Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Month: September 2004 (page 3 of 4)

evening

Here in the mountains, during the summer months at least, it is all about the wind. When the wind blows, the day is cool, when it doesn’t it is warm. It was cool in the morning, warm, hot even, in the afternoon. Now it is cool again. Profound words, I know. Writing is a developed craft.

It’s not often one does a task which will almost certainly last longer than one’s own lifetime. But today I did. I planted a tree. A Redwood.

Resistant to just about everything which causes harm to trees, the only worry now is that they are naturally located in a much foggier and more rain intensive part of the state. The trees like their water, to be sure. We’ll see how they do on a mountain which has the mojave desert bumping up against its east side. The dirt was very dry, each shovel full created a tan cloud, which somehow smelled refreshing. Too dry, though, which is why the hose is dribbling down water for the next few days, or longer.

There is a simple peace in my heart tonight, a kind of peace which comes from doing those tasks allotted for the day and living up to my own expectations of self. I wrote, I ran, I edited, I even dug.

Plodding along really. If each day finds the same peace, I will really get somewhere at the end of it, all without looking too far ahead, or worrying whether I’ll do this or that tomorrow.

Daily bread, that’s all I ask.

evening

The cool breeze continues to blow, while all else is still. The lights which filled the neighborhood last night are mostly gone. Fall comes, and I am grateful. For the first time in many a week I had long periods in which the lake was mine, alone in my kayak, paddling along through the middle, the whir and roar of engines replaced by the soft sound of water brushing against the side of my small boat, or being pushed through by my paddle. A soothing sound, like a self made waterful, with wind and birds all around.

For moments at least. Fall has not yet come and boat occasionally passed by, knocking me out of my burgeoning reverie. So now, like Spring, it is warm and quiet. A perfect lake.

Productivity returned in all its forms today, with my focus somehow fitting back into the groove made by the Spirit. I got done what was on my list, and felt peace profound stirring through my being. I have much the Wesleyan about me, but in this I concede the point. There was nothing I did which returned the sweet rain, it was a gift of God, to cherish and embrace, as all his gifts should be.

I do my part, meager as it seems now, trusting that God is working and leading, pointing and directing. And not only in me, but in all those with whom my life is intended to relate, so when the time is ripe much will be fulfilled.

A relaxing sentiment really. Worry is lost, because all is in God’s hands. There is only what is before me, so I pray and trust, and do my part with an ease of soul, knowing, with increasing confidence, that infinite complexity is swirling about me, incorporating me in a beautiful pattern, a dance of the Spirit.

This dance requires only for us to be us, to really become who we are so that we fit into what God is doing. That is possibly one of the most wonderful of all things, to finally come to a point where we know who we are, want we want, our passions and desires shaking off the inner drive to live as other people demand. If we can live for ourselves, for our own soul, and for the one who made it, we find a bounty beyond measure, and others find a bounty in us. For in finding ourselves we lose the selfishness of sinful being. We no longer compete, or live to impress, or try to find the answers to life in empty paths. We turn to the eternal and it fills our souls so that peace fills and flows in and through, around and by. We look at others with the eyes of the Spirit, in a true spirit of open community, honest and welcoming, true and committed.

For if there is only us and our soul, we have no need to pull the being from others, or sink them low so as to raise our own sad stature.

But that is the trick. Learning who we are, and then leaping out into the void in order to embrace it, come what may. All life could be a disaster, death could result, but as eternal minded people, what is life? It is only a part of a much larger reality. For that reality we learn to live, and find peace abounding in all things as we do.

So, I step closer, sloughing off those ties which bind–expectations of others, demands of culture, selfish desires, sinful longings–and seek to sanctify it all, finding my being only in Christ and the sent Spirit.

I’m not there yet. But this week the clouds of heaven opened once more, and I taste of the sweet rain on my lips, praising God for who he is and what he does, even if now, in this moment, there is nothing.

