Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Month: September 2004 (page 1 of 4)


The day is cool, windy, sunny, a fall day in the mountains which bathes the soul in beauty both subtle and profound.

I wind my way through the various mists, doing what I can, and finding a bit of my way by stepping back and being fine with the fact.

Editing, redoing, sharpening, those are the themes of the day.

That and reasons. There are reasons and reasons, some which we know some which reveal themselves over time, secondary may be primary, primary may be tertiary, only time will tell.

I do know that it’s good for my soul to press onwards, stay true to the work of the Spirit in me, and make sure I drink a lot of water. A lot of water… always more than I think.


There’s no getting around it, I had a terrible morning. What happened? Nothing, nothing at all it seemed, but my whole inner being was caught in some noxious web. I woke up at five, and read about Poland for a little while before convincing myself to get up and begin writing.

I wandered through emails, and then some news sites, finding my mind not wanting to drift towards prose. Around six I started anyhow, reading through my work of yesterday and adding a few sentences. I felt like a fourth grader asked to do a composition on an uninteresting subject. My few sentences were stilted and awkward, I had in my head the plan for the day, only I had literally nothing in me to get there. Everything seemed frozen, uninspired. There was a weight on my soul which drove me to distraction.

I surfed the net, played minesweeper, sat and stared at a squirrel. I tried to pray for a moment or two, there was a fog, heavy and thick. All morning, even as I berated myself for my lack of focus and effort, I felt only the pull of going back to bed, not to sleep, but to give up on the day.

Tears were coming into my eyes whenever I would let my mind be free; unbidden, unfocused beads forming at the edges of my eyelids. What did I feel specifically? The word which popped into my head was ‘foreboding’, a heavy grief for some unnamed evil or tragedy which I knew would eventually name itself. I hopped around the internet trying to find the announcement of some terrible event.

I turned on the television. I never do that during the day, but today I did, looking first at the news stations, then finding a first season rerun of ER somewhat captivating, and thinking how much better it was written then, more methodical, slower paced… and thinking all of television was better back then. I crawled under my covers and watched tv, letting my eyes drift outside where a cool breeze makes my shamrock windsock dance a hearty jig, and causes all the branches to bounce in steady rhythm.

But nothing in me stirred to retake this day. I sat there wallowing in a mellow discontent which poured over me like a thick syrup.

I got up for a moment to check my email, to check again the news.

There was a message in my inbox. A good friend of mine, who I don’t see often but who I respect more than just about anyone I know… his mom died this morning at six.

I don’t think I ever met her. But I know him, and I know the feeling in my heart which seems to feel this grief profoundly. A great light has left the world, death has once again given its evil sting. Shadows fall all around, a mighty heart and soul departs. Her life echoes strongly in her children and her life continues in eternity where all is whole and wonderful. Still, the knell of death rang out among us, and even the angels shed tears on her behalf. The Spirit moves in the hearts of the Body to share the pain which came this morning.

I know this, for my soul tells me strong. Dorothy Hill has gone to her Lord and Savior, and heaven welcomes a new saint. I pray her children feel the peace of God’s grace and are filled with the hope and light of the Spirit who moves in all things.


I went for a run today. That, for once in my life, is nothing new. It’s great exercise, a good excuse to wander a bit, and really it’s spiritually enlightening . I’m a firm believer in metaphors, and actually doing the imagery is very helpful to what it is trying to represent. We are to run the run, Paul says, so that we’ll win. Starting off by running up an extremely steep path brings much light to the present spiritual realities.

That is my first insight, on the first half of my trip. My mind wanders, now that I’m in better shape, with leaps from dissecting the differences between equivalent theological terms such as perichoresis and circumincession. If a person doesn’t know these they are worth looking up, and spending a lifetime learning to understand. For about a mile this inner conversation, and how it relates to the various Protestant creeds, rattled around.

I always spend a bit thinking about church, past church experiences, future church hopes, thinking I wouldn’t mind being part of a church again, and thinking even more that I wouldn’t mind wandering to a different part of this nation or globe and starting something with a group of like minded people. When I was eleven I felt a strong call one evening to become a pastor. Part of me thinks this call is still maturing… but when it does…

All the while I pay attention to the state of the trees, the oaks whose leaves are now fading and twisting in preparation for winter demise; the pines who surprise me by their mere existence these days, the hearty survivors of a devastating infestation; the cedars who last through it all and this year are covering in cedar nuts, making them look like hundred foot christmas trees decorated with tasteful green and brown bulbs. I keep my eye out for the coyotes who I see regularly. I don’t know why I do that. I’m intrigued I guess.

I also keep my eye out for bears, which are common around here even though I’ve never seen one myself. Though, I hear they are common back in Pasadena.

