Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: August 11, 2004

evening

We are in the mountains, surrounded by forest and forest creatures, yet we are not far from the urban meadows of Los Angeles, which spreads from ocean to desert, with but momentary lapses of attention.

The night is dark, only scattered porch lights illuminate nearby, not enough to give bother. But, I did again notice the light pollution to the south, where millions sleep, where artificial light does not, casting its glow high into the sky.

Still, though not secluded, sitting for a spell underneath those continuing lights of above, I taste of something, something which always resided within my soul, giving me that longing, unquenchable, that distance, that assurance of something grand just beyond our view. It is this which causes me to wander from weddings into a barren desert, or wander from the suburban chase to mountain reclusion.

Sometimes, in those quiet moments when everyone has gone to bed, when the wind lightly stirs the cedar branches or brings a twinkle to a distant star, I taste it stronger, it comes to the fore, and I am filled with the sense of the eternal, that constant river in which we barely participate, yet which calls us always, in and through all things, to lay down our selves and take the great leap within its gentle and powerful current.

Words escape, prayers replace, and I sit in solitude, at tune with the world around, feeling myself a beginner, but a beginner who knows, who has begun. There is only to continue, for tasting of this, being given this gift, is not something which can be left behind. It lingers, in the moment, in the constant, so that one is drawn back to the song, risking one’s own soul if not pursued.

But it is restful, peaceful, a melody which gives ease to the innermost being, a harmony of all things resonating within and without. All is well, it sings. And so it is.

morning

Amidst the small, skaky branches which define the usual terrain for our various chipmunks a squirrel is wandering. Very awkward, quite ungainly, which are not usual traits for this most acrobatic rodent. His bulk is a wee bit too much, the branches a wee bit too little, making his legs occasionally splay, and his body twist in uncomfortable poses. I’m not sure of his purpose, it would have been an easier path to the woodpile by climbing up the side. It seems as though he got going, then at some point committed himself to the weak overgrown mass.

A jay makes a racuous tripartite call on the rail of my balcony, then flies to a nearby branch and does it again, then to a branch on the other side with a similar screech, and back to the balcony for some dried corn. Triangulating its approach, measuring for danger, announcing to the morning world its intent, that yes, it was going to eat right now, and right here.

On a branch nearby sits a white-headed woodpecker, surveying the scene with somber gravity, before flying, most likely, to a house down the hill, where woodpeckers gather like gang members defending their territory. The house is riddled with their holes, and throughout the day a regular tap-tap-tap can be heard echoing through the valley. The arrogance and rather crabby demeanor of the owners who occasionally visit makes for a bit of comedy. They come up like they own the neighborhood, while snickers abound around them, being but pawns for the red capped, white faced birds who really own that house and use it for their own purposes.

I woke up earlier this morning, a slight headache prompting me to arise. Once addressed I got to reading, first a little bit from Sinclair Lewis’ Arrowsmith. (A book I bought and read a few years back due to the apparent similarity of the title character and my own innate personality. A section of a sentence did sadly resonate: “this biography of a young man who was in no degree a hero, who regarded himself as a seeker after truth yet who stumbled and slid back his whole life and bogged himself in every obvious morass” but that is besides the point… I went to seminary, not medical school. The differences are vast).

I then picked up a wonderful, concise volume on Intertestamental Judaism, finding a bit of solace in reading about material rather than reading the material directly. Having someone else identify key points and important works is a restful break from reading and realizing the importance of obviously vital literature which no one knows. “Aha” moments are punctured by “People Should Know This” thoughts, and “That Sermon a While Back Completely Missed the Point” aspects which primary literature, including the Biblical text too often causes.

The book is meaningful for another reason, besides its to the point analysis and description. The author, J. Julius Scott was one of my favorite teachers, and likely most influential teachers, at Wheaton. I use the word ‘teacher’ purposefully. I was a young, sophomore undergraduate invading the space of a graduate school syllabus. I came into the Early Church History class with nothing to offer, thinking only to fill a history major requirement. When the sixteen weeks were over, I had passionately spent money I didn’t have on a volume of Tertullian, caressing the book in my hands as I eagerly brought it to the counter, then read the whole thing over spring break, and found myself completely enraptureed with a world I never knew existed, and completely angry with a Church which did not know nor teach this world. Ten years later this transformation remains.

Scales came off my eyes under this man’s studious tutelage. I never really knew him as a man, only as a teacher, direct, to the point, emphasizing always the importance of primary literature by making us read primary literature, and the importance of scholarly work by engaging us with the depths.

I took him again my senior year for a class on Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament, at the end of which he noted that for the simple reason we had taken the class we were now going to be resident experts in most places because of the vast ignorance of the subject in general.

My time at Fuller, noting little of primary sources and even less of Jewish backgrounds, emphasized the quality of teaching which my younger years treasured. Fortunately, I was one who was aware of the gift while it was being given.

At Fuller I grew weary of large classes and degree-seeking students. I missed the intellectual curiousity which was allowed to flourish at Wheaton. It existed at Fuller among scattered individuals, but was not really given freedom.

In picking up this brief volume again this morning, all the past excitement began bubbling out. I remembered the lessons hammered into my developing intellect, which served me to glide through an M.Div with less attention than my B.A. required. The words and emphases resonated from the pages, and Ifelt the stirrings again.

Because of a teacher, whose skill is shown in created a passion, opening up new worlds, and by making a mark on my mind which will itself resonate in whatever, if anything, I am ever able to contribute to this world myself.

I read the couple of chapters and realize that this is what my present life misses. The interaction and stirring, impetus and excitement about topics which reside in my heart, but have been battered by overlong droughts.

May the rain come.

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