That is faith. May I keep steady within it.

morning

Roll out the blue mat on my balcony. Stand facing the rising sun in the east, though it had not yet crested the hills and homes.

Kneel down, speak a few words of prayer. Seek to fill my soul with the peace of the morning air, the aroma of cedar and fir, soothe my mind with the sounds of flying jays and scampering squirrels.

Then to write, punctuated by occasional breaks.

Six hundred words of progress this past hour. Not terribly speedy, but for now enough. Progress, quick or plodding is welcomed.

A return of soul, a renewal of spirit, by both effort and divine touch. This is a new week for more reasons than another monday arrived.

There is renewal in the air. Fall is coming soon, but it is Spring in my soul.

I pray it stays, I pray I fulfill its call.

evening

For the first time in a very long time I did nothing today. I didn’t go anywhere, I didn’t do anything productive, nore did I even try or worry about anything productive. I sat around, staring at trees and clouds, watching a bit of television, reading entertaining books, and generally letting my soul relax. Throughout the day I played my saxophone, and even the irish whistle. I started cleaning, and within moments decided against it, prefering the peace of listening to the wind, a peace which seemed to settle into my soul when I drove back up the mountain late last night.

It was hot yesterday, and I drive a black truck with no air conditioning. Windows down, change of clothes, lots of water, and general expectation of a fair measure of misery is the way of things. Even at midnight when I drove up the 15 I was warm.

To the top of the mountain I drove, enjoying the empty roads. Then, as I made my way around the curves and passed the five thousand foot marker a change came in through my windows. Mountain air, chilled. I felt a cool breeze stir my soul and massage my mind.

Left on the road to Arrowhead. A damp smell, a wonderful smell of earlier soft rain evoking from all the flora their delicious scent. The scent of moist incense-cedars came in with the now cold air. I smiled, for it was good.

I slept well, woke up refreshed, and felt the ease of a soul unburdened.

God has called, and I spent the morning yesterday beginning to retune my ear, and attune my soul for his soft, strong, whisper. I’ve felt this many a time before. Too often in places which restricted my response. So in heeding the call I made drastic decisions — quitting paying jobs, not succumbing to mere money making opportunities, leaping into higher education far outside my means, and then doing it again for another degree.

Coming up to the mountains to live in a manner not respected, for the sake of that call which burns within my soul, that knowing, assurance of the Spirit who demands everything, giving much more in return.

Now, I am in a place where my situation can remain, and long as my focus is returned. And it is refreshing. To know one’s soul is possibly the most contented reality, exceeded only by finding peace with what it needs and demands.

So, tomorrow a new week begins, in which I reassert the reality which the mountains proffer. Filling my nostrils with the scents of the forest, kayaking around a lake, walking amidst trees and plants fully alive, listening to bird and beast go about their lives in only slight awareness of my being.

Praying to the God who pursues, studying the words which have been written long ago for our benefit and awareness. And, most vital to my soul right now, writing words which seek to explore and reflect on all I have learned and seek to contribute to the telling of the greatest story of all time.

Only heaven can offer such benefits, and it is to heaven I apply.

May I find peace and rest in such a process. There remains only that dark side of my soul which ties and binds, a side which wrestled me down these last many months, a valley which may have now been crossed.

We’ll see. I can’t really ever say that tomorrow I’ll do this or that. A lesson pounded into me over the years. I do hope, and I shall pray, and will seek to be obedient on the call which comes tomorrow. There is only that, my soul, and God. May I keep my eyes on the prize.

evening

This page should be renamed Only Evening I guess. Ah well.

What is to say? I went running today, and when I came back a weight fell onto my soul which lasts still. A deep depression, without a cause or issue which it condemns, more a general kind which taps my soul, and makes the world a little darker and a little more irritating.

Well, maybe more interesting are my visitors this morning. I woke up early, about 4:30, and turned on my light to read a book of Christology which I have owned for about three years and never got around to reading. I’m trying to spark my mind more than anything else, get myself to think about Jesus and his nature, and how others saw him.

