Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Month: August 2004 (page 3 of 3)

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.

evening

Tonight it is the crickets, spread out, subtle sound blending together in a peaceful buzz, a soothing tone of nature’s yearning. The cool air is a release, the slightest of breezes welcoming, a needed change from the stale air of indoors.

I feel the strain melt off when I go outdoors, like heat leaving when one jumps into a cold lake. The peace wraps around me, drawing out that which seemed so very vital on the other side of the doors, leaving me only with the light breath of tranquility giving ease to my shoulders, and chest, and mind. I breathe deep this harmonious air, and for a moment feel that despite all I know to be true, reality is in fact a fine place to be.

Then back inside, and the stored warmth stifles once more. Is it wrong to be eager for summer’s end? I am, but will go steady along in the meantime, finding my productivity broken during the day and my activity peaking at dawn and dusk.

There is a learning which seems to be seeping its way through the granite, finally. We who walk with Christ expect the blessings, expect his leading to be filled with excitement, promise, power.

What we always seem to forget is the tale of every single person who walked with Christ. They stumbled and fell, sometimes even at the end, and very few had beginnings which didn’t entail disaster of some sort.

We learn the lesson of the three friends when we sign up for the Way, that deep truth that God can help us, but if he does not we will still have faith.

This was not my finest day, to be sure, one which seemed to entail more languishing than promise, making thoughts of wasted years rise to the fore of my mind. I can blame the heat, the over eight five degrees which guarantees my ineffectiveness in creativity, but that only reveals those parts of my soul which lay close to the surface, hidden but strong.

Why there isn’t the clear response or the many leaps of promise from the past revealing more than shadows I don’t know. I know I am here now, though would be eager to take up arms in various ways, for a more active interaction. But I am here now. Through God or sin I still wonder, but God is the more powerful, and prayer never goes unanswered.

What of this day? Nothing, empty, a few crumbs which speak of greater feasts to be sure, but not today.

I am frustrated with myself, only I don’t know if I am frustrated really with my failings or frustrated with waiting and watching.

God is at work, and there is only to do that which is before me, to see what happens, and try and be faithful in each moment. Moments lost can not be recovered, but the next moments, and the ones after that always retain promise. So, once again, that is the thought of the night. Today is done, tomorrow comes.

And once again I shall pray for my daily bread, and daily forgiveness of debts.

morning

A green hose is snaked along the hillside behind the house. A drought, said by many to be among the worst in five hundred years, is causing a continued change in the hue around. The pines are gone, and with them the greatest amount of tan orange needles, but now the cedars are fading in their lower branches, sacrificing the bottom for their still vibrant dark green (forest green?) tops.

So, the hose moves around every couple of days, a trickle of water coming out, enough to seep into the soil, giving renewed life to the parched roots. It seems to be working, or at least it seems like it should work enough that I have convinced myself it is working.

Reports say that the child who causes so much chaos in the central Pacific waters may be stirring again in the next few months. The reports were more concerned about the disasters this precocious little boy can cause. In Southern California it means we would get some rain, and in these hills a good bit of snow.

Last year we got some snow, hardly any rain, and the snow which came was immediately followed by heatwaves, meaning it melted two feet in two days. Quick melt means little retention apparently, and once navigable stretches of the lake are now exposing their stumps, rocks, and old metal cannisters.

Did I mention the empty fuel tank I came across a few months ago? Dropped by an Air Force plane at some point in the last fifty years (it said US Air Force on it), it finally made its way to shore. An odd thing to come across in such a now suburbanized lake.

It was gone within a couple of days, whether by the hands of an intrepid collector or dutiful airman I don’t know.

I hope El Nino returns, though I worry about my selfish desires in this regard. Praying for rain is such a request of Biblical proportions, I figure it’s okay. It’s for the trees, and the thirsty little creatures of the forest. Maybe, also, the pines will return, though it would be long past my death until this becomes a thoroughly pine forest again, even if it were to start immediately.

Personally, I’m in a bit of a holding pattern. I am the kind of person who wants to know where I stand. I handle honesty and directness quite well, and am bothered tremendously only, mostly, by dancing around an issue.

