the wind blows? I don’t know. So steady on until something reveals itself more fully or, more likely, I enter a height once more, and the writing takes off once again.


About ten days ago men came and chopped down the last remaining dead pine within view. The one which had the raven nest in it, the one with branches chopped to just about the very top.

The nest is gone now. The ravens are not. All day, literally, it was like living next door to angry neighbors, with yelling and bickering constant, filling the air with the noise. Raven babies, now at flight, conversed with their parents, their parents cawed back, a dictionary of raven terms being used. They flew over, all around, from tree to tree, making noises. And I was glad to hear it.

A wonderful thing to be able to see a raven nest, the fledglings hatched and take flight while we watched from a distance, now being trained on how to be an adult raven, how to eat, how to survive. Soon, they will be gone, the parents will be alone with their territory once more. Next year a different tree, and the process all over again.

For whatever reason I have been sleeping in. I never set my clock because I generally wake up at six. Not this week. Yes, I’ve been going to bed later, but not enough to justify nine hours of sleep. Sick? I don’t know. Does throw me off, makes me stumble around, trying to find my bearings. And even still, there is progression. Little things. Out of my control which require my response but are not born of my assertions.

Steady along. To the end.

Some days that is as much as can or should be said.


There was a wind when I woke up this morning. It continued throughout the day. I didn’t use the wind for any purpose, didn’t even gaze at it for any length of time. What it meant to me was cooler weather. That is a lovely thing.

Some days we are called to focus, some days we are called to release focus. Some days we release when we should focus, and yes, some days we focus when we should release.

I wasn’t terribly focused, though did move forward in some ways. And yet, it was fine.

I chatted a lot today, online mostly. Often this is a waste. Not today. Several people were around, and I was as well.

No important information was shared, no earth shattering news.

Only it was right, and I don’t know why, and I may never.

Can’t do this everyday, the days of focus are vital. But that’s the lesson of discernment. There are no rules, except the fluid response to the Spirit. There is no law, but within the Spirit all is rightly done.

Growing spiritually is a lot like sculpture. The chisel chips away all around, attacking at different angles, not finishing one spot perfectly before going to another, but instead releasing the figure over time, all together.

A different angle today, and while it is true that not all is perfect, and some aspects should be considered as missteps, it was right and good, and God is working in me, and in others around.

We share these things and it becomes a dance, a glorious, wonderful, eternal dance.


A raven cawed from a nearby tree. I couldn’t see it, so I went outside. It was near, the call echoing off the side of houses. I walked further up the driveway, where pavement becomes dirt. The raven called again, down the hill, closer to the street, hidden in a tree. I kept walking.

Another called, straight ahead, where a dry runoff is filled thick with trees. I stopped, and turned towards the street. The raven called again, the one I passed answered. A raven to my left, a raven to my right. I walked south, down the hill, not noticing the stones and twigs biting into my bare feet.

I stopped again, the raven to my right flew down, in front of me, onto a tree. The one to my left called, announcing itself, alerting the forest.

A squirrel was stopped halfway down a cedar tree, pattering its foot against the trunk, chattering. Another squirrel in the distance did the same.

I kept walking down the path, towards where the dry runoff goes under the street. Raven to my left, raven to my right, cawing at each other, squirrels chattering, tapping on trees. I kept alert, my eyes scanned all around.

Another step. Yes, there it was, a coyote sauntered out of the brush in front of us, crossed the street down into a small valley.

The ravens followed, cawing. I stared for a moment then went home. The squirrels kept chattering.

And I got to a renewed bit of work, something left off and now re-engaged. Finding contentment in being in tune with nature and my soul.


It was a hot day. And I am not a hot day person. Well, if I’m out having fun at the beach, or basking in the sun, it’s not a bother. Only my brain shuts off at 85 degrees.

I did things in half hour spurts. A little writing, a little drawing, a little staring. Not a bad day, not at all. But it was a scattered day, all around, internally and spiritually. Low expectations staved off any self-disappointment.

The wind picked up in the afternoon bringing delight to body and soul, and an almost sacred moment of a woodpecker and a chipmunk sharing the birdbath for a long sip under the hot sun.

That moment itself was worth an entire day.


For whatever reason it seems a cheery morning, squirrels are active, jays are busy, chickadees exploring, flying bugs all around. The sky is fully blue, not a hint of white. There is a breeze, but only just.

The monks had a lot to say about sin, and not in the way generally thought. Overcoming human frailty was their profession and so they made an art of the progress. One of those areas in which they discussed was the culpability of unconscious or half-conscious sin where dreams or wandering thoughts open up parts of our being which we generally cover up in regular life. They came to the conclusion these are not necessarily culpable sins, but rather indicators, revealing what is hidden beneath and showing the real state of our being.

I say this because I have noted these last couple of weeks have not been the highlight of my spiritual questing. And yet, this morning, I noticed my mind eagerly wandering to beautiful fields, where I rise above my conscious state rather than descend. I lie half awake with thoughts of heaven intruding, revealing to me where my heart lies, even if I have not yet learned to make the eternal my permanent residence.

Progress is being made, slowly, a drop at a time filling up a swimming pool. It is however an important thing to realize the progress, and celebrate it when noticed. We get too bogged down in our appropriate considerations of mistakes and constant failings it becomes difficult to see how we really are better, how we are getting healthier.

God is at work, and while I am not the best of servants quite yet, I am happy to note when I participate in his work.

Even, especially, at times in which I release the burden on him, and let my heart float free for a little while.

Monday, though, I think I’ll get back into a more disciplined rhythm.