Birds abound, squirrels scamper, ravens caw and croak in the distance. My mind wanders all around, settling plot points, explaining to myself–again–my reasons for being up here, wondering what it would have been like had I chosen another path, thinking I would have ended up here anyhow as the Spirit does what it does eventually. Thinking of family, and interesting people I’ve interacted with recently, some more interesting than others which becomes an interesting train of thought of its own.

I come down the mountain, off the dirt trail which winds through the hills, up and down all around, making a two mile or so loop. Then on the asphalt for a while, up and down and all around, except passing by homes instead of empty wilderness. I run up a hill and down, then up, and up, and up, then turn onto a small access road, mostly dirt covered with hints that at one time there was more. The trail thins, and again I’m surrounded by the forest. Then my thoughts fade with the rising wind, the gusts pick up as I run along into it, the trees dance and sing with the movement of air, my soul exults in joining the ballet of nature all around. There is a light mist, thin, barely perceptible, until I turn a corner and see bright rays of sunlight shining through gaps in tall oaks, spotlights shining down upon the trail. A squirrel runs out in front of me, scurries back up the tree. I keep running. Until I get home at least. Then I stop, let the aroma of the forest fill my nostrils as I catch my breath. Five miles up and around, and countless thoughts dealt with and filed away, I was cleansed of soul and refreshed of mind.

There are benefits to this life.

The day was fine all around, the kind of day which doesn’t prompt a lot of consideration as everything seemed to be just right. I wrote all morning, ran in the afternoon, filled up spaces with assorted other tasks, and now finish the day tired and ready to begin again tomorrow. Each day our daily bread. I pray the same for tomorrow.


I woke up, wide awake, at two in the morning and I don’t know why. It was the kind of wide awake which has no conception that I had only slept a couple of hours. It was dark out, yes, but I was sure that was soon to change. Surely it was five. No… a quick look at a clock fixed that error.

I’d like to say I used my time wisely. I didn’t, as my only interest was getting back to sleep. I read a bit of Poland by James Michener, a suspect book as it was researched in the early 1980s and likely had some restrictions surrounding it. Still, my knowledge of continental European history is rather limited, so when I saw the book sitting in a pile of other books in the storage room I grabbed it.

I did fall asleep after not too long, and had a distinct peculiar dream.

I was hanging out on a corner near Old Town in Pasadena. A mountain lion came down from the north, a large brown bear came from the west. They met at the corner where I and some other indistinct people stood. They immediately began to fight, and a very even fight it was, lasting for hours, as more people watched.

They both grew weary, or at least something happened which stopped the fight. The bear fell asleep, and the lion rolled in pain. A good chunk of its right foreleg was bitten off around the knee, to the bone. Everyone seemed concerned, but kept standing around. I felt something had to be done for the lion, so I picked it up intending to take it to the veterinarian who I knew had an office on one of the smaller streets in the neighborhood.

Only I couldn’t remember exactly which one, so I carried the mountain lion (which had appropriately shrunk so I could carry it) around town, thinking if I saw the right landmarks I would remember the street.

All the while the friends around me were asking who the lion belonged to, and began efforts to try and find its owner.

I finally came to a street and saw a building which had animals all around it. The people inside were very nice and I knew that I had done the right thing in finding some help for the lion.

Well, my friends found me as I was walking back home, and with them were the owners of the lion. They asked me where it was, I told them I had taken it to the veterinarian’s office. They became angry and said I had no right to do this and told me to show them where it was.

I accepted their abuse, and still felt I did the right thing. When I got back to the office, with this whole group of people, I realized that the animals all around were actually stuffed animals and I had mistakenly left the mountain lion at a taxidermist.

Fortunately the women inside the office, the clerks of before were at lunch, were very kind, and said that they understood the mistake, and had wrapped the lions leg with bandages and given it drugs for the pain. They went to the back, brought out the groggy and bandaged lion and handed it to the owners. They left without another word to me.

Then I woke up. If I was Joseph I would interpret my dream, but that’s not a gift I’ve been given. Any insights are welcomed.

As goes the day, it goes. I’m settling into writing again, and after having a scattered writing summer, I’m trying to reform my habits. Part of this has to do with my own writing idiosyncrasies. I’m a perfectionist who has a hard time sitting down and writing unless I feel completely in a zone. I don’t want to write if the words don’t flow. This is something I have to get over, and learn how the lessons of editing myself into quality expression.

It is also the case that I always perform best under pressure and deadline. Right now there is a vague expectation without any specifics, so I drift a bit more than I usually would. I come alive under immediate stress and pressure, and am dulled under the vague long term realities of regular life. I’m working at it.