That was part of my problem with my previous church. It wasn’t that I was rejected or accepted, it was that gray shadowy area in between, where I was both prompted forward and backward, thus leaving me in a bind. Until out of sheer frustration, and the physical hand of God in action, I had to leave. There is no doubt the shadowy uncertainty would remain, for that seems to be the most comfortable place, allowing the excitement of risking words without the dangers of real actions which may, in fact, offend some while encouraging others.

But, here I sit, waiting for the next couple of days, after waiting for the last couple of months, to hear of plans for a collaboration, which if worked out would mean a profound door opening, and would make sense of the previous year and two. If not, if for whatever reason it doesn’t quite flow. then I will know not to look for it, and will be able to free myself from the hope of a potential answer. I’ve been somewhat locked into looking at this for a while, and have been steering my thoughts that direction, so having some clarity would tell me whether to settle into the demands it offers, or to again seek to forge my own path… or rather seek to find that path which God is forging.

Other things keep me occupied, to be sure, so it is far from a wasted wait. I am eager to know, trusting that whatever happens is of God, but wishing to know what will happen all the same.

evening

The normally bright lights of the neighbor’s are out tonight, leaving a wonderful, soothing darkness to work magic. Many people are afraid of the dark, I’ve come to realize, unable to part from their electric light, unable to leave created glare, fearful what the absence may hold, even if they would deny a present phobia. It isn’t fright, but it is fear, the kind of fear which taps into one’s desire to avoid the unknown and to cover all the bases in order to have the sense of security.

Tonight I walk out and see the stars, listen to the light breeze blow through and around, taste the smell of cooling trees.

These stars I see come out slowly, shy to human eyes. Vega, as always, is bold, shining like a streetlight directly above. The others, in my view northward, are dim, requiring patience, waiting. A quick glance would say nothing is there, but my experience and learning tells me of course they are there, only they require a renewed focus of my eyes, the opening of my pupils. And so I wait, watching, waiting, my eyes becoming better all the while for the purpose. A quick glance would have missed the subtle beauty of the little bear, with the north star within, a most important light, dim though in enculturated places, where it is not needed.

Above it rises Draco, with only the brightest of its stars piercing the distance tonight, even after waiting. Cepheus apparently forms his companion, though only a shoulder, and a thigh, and his side can be seen, the complete view hidden in even this faint light around.

What is on my mind tonight has nothing to do with anything present, only it keeps circling around, asking for permission to land somewhere, so I guess I’ll give it some sway. The topic is leadership, that often bandied about term which everyone claims, but only few possess, with many thinking the words make the reality.

I know some folks who are big into leadership. That they participate in a church is not a surprise because leadership is now the third person of the Trinity in most ecclesiastical settings. Always looking for leaders, always weighing participants according to this weighted scale. Passing on the dedicated, seeking those who meet their peculiar standards.

But, as Eisenhower said somewhere, and he was a man who knew the subject of which he spoke, “Leaders are made, not born.” If leaders are not being made in a setting then the fault is not of the people, it is those who say they are in charge, leading by authority, not leadership. Yes, the army will promote some faster than others, but the fact is that it is assumed that all men and women are capable of leadership, and as they are trained can and will take on greater burdens. There are the few who do wash out, but not the majority.

These administrators want their leaders ready made, because they do not know how to make them from that which they are given. The talents are passed out, buried because they don’t self-multiply. Thus, they are not leaders in reality, but hold onto the words because that gives them a measure of self assurance.

Jesus of course was a leader, taking a bunch of yahoos and making them into something powerful. When the Spirit came, men who had no measure of societal leadership suddenly became icons to not only their world, but to history since.

Where are the Peter’s and the Mary’s and the Stephen’s today? They are not the ones who rise to leadership, but they are the one’s who respond to investment with profound response. They are not the people who we look at and say, “aha, that is the one”. Rather they are those who our eyes glance over. For that is how the Spirit works. But, we obsess over human traits to do divine work, missing the work the Spirit is already doing in our midst, because we look on the outside, never the heart.

Great leaders never worry about having worthwhile leaders underneath them, because they are always raising and training, creating men and women who do lead, learning from a dedicated investment the skills required. Administrators take stock of present realities and make do, never tapping into the wealth of present possibilities, always pining for someone or something else to be the big fix.