Then a robust flying mammal came in from the living room and did a couple of laps around my ceiling.

I flew out of bed, down the stairs, turned the light on. That little bugger followed me out my bedroom door, down the stairs. I crouched down, because no one likes to be buzzed by a bat, and scurried to the sliding glass door, and then the front door, opening both, turning on the outside lights. I was getting the screen door to stay open, using that little metal widget on the hinge, when that bat buzzed me again, coming within five inches of my nose. He knew the way out was to get me to go through the rigmarole of letting it out.

Smart bat. He saw my light turn on, and got me out of bed. He followed me downstairs, then right out the door once it was open. I enjoyed the adventure and hope he doesn’t call again.

So, back to bed. Back to my book on Christology. Few minutes of reading. Small grey blur on the floor next to my bed. Ahhh, I think, nervousness from a bat’s visit giving me visions of more unwelcome guests.

Then the grey blur moves more slowly towards my door, underneath my door, and out.

Short tail, grey body. My research today suggests it was a shrew.

A bat and a shrew… in the house, all before 5 am.

The joys of mountain life I suppose.

I kept reading, after noting the shrew disappeared once outside my door, and my shoving a blanket around the crack at the bottom. Two hours and many, many pages later, I fell back asleep, woke up at 9, drowsy and thirsty.

I hate that feeling. Somehow I eked out a solid day’s worth of productivity, hedging my bets now with various ventures. Even did some editing.

And realized that just because a person sets up a life to purposefully pursue Christ, it doesn’t mean it always works out that way. My spiritual life is bland, empty, weak. My spiritual habits are diminished, my mind ventures only with effort to the heights.

I honestly don’t know the source of this. Am I wading through a thick swamp? Is it purely a matter of a lack of my own discipline? Are there spiritual forces impeding my progress? What I can’t see I don’t know.

I know only my part. So I went running today, and so I took up to restore the broader influences in my life so as to get my mind to think in a more Christ filled way.

Putting on the show does not change the reality. It helps, and having a suitable environment is indeed worthwhile. But, at the end of the day all that matters is how one reflects Christ in mind and soul and body through actions, deeds and decisions.

Maybe that is the source of my present depression. I don’t feel like I measure up to even this these days.

Sleep does much, cooler weather will as well. Above all is simply the pressing on despite my feelings. There are things to do which are before me, and I’ll do them, letting the consequences and results sort themselves out over time, as God works and wills.

evening

Thick, puffy, white clouds fill the air, blue sky peeks out, making the view above swamplike.

I woke up early this morning with a squirrel on my deck, and a chipmunk running around on the woodpile. Such a way to wake up. Inspiring.

It is the case that the spiritual life has rhythms and cycles. There are ups and downs, dry moments and constant rain. Sometimes the drought lasts for years.. but in an instant all changes. Sometimes, nothing changes and yet we are called to make do with what we have, irrigating ourselves what the clouds do not deliver.

For the last two months or so I’ve been in a slump. Productive in a way, I suppose, but spiritually devoid. My situation encourages but doesn not demand a deep spirituality, and so I have slacked, or drifted, or lost touch.

My discipline has slipped, my heart has wandered, and I seek to assert myself in various ways.

This week there has been a change. Not in me, and that’s the problem. God is calling, and so far I’ve let it ring without picking up, distracting myself with artificial interests.

He called again last night, keeping me up, letting difficult thoughts fill my entire being, making me wrestle with who I am, where I am at, who I want to be, and why I am not.

I’ve lost the rhythm of a spiritual life, and fallen away in spirit if not in mind.

So, I need to wrestle with this a bit, come to some sort of response, re-evaluate and retune my inner self, so as to meet the call for what it is.

Everything else takes a backseat to this. It is what my soul demands and will not relent until I pay proper heed.