I also realize that moving forward right now is like walking in a swamp. There are spiritual realities swirling about which impede any positive progress. It is easy to succumb, too easy, except for the pressure within my own soul. I have to be faithful to that call in order to find real life.

So, I slog my way down through the pages, taking short breaks to read the news or write other thoughts such as this.

We’ll see someday if this is worth it. It’s hard to have perspective when one is stuck in the mud and marsh.


It tis a beautiful, and beautifully quiet, morning, a lazy morning which nudges the soul later than normal, suggesting at around 10:00 that the day begin. I was up earlier, to be sure, but not particularly active. The light of the morning sun seems too delightful to spend using in focused pursuits. It is a day of consideration, of soul settling, letting the heart find ease despite itself.

I started and finished George MacDonald’s Phantastes yesterday, and likely this has much to do with my gentle reverie today. There are books that open the soul, there are books which mar the soul, and there are books which speak to the soul. This was a book that spoke of my soul, a fairy tale which illumined my inner being, putting into words my ten year path.

Though, the difference is that this book ended at a certain point. My story is still being written. To share a reality on a plane which is beyond the palpable and prosaic is a delight. A delight helped by a quiet day, filled with long runs through forested trails, staring at birds bathing and flitting, and watching for a long while the sun set on the western horizon, with scattered clouds turning pinks and reds and purples as it descended.

Ear plugs helped… for it was really a noisy day all around. But, I insisted on an inner peace which wouldn’t let the many scattered noises interfere. And so it ended nicely.

My heart feels calm today, at rest. My mind interjects with questions of the present reality, and worry creeps back. But, the pervading peace transcends this, as I continue to grasp a hold of realities beyond my own, and increasingly become more comfortable with these.

That, even more than writing, is my present calling. When and if this present location is traded for another, it is a lesson which many end their lives never learning.

Like a wise man said, “It’s all about the end.”


A Sabbath day truly spent as such.


I covered my window. The lights outside are many and the house behind this one is busy. Rather than being bothered, I secluded myself even more. Fortunately I spent a long while outside today, and got my fill of fresh views. It crept up in temperature, becoming actually almost warm by afternoon. Winter is not yet here, though it beckons.

Still I wait, still I listen, pondering not only my role in this world but also those patterns which have developed over generations. I come from Fundamentalist stock in a family which has been Christian for as long as can be remembered. This has some positive aspects which I noted in a paper I did a while back, but it also has its negatives.

I’m increasingly convinced that nothing is more insidious than evil framed in religious clothes. There is such a thing as spiritual abuse I’m learning, where an authority figure can cause significant harm by manipulating and confusing those who trust in the religious creed.

This, like any other kind of abuse, can be mild to severe, but is always damaging, and the effects are often passed down through the generations.

Fortunately, my parents are strong and have broken the cycle with my brother and I. But their families? It lingers. And it influences on realms which are beyond senses, attaching itself to patterns and behaviors with which I contend.

Like other types of abuse the victims have trouble separating from the abuser, and in the spiritual variety it becomes even more difficult as the abusive one is oftentimes a pillar of the community doing God’s work.

There’s a lot more to this, deep, deep discussions which I am only now really grasping.

I say this because I spent a couple of hours in discussion about this today, and at the end I felt like I had named that heavy weight. Family religious history indeed. It’s not all good news.


For some reason I look outside and notice, profoundly notice, the glint of the rising sun on the leaves of a black oak high on the hill above me. White reflection, the thick leaves bold green in color, highlighted against the deep blue of a perfectly clear sky. There is not even the slightest breeze, all is still, chilly, beautiful. My eyes are caught, in the mood to simply stare, the thoughts not congealing into anything recognizable, only finding comfort in that which speaks of a truth and reality beyond my ken. Earplugs block out the sounds of nature, but also the sounds of people who increasing think of the forest as just another suburb. The stillness of sound, artificial as it is, sharpens my eyes, and brings a measure of ease to my being. I wander the fields of eternal longing this morning, and bask in whatever comfort may come.

I’ve always had a contemplative heart, even before I was aware of the fact. At times when I would stop and ponder the wider world I would become aware of that which was beyond sensory perception. Great decisions, meaning important more than satisfying, were made while sitting in a secluded park, or staring at the night sky, or praying on purported holy ground. Thoughts would invade my mind, giving me understanding of a situation which defied approved thought, but which turned out to be right in the end. For a while I was bombarded with such, making moves which led me, I hoped, towards the God who called, and who I pursued without reference to my standing in this present world. I made decisions which if they do not have eternal merit have no merit at all. The measure of violence which this contemplation asserts has kept me from being content in many ways which others pursue. I see the depths of a reality unseen, and no one else listens or understands. I feel the measure of a reality beyond our own, and others are confused by my seeming sensitivity.