The problem is that with the rise of leadership language confusion has entered with power, making good administrators blind to themselves, making them think that leadership is a friendly smile. Leadership is not getting people to do something, that is authority. Leadership is getting people to become something, something more, something fitting and perfect, teaching and guiding many to find themselves within the setting and contribute to the wealth of communal being.

They take a quick glance at the night sky and see only darkness. They pick up a piece of ore and see only the surrounding rock, missing the gold. They do not know how to cut a diamond so they toss away the dirty piece of glass in their hands. That is the state of leadership in many churches today. And the world is worse off for it.

There, the thought has landed, my mind is released. A hot day has ended, with only a barest bit of creativity saving it from total obscurity.

Heat and thirst are the same to me. I cannot seem to sense either directly, but only through their influence. I am thirsty, but feel only sleepy, tired, depressed, irritable. Now that I know to drink, I respond to the secondary. Today it was hot, but I realized this only after my mind couldn’t focus, my heart felt uninspired, my laziness sought to overcome my purpose. It is hot, I said to myself, after considering some mild reproaches.

Unfortunately, I can’t solve being hot with the same ease I can solve being thirsty. There is only to wait for cooler months.

Still, it was indeed a beautiful day, a day in which I watched the proud robin stand erect on the deck, hop to the bird bath, and drink for a long while, a day in which the chipmunk wandered higher in a pine than I’ve seen one go before, coming to the edge of a branch and considering whether or not to leap to the next tree (it chose to not). So, while it was hot, an expectant eye could find points of peace and joy. May tomorrow be the same, though hopefully a mite bit cooler.

morning

I put out some new kind of seed today, called critter feed. Really, it’s not just seed, it’s the obligatory sunflower seeds (have I mentioned the lone sunflowers growing along various hillsides amidst the dry browns bold and bright as though the sun rose at night) along with bits of corn. It’s to keep the oft considered pests of bird feeders away, and mollify their creative hunger through blatant appeasement. But since all I generally have visit me are the steller’s jays and those oft considered pests, squirrels, my putting this seed out is more for their sheer benefit than other concerns.

And they do enjoy. Within a moment of my walking back inside one of the grey squirrels came quietly on the deck, a feat learned over these last many months. I turned and there he was. Little sounds of biting, corn clinking down upon the balcony, soft tapping, subtle sounds of a squirrel feasting drift into the room. She sits up every moment or so, holding a bit of corn in her hands, chewing it in small bites as her mother taught her to do. And now, a three foot leap to a rafter above, onto the roof and gone. Another squirrel wanders the driveway, likely to make its way over.

A week without written introspection has come and gone. Yet it’s still summer, so the source of the writing malaise has not been removed. There is benefit in space, giving room, letting an overwrought soul air out in a spiritual breeze.

I realize in pressing forward and onwards the essence of my inner life, and I realize this morning that while the accidents of my surroundings speak forth peace, the inner essence retains a forceful drive and unrelieved ambition. This is maybe why the present surroundings draw me and hold me so tightly, caressing my thoughts with gentle songs. Not because I am filled with the peace, but because the turmoil of my soul thirsts for it so. This drawing, this pushing, this internal urging towards the unknown, yanking me out of the typical path and hurling me offtrail into the brush, becomes unbearable when there is additional confusion flying about.

I am here not because I am filled with the peace of the forest, but because I constantly need to be surrounded with that mystical presence of life all around, where in quiet and beauty the Spirit sings.

It is balm, an emollient allowing me to traverse the hectic road with some measure of purpose, keeping me, barely, from falling by the wayside, and succumbing to the pressures of this contemporary life.

This is not the point in my life when I can sit back on the deck, glass of lemonade in my hand, and feel the complete ease of soul. My life has not the victory yet to make that a contented scene. Still I am driven, ambitious in invisible ways, seeking the spiritual path and higher roads, missing them far too often to let myself have rest and vacation.

It is a sabbath place, where ease is given with the assumption of duty, obligatory acts of worship and devotion are allowed to be alleviated at moments, in order to make the pursuit stronger. The sharper I get in pursuit of this ambition, the more I will feel the rest.

I press on, not knowing what I press on towards, feeling the weariness of a long march where only the general knows the battle awaiting. Peace and strain all together, leading me, I pray, farther and higher at each step.

musing

For the first time, I missed two days in a row. It made me concerned. A loss of discipline, a falling away from writing, the all consuming passion dissipated?

