Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Month: July 2004 (page 3 of 4)


I suspect it is going to be a warm day. The sun shining through my window, forcing my eyes to squint feels strong, feel almost burdensome. It is a day to either embrace the sun or hide from it. I shall do neither.

Called by last minute changes of plan, I’m heading down the hill, to help out in the morning and celebrate a birthday in the evening. Old friends and family make a fine excuse to leave a cell.


The evening is welcomed, with its quiet and dark, peaceful stars and cool breeze. There are days to get through, and this was one of them.

Discernment is a tricky art. There are many aspects, and nuances innumerable. We often think of discernment in clear rights and wrongs, in directions to go, in words to say, or not say. This week there has been a different taste of discernment. Understanding the nuances of being sinned against, and the appropriate response.

A neighbor who visits infrequently came this last weekend. He talks the talk of Christianity, but when it comes to his home all the conversation is what he is going to add or other topics seeking to show his worth through money. He has a sick soul, an orange county kind, in which the game is to alternately impress those around and assert your being on them. He put up a sign, hanging it on a sign holder made for this house. When asked why, he said the fire department said he needed a sign and the sign holder was community property.

Turns out the fire department said no such thing. He was lying, in order to assert himself, his being, on others, peeing on the tree, marking his territory. An outworking of a sick soul, whose pride masks a corrupted inside, knowing the words but not having the heart of Christ. An emaciated soul, filled with twinkies instead of meat.

Another, a painter, who did several days of great work, took several days off, then came up completely different, sick of soul, full of rage and frustration at issues beyond his control, unrelated to this job. But, his work and words suffered, his anger evident, his quality lost.

He was being paid, not an insignificant amount, and in reality acted much worse. But, for him, my heart goes out, prayers go up. His is a damaged soul.

One whose pride causes him to assert himself, another whose frustration with life causes him to lose himself. The first a Christian, in name at least, the second… spiritually alert and buffeted by forces unseen.

My heart goes out to the second, not to the first, to the man whose struggle with money and a lifetime of hurt finds him lost.

The world would say to make amends with the neighbor and be harsh with the painter.

I know who Jesus would smile on, and comfort, not letting the affairs of business get in the way of a hurting heart. Few words would he say to the one whose life allows for great opportunity, lost and forsaken in the wilderness of vainglory, voluntarily spent, willfully lost.

Some might say that both deserve kind words and reconciliation. I don’t see that in the Gospels. Jesus comforted those who had no other comfort, and despised those who had the world singing their praises. He knew the cause and root of sin in each, and knew that the most egregious was not always the most vile, and the least offense could point to a thoroughly rotten core.

The lesson of the week.


For whatever reason it is a wonderful thing to sit at a desk, and suddenly have the sun peak over the ridge to the east, through the trees, as bright and bold as can be, blinding the eyes with its force of light.

There is no rational explanation for occasions of beauty, only those internal connections with the wider world which fill our souls.

Today I remain around the house, the issues of yesterday giving restraint to my own attempts at renewed flight. Which is fine. The great concern is not the progress, it is the heart which seeks the progress, which demands too much of its ability, and would eagerly overindulge if given a chance. There is the thought that there is no excess in the pursuit of virtue. I’m not sure. Not because virtue is an ill, but because our own souls are emaciated. One starving for many years should not feast on a full table immediately. It takes time for the stomach to expand. Not waiting means sickness, means death. Our own, my own, weakness wants to intrude and corrupt the growing light within, a reality, I think, which is the cause of so many of those who once sought and now reject. They ate too quickly of the rich delicacies without thought of their own fortitude.

They tasted too much, and became sick, so rejected the food rather than the condition.

So, I’ll be content reading around my room, doing tasks less lofty but just as important, learning to neither go too quickly or too slowly, discovering the rhythm of the Spirit whose music should become my only concern.


The day was cloudy, then sunny, then cloudy, then sunny, then cloudy, and then cloudy, then sunny, and when the sun went down, the night was cloudy, then the stars appeared, then they disappeared, now they’re back. A light breeze, lighter than it has been all day, stirs the branches.

I for whatever reason have been spurred to read. Not just a little, but the quantity of pages I read at busy times of graduate studies. Josephus made his way past my eyes, Milton lingered long, and with him visions of heaven, long ago and eternal, giving the terms heroic and grand renewed power of meaning. No tale climbs the heights of glory as do the middle chapters of Milton’s epic flight. Goethe made a first appearance, at least conversations long ago recorded did so. I suppose I should read his poetry first before learning of the man, but I find him more interesting as an artist on art, than as a poet on other themes right now. Philotheos of Sinai inspired my soul, accompanied by portions of Ilias the Presbyter.