This is a still morning. The windsock hangs limp, the branches move not even an inch, there are no birds singing, though earlier squirrels were chasing each other through the trees. I went to bed late, and woke up late, but don’t feel the usual tension of an upset schedule. Peace abounds, and I feel like basking in it, letting my muscles and mind relax in its soothing glow. The only movement now is the chickadee wandering up and down, all around, the trunk of a cedar, looking for bugs within the crevices of its bark.

I’m not sure if there is a rational to my present life. I have for the last week or so backed off on some of the forcefulness I put on myself, letting loose some of the ambition which drives me towards God, and drives me towards a godly life. In doing so, I’ve found myself curiously restored in some ways, stronger, as though letting loose of the demand for maturity is in itself a step of maturity.

I haven’t been using my time as well as I used to and haven’t gotten accomplished what I wanted to, only I feel peace this morning, and it is not the peace in laziness, it is the peace which comes from release, from trust. There are indeed times in which bursts of activity and productivity are required, and there is no doubt a life of laziness is condemned. However, in learning certain lessons there are demands for different responses and to learn the lessons of God’s sovereignty means we release claims of our own. In releasing these claims deepseating habits, and strong calls from society all around, have to be washed away, cleansed so that we are more focused on the tasks which are of eternal consequence.

Either that or I am theologizing my present lack of impetus. But I pray, and I pray for wisdom and guidance and inspiration. What comes I have to assume is an answer to prayer.

I’ll keep praying, just to make sure.


I need to put some kind of cover over my floor lamp. I can smell the bugs that come to close to the alluring light, and it is not a pleasant smell. Makes me want to stand outside for a while and bask in cleaner, less crematory air.

There is a paragraph in one of the orthodox writers I am reading (I’m too lazy to check and see which one right now) who mentions an ascetic and a contemplative component to a full Spiritual life, corresponding essentially with a life of discipline and a life of consideration. Some come to the contemplation through the asceticism, some come to the asceticism through the contemplation.

I’m certainly of the latter, finding discipline only after increasingly considering the goal. Fortunately, for me, the writer noted this was the more effective path, though he didn’t say why. I would guess it is because in having contemplation first everything is always considered through the lens of the end, rather than having the end considered through the lens of the duties. Disciplines can become themselves the goal if not careful. But, of course, these two are inextricably linked.

I’m not sure why I note this now, only it keeps coming to my mind, maybe because there are times in which I berate myself for my lapses of discipline, and think that I am not taking advantage of the time like I should. I am, only I approach it differently than someone who looks only to the specific actions of a spiritual life. I tend to be more fluid in reaction and response, though the dangers of that are not hard to find.

God does indeed work in everyone’s life differently, and to pattern one after another is the sure way to miss the work of the most creative Spirit.

Not an excuse, however, to drop the ball with discipline, I still need to work on it, even if contemplation comes easier these days.


A big, very big, flying bug is buzzing at my screen door, loud and bulky, I’m almost a little worried it’s going to break in. It bounces against the screen, sounding like an enraged bumble bee only twice the size. I think I’m going to lock the doors downstairs.

For whatever reason I was inspired last week to begin running everyday. Not the path I was periodically taking through the neighborhood. Rather a much more wild path, through the forest on trails used and abused by logging crews. There are berms in the trail, making one have to run over them like it was a World War One expedition into No Man’s land. Trees were felled, and left piled, some were chopped into chips and also left piled. Up and down in the hills on soft dirt, off trail at times (my socks are a mess now). For about forty minutes I run, not much really, but given the haphazard habit jogging has always held for me, more so since I took up kayaking, it is a nice restart of sorts.

I run because it makes me sweat, and I feel better having rid my body of whatever has built up inside of it. I run because my legs have a weird tan, a kayak tan, which means very dark knees and pale shins. I run because it’s good exercise and when the scale the other day whispered 215 I realized I was beginning to venture into realms I didn’t like. I run because my mind is inspired, thoughts reveal themselves, and honestly because running has a potent practical spiritual analogy for me.

I didn’t want to go today. In fact I said, yes out loud…, no, not to myself… to my dog, “I’m going running because I don’t feel like it.” He looked up at me, and gave me a unmistakeable dog shrug before putting his head back down.

A nap felt more appealing, strongly enticing. I put on my shoes and walked outside into the heat, feeling comforted by the wonderful mountain breeze which took the edge off. Then I proceeded to run the entire path, where before I always had to walk a bit of the ways — because I set a distance longer than what I could do at first. The getting out was the bugger, once begun the rhythm and previous exercise took over.

It is to me a spiritual discipline, one which I use when prayer does not rise up, and study doesn’t focus. It becomes, with the reasons behind it, an act of worship, because I do it so that I can better see God in the rest of my life.

Ambition, if turned towards God, can take peculiar forms. I also, after a shower, did end up taking a nap. Ten minutes long and wonderfully refreshing.


This quote from Peter of Damascus stuck out to me recently as being appropriate to this life, “Man stands at the crossroads between righteousness and sin, and chooses whichever path he wishes. But after that the path which he has chosen to follow, and the guides assigned to it, whether angels and saints or demons and sinners, will lead him to the end of it, even if he has no wish to go there.”

And this too also expresses my heart tonight:

“Because by God’s grace I have been granted many great gifts and yet have never done anything good myself, I became frightened lest in my laziness and sloth I would forget His blessings — as well as my own faults and sins — and not even offer Him thanks or show my gratitude in anyway.”

In response the writer decided to write. Both these quotes express my own continued struggle and hopes, and express my present desires to write as well. An expression of the work of God, as an encouragement and a rebuke to my over vacillating soul.

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