July was an awkward month, from beginning to end, no rhythm, no melody. I stumbled my way through, finding moments of light, vast swaths of mundanity.

On Friday I went to a wedding. Off the beaten path, two and a half hours into the California past, where old Southern California dominates, leaving off the last two decades at the offramp of the 15.

A little chapel near a onetime ranch now rustic resort. I got there early. Too early to change into my suit, so taking advantage of my semi-casual wear I went for a walk (semi-casual being my combination of suit pants, tevas, and t-shirt). There was a graveyard, most of the crosses were unmarked. Unused or unremembered I did not know. Some had large granite monuments, none all that recent, the last being 1999. They were loved family members, as the momentos still placed attest.

A large grand coast live oak stood not too far away. I wandered over, listening to its call, felt its bark, made a slow circle around, and stood staring, feeling the peace of the place, the holiness of the ground.

Then back, a wait in welcoming air conditioning. Took the ‘semi-‘ off the ‘casual’ by completing the suit, and changing the shoes. A lovely wedding in a small, whitewashed mission chapel, imperfections caused by the rustic imperfections of earlier ages, making me feel as we walked out like I was in an old west movie, the wedding scene completed by horses and carriages, and expected marauding bandits. There was not that, only cars driving up the road where under a large tent was to be found the 21st century, and its contributions to wedding tradition.

All evening while the DJ played songs of the seventies and eighties and more recent, I was drawn by that oak, called by the rising almost full moon to the south. I danced for a song, then drifted away, tried to talk, found myself pulled out into the wilderness. Torn by two forces, one which called my responsibility (and pleasure) to honor a most honor worthy friend, and the other, the one which I prized, which called my soul back to purity, to the holiness of a quiet moonlit place, distant from the rumble and roar of souls colliding, only a small few feeling total release into celebration. The eyes of the wedding couple at the start of their first dance told me the souls who counted were souls at peace and rest. The others present… not as much.

Some tried to prompt me to dance, seeking to assuage their own loud calls by noise of various sorts. The oak called me, all evening I could hear it whisper.

I drove away, before the end of the evening, though the evening was late. I’m not sure if I said good bye to anyone.

Two hours back, celebrating a perfect day for two wonderful people, a wedding which was not extravagant but which precisely honored their precious, and God granted union. A drive back in which I felt the tugs of the conflict within realizing the call of my soul, and my own seductions to drown that call, whose voice I cherish so.

Happy for them, delighted. Feeling of myself it would take a couple days to restore the peace of my own heart, and recover the inner tranquility which that oak spoke of so gently.

Yesterday drifted. A day of rest, a day of recover, wandering, stumbling back to find the settled place. This is why the monks say to stay in one spot. It takes a long time to get the mind back, or the soul in useful order. Always moving never allows for this kind of settling. So, a day was allowed to restore the soul.

At three in the morning I woke up, wide awake. Shadows of wind waved branches stirred outside. I turned on my light, read for a moment about early Jewish interpretation of the Law, then turned the light out again. A bit of discontent, leftovers from the previous day, assailed my heart, stirring me both to pray and to not.

Water was appealing. So I walked out, where the now full moon greeted me with splendor and joy, full in the center of the large living room window. I filled up a water bottle, and looked again. The moon asked if I would sit for a while and keep it company.

Didn’t make it back to my room, instead sitting with the moon as it passed along the window, scattered clouds thick enough for texture, too thin to obscure, moved past in a high altitude wind.

I sat for an hour and a half in the light and shadows of the blue moon. And it was good for my soul, very very good.

I write this now with a sudden peace bestowed in that early hour, a change which time and heavenly bodies facilitated, staring off, letting the thoughts wander through and away in the mystical glow.

Taking a couple of days off brought a realization. My mind has been in a mild disarray, nary a vacation or pause for a year. I thought to bull my way through this lull, and now think to take a different approach. I’m going to take a week away from this daily rumination. At the end I’ll come back, hopefully with a fuller, overflowing soul. If not, then discipline will be stronger, lacking the excuse or other options.

Other parts of this site will likely be updated, but the sign now is turned to “Closed” on this page. Come back in a week. I’ll be back then

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