All but Josephus gave me insight upon the top of a hill, surrounded by naught but forest and wind, while sitting balanced on a rock. Bees and bugs teased at times, but my venture out into relative solitude was worthwhile. This spot was closed for many a month, breaking a habit newly formed last fall. Back now, even with trees downed all around, I found new life blossoming amidst fallen pines.

That confusion of sorts continued throughout my repose did not disturb, for I was unaware, knowing only the billowing clouds moving past, and tales of the heights told by men who long ago climbed the winding path giving them cause and care to tell of their view.

Problems with the painters. Nothing terrible, only peculiar confusion as I was at the same moment throwing myself at the impasse.

Morning on the lake, day on the mountain. Seeking God, a renewed vision or a restoration of one once given. I know the words, expecting them even as I hear them anew: “Wait.” “For what?” There is no answer given. So, I wait, and ponder the mysteries of this present life, knowing the path winds upwards, eternally.

And so I walk it, finding that my greatest barrier is still the thoughts and opinions of others. Released from concern over hypothetical judgment, I think I could fly high indeed. But, that’s a barrier which is hard to break, especially if one does not want break the bond of community as well.

It comes down to learning to keep my eyes high, ever higher, focusing on the prize and the end until I really believe, in body and soul. That is why I am drawn to the visions and thoughts of the fuller reality. To overcome the impasse I must rise higher in heart and mind, becoming more in soul.

One can see the heights, even taste of them, without too much time involved. I did. But this taste, this visit to the place of light and peace is not a permanent residence, it is only a tease, a draw which captures the heart and ruins one for any other pursuit. The taste, what we think is the fullness, is only enough to draw us along the rising path to constant habitation. This transition, I am finding, takes a great deal of time, much more than I ever knew. But because of the previous visit, some of the sights are the same, the realizations renewed rather than new. The difference being that the reality becomes real rather than a vision, whole and regular rather than lofty flights into an epiphany.

Learning to visit can be addictive, enough for many. Learning to dwell is the call, and entails a long and winding road through the valley of the shadow of death into light and glory which has no compare.

May I continue to walk that path, where ever it leads, whether back into the valleys, or ever higher past the mists where the sun shines clear and warm.


For whatever reason I decided that 10:05 was a good time to take the kayak off the roof of my truck and put it back on the deck, only to reverse the process at first light. Security, peace of mind, I’m not sure. It did get me walking slowly outside, staring up more than across, at the stars, which are bright, framed in whispy clouds.

I did the task, then sat down upon a bench, and looked up at the stars, my head against the back rail, as though I was at a planetarium show with the special headrests and projected night.

This was real, and for a moment I was entranced, feeling the wonders of this world around. Only a moment, before the vague irritations of being in a forest, but also in a small populated town, began to encroach on my mind.

I miss the islands off the coast. The last place I could see and hear the night without human interference.

Still, though, the passage through the day ending with the staring at the night was welcomed.

I did read, making hundred or so pages of Josephus checked off, realizing again how things really do not change in this world. I haven’t read the book in about nine years, and it is entrancing in a way I forgot. The world of Jesus was significantly different than our pictures of it suggest. Indeed, the whitewashed history we conceive of is just as foreign as the blonde hair of tall messiah. Humans are a vile and violent creature if given half, a quarter, of a chance.

The fact I’m reading this, and looking at other texts again, is telling. My passion to study techological books has subsided, my interests are fading back into those soul enriching realms, where eternity lurks in pages and pens.

Now, though, I am tired, figuring that after a couple of days of consideration, I am fighting off some low-level illness which doesn’t strike strong as much as undercuts my energy. So, I’ll sleep tonight, and look forward to more reading, more steady progress, tomorrow.

It is also a telling thing that I consider Antony’s twenty years of solitude and maturation in a cave and think it to be a rather quick process on his part.

This is a long road indeed, especially when a person goes the scenic rout


The sun rose through the haze, high cirrus clouds thickening until now a thick gray mat covers the sky. They do not portend rain, merely summer gloom, something which is common in the valleys, very unusual in the mountains.

Painters are back again today, to protect the house from weather and worse, the first new paint this house has felt in thirty years.

I don’t mind. They are painted the back, where I usually sit and look out while writing or fiddling about on my computer.

The distraction drives me to other tasks, which are themselves in my soul. Josephus shall be read, as will Schurer and his revisors, Milton will make an appearance, and maybe even Matthew or Mark.

My eyes and head are computer weary I figured, and sad to say, I was so used to the feeling the cause did not occur very quickly.

So, distractions abound, and distractions push, leading me to do that which I should do on this day.

The weather fits my heart, and so I shall strive to change what I can. My heart, hopefully, the weather if I am particularly righteous.


After watching the ravens this evening, feeling a measure of peace, and a moment of light, I came inside and lost it all.

I think the remedy before me involves a small break from bright screens, and more old fashioned pursuits to stir the mind and heart.