But, for years now all has been silent. I finished seminary and wandered around hoping to spark that divine voice, hoping to see that Divine answer. Only I was in a room with no doors and no windows, and seemingly no way out. To who could I turn? Pastors so called, I have found, have little measure of spiritual guidance these days, putting religious words on secular drives and calling it church. Their heart is good, only the present church is so built on pursuing people that it suffers in the pursuit of God. That this is not true universally is a fact… only to be blessed with such an environment is a gift of God for those who find it.

I have not, and over the years my pursuit of God as the sole focus in my life has made me turn to ancient texts and expensive training. I went to college and then seminary for the purpose of meeting God, learning about his ways and paths. This I did, there is no doubt about the fact, learning enough to find peace in at least my intellectual pursuits.

But now? What? I come to the mountain because when one is trapped in a room with no doors or windows, and a little trapdoor opens… it is the one way to go.

I wander into the empty places, where wind and birds are the dominant sounds. I listen for the voice of God to reveal new paths. And I hear a clear voice, and it does not say anything I want to hear.

My soul is rebelling this morning at being so far from life. I spent many months trying to fight this, applying for jobs I didn’t want in order to eke out a living amidst the people I enjoyed. My soul told me what to do, and I ignored it. Two inexorable forces contend with my soul.

I’m turning thirty this next month and want to be a person who has all those things a person turning thirty should have. I have none of it. My soul tells me this is fine and right that all is well, my being rebels at the thought.

I don’t go to those secluded places anymore because I know for a fact what the word will say. It will say what it has for many months, for years. Wait. I don’t want to wait. The doubts swirl about, doubts internal and external, from my own desires and from the palpable perceptions of purported friends who enjoy my company while feeling sad for my reality.

In the past I would wander the eternal fields feeling the pleasant breeze and warm sun. Now, the breeze is abusive because it brings with it a distasteful air.

This has the sound of a typical depression. It’s not, not at all. Rather it is the words of profound eternal longing, a contemplative spirit which suffers from insatiable ambition to become and a lifestyle which seems to negate all of my hopes. I know what depression feels like, where the soul rebels against itself and condemns all it sees. I write this now without that same condemnation. I like myself, what I can do, who I am. It is the deeper realities of the eternal which I wrestle today.

This morning my heart calls out for a God who seems to have deposited me out of the way, my tears flow for the lack of substantive results for my constant efforts.

My soul yearns for comfort but there is none. From friends and extended family come only thoughts of condemnation for taking the leap outwards. I do not go to church because I am weary of being judged for not living an acceptable secular life. I sit and I write because my soul demands it, my very being rebels at the thought of mundane tasks for the simple, and vital, pursuit of money.

I yearn to be productive, to matter, to step forward in life, embracing some measure of purpose which extends beyond mere dreams and wishes.

There is none of that and when I stop to pray all I hear is that hated word– wait.


The air is chill, stirred by a breeze from the west. Jays fly about, silent. Only the wind through the trees, that gentle whoosh, that quiet shake, can be heard. The air is moist, and the smell of the forest drifts, bringing variously the aroma of soil eager for life, cedars and fir.

The spice smell of a candle fills my room, cinnamon wax finding cracks in the candle holder and pouring out onto the desk, aromatic lava.

I pour through volumes long resting in dusty shelves, finding not only research answers, but indeed my soul within. The reasons I spent more time and significantly more money in wandering halls of learning than practical decisions would encourage. I taste of worlds long since gone, echoes of which remain, but different in character and vastly different in appearance. Worlds both over-familiar and strikingly unknown.

This week I begin.

Begin to study the Gospels in depth. Not to impress a PhD, or add more letters after my own name, but instead to seek after the life which brings life, to fill my mind with more than the stories of my youth and through imagination journey back through time and discover what world it was which brought forth the Messiah.

The goal is to then translate this study, making it approachable and interesting.

Whether this becomes a way to pay for my own existence is still a question. That it is a joy beyond measure to my existence is without a doubt. For this kind of study I’ve sacrificed myself, choosing impractical paths, putting off vital stages of a normal life.

Now with encouragement and outside pressure of sorts I feel able to settle into this life with a renewed vigor. The palpable goal is to write, and produce a work worth reading. The immeasurable goal, which encourages my own heart, is to delve once again into the realities of a faith which too often drifts.

It is in this study that my soul resides, and so in delving the depths, I hope to find it once more.



Not today, for the most part, but certainly this sums up my evening.

When the soul says pray all day, it is best to listen, even if the mind tries to inspire one to more ‘practical’ tasks.

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