I had a bag of pistachios. I love pistachios. There are, however, always those few which are opened. A person can wreck fingernails trying to pry the shut gates, or just toss them aside with the empty shells. I like doing neither. So, I put these few, well about six by the time I had sat with my bag through the evening, outside.

A jay came this morning, not too early, well after the sun rose over the house on the hill. There was no other seed, just pistachios. It took one in its mouth, looked about, and flew west, out of sight. It did not go far apparently. A moment later it was back, took another pistachio in its beak, and again flew west a ways.

The fourth pistachio went east. The others all followed the first. No pistachios remain on the balcony rail. The late squirrels will be so disappointed.

Someone called at two a.m, on the dot. I’m not sure who it was. “Unknown caller” was on the ID. It tore me out of my dreams, not in time to answer it, but enough to prompt me to check for a message. There was none and I was quite awake. I turned on the light, filled up a glass of water, then another, then a jug of the same and eased my dry mouth while reading the ancient story of the Jewish Wars by Josephus.

At five am I had a distinctive dream, one which prompted me to awake and quickly fulfill its clear message in the bathroom downstairs. Drinking several pints of water at two am has that effect.

The painters are back today, after a lull which lasted four days longer than originally said. Slacking was not an occupation only pursued by me this weekend. This means sitting in my usual spot is likely not an option. Having folks busy and active outside does not a contemplative time make. So, to other places I shall go, either in the wilderness or somewhere else for a time.

There is that impasse still, that prodding me forward into or over a wall, which was put on pause this last weekend. Now that quiet and peace have returned, I can again seek it out, discover what it means, try to understand the path which lies ahead.

That, for now, is my sole occupation.


Funny, I really thought I wrote this morning. Ah, slacking does odd things to one’s mind and awareness.

And slack I did, completely without merit. My success of the day was watching a fairer portion of the twilight zone marathon than I have in many, many years. I would have preferred a Rocky and Bullwinkle marathon (which happened when I was in Chicago, and ranks as one of the highlights of my television viewing life), but this was nice.

They were made in the late 50s and early 60s, full of odd mystery, subtle horror, and surprisingly moralistic messages. That is the reason remakes don’t work. People write new episodes with the twists and turns but forget that the Zone was really a half hour parable. I even heard the Gospel message presented (which can’t be taken for something else when a character talks about God sending his son to die on a cross for the sake of everyone’s sins, and everyone has spent the last two thousand years learning to believe in him).

Rod Serling opens the show, cigarette in hand, setting up the premise of the extremely virtuous story he wrote.

This couldn’t be done today. Not because it wouldn’t make money or be popular, but because there is no connecting of a Twilight Zone concept with conservative morality and indeed even faith. Ah well, that’s why reruns are nice treats.

Later in the day I stood on the deck, to survey the nest. Certainly, the fledglings are soon to leave. There was one, illuminated by the setting sun in the west which made the dead pine dark gold, and highlighted the pitch black of the feathers. The baby raven, same size as its parents, was perched on the big bowl of the nest, about a hundred feet above the air, upon the lowest branches of this mostly shorn tree, flapping its fully grown wings, though without either strength or confidence to take the leap out.

It turned its head, and the sun glistened bright off its glossy black beak. After a few minutes, having exercised its nascent limbs, the young bird disappeared back down into the nest, still chattering with its sibling(s).

And the vacationers are gone, the regulars here settling back into a more favorable rhythm, valuing the quiet and consideration of others who call this mountain home.

I frittered away this day, to be sure, letting this be a holiday weekend as a whole, now ready to leap back into those tasks which bring me closer to the goal.

I’ve sat around, now I am ready to run, to sprint, once more.


Special fourth of July treats. A barbeque with steak and corn, an evening spent with family, cheery even if less than wonderfully entertained, and a fireworks show of the stars, bright and clear, wonderful in the warm summer night.

More wonderful is the delightful scene I watched for many hours upon the deck. It was the noises which first caught my attention. I looked up high, where some caw like mumbling was coming from the dead pine. I looked up to see a raven in the branches, standing over the nest. Then another raven stuck it’s head out, and another, then a raven flew in.

I could see the baby ravens for the first time, hear them. For whatever reason I’ve missed them before, because they are large now, very large, almost full grown, though not quite ready to leave the nest. Still, they open their mouths to feed when mom or dad come back from their now frequent forays for food.

And they cannot quite yet fly. A bold nestling climbed onto the edge, flapped its wings, shook its tail, discovering those wonderful tools which it cannot quite yet depend on.

Watching the baby ravens emerging from the nest, seeing the parents dutifully serving their needs is a sight which will make this 4th memorable for many years to come. The dual ravens have doubled in number, though it will not be long until we are back to two again, and the young birds who were saved by the care of Federal law and an attentive man with a chainsaw will find their own way in this world.

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