Writing doesn’t clear anything up, indeed it exacerbates the problem as a form of self-assertion, as a way of doing a duty to another cause, as a way of excusing my lack of devotion.

I’m going to read today, I’m going to pray today, and see what comes of it all. May there be light, and may dawn finally come.

evening

Stepping outside is a delightful move this evening. The sun has done its duty today and the inside of the house was warmed. Only a small breeze blows, not enough to go through open windows or screen doors, merely enough to cool the balcony, where the stars shine bright.

It was hot today, and I did not seek out ways to beat the heat. It was productive albeit in a bland, distasteful way where I begrudge the fact I did in fact get things done.

I know my issue tonight. I need to go running, go kayaking. It has been a week since I spent extended time moving about in exercise, and now my whole body, mind and soul rebel.

I also yearn for renewed spiritual zeal. My prayer life, unstructured, suffers, my times of study, undemanded, have fallen by the wayside.

So, I feel filled with a mild discontent and know that the solution is within reach, if only I stretched out a bit.

There is a tendency in this to blame or seek to attach spiritual reasons, or admit the reality of causes unfulfilled. This might be there, but not having done my part, I cannot know the depths.

Tomorrow, as always, is another day.

Then again I always feel this way on days which pass ninety degrees. I’m alert, but not judgmental, and I think that’s a fine attitude to have about oneself and others.

morning

Maybe it was my freshman year in college. I had an art class. Most of it was studying pictures out of a book, and remembering who did what and when. That was the graded part. We also had to write on a particular piece at a museum, though I didn’t receive a paper back, and my suspicion is this paper was merely to exercise my typing skills. For fun, and intended so, we had to go to that mysterious art building, once the old gym, where long haired passionate men and women mingled amidst clutter. There were oil paints, and brushes waiting for our use. Paint a self-portrait was the project. So I did.

On a small piece of cardboard I tore off a box my parents had sent me.

I remember I had greyish skin, red flaming hair, with a cross and a sword in the background. I don’t remember why. It got a compliment from one of the few attractive girls in my class (and I mean freshman class… Wheaton is known as an ‘academic’ school among Christian circles, with all that reputation entails).

Or maybe it was later on. In seminary oddly. I had another art class where we went to museums and got papers back. I wrote a long paper on Irish illuminated manuscripts, focusing especially on the Book of Kells. (which is significantly more impressive in pictures than in reality — due to poor lighting and underwhelming display) . I didn’t merely research, I also got my hands dirty. Pencils and pens attempted complex designs, getting decent at a few, enough to get a feel for the work, and insights into the meaning.

I like art. This fact surprises me.

I had a friend in high school who was passionate about art. He drew a lot, and was an art major in college. His dream was to be an animator for one of the major studios. As I haven’t heard from or of him for about seven years I don’t have any idea what he has done with this dream. Then I knew art as something he did.

I’m turning thirty in not too long, and somehow over the past year I’ve realized I’m fairly good at things I spent most of my life wandering away from.

The power of writing first touched me that same freshman year. I wanted to be a lawyer, and didn’t entertain writing seriously, even though I was flirted with in my writing classes not my history classes.

There is a certain excitement in causing gasps from fellow students that I for whatever reason ignored.

I was stupid then. Or maybe I had a path to walk before my eyes could turn. Ah, what my youthful earnestness could have produced had I pursued the artistic path.

Now, today, I didn’t venture into writing, though this week holds now the closest I have ever been to finding an Answer in that field. No, today it was visual art, web design stuff which for whatever reason entertains me beyond description.

There is music as well, playing my saxophone with the old masters. It all ties together, it is all the same. And I’ve spent my whole life wandering away from this deep pressing passion, which embraces me as much as I now embrace it.

So, now, turning thirty I see paths which would have been wonderfully walked upon ten years ago, only I knew no better, wanting to change the world through prosaic ways. I turn to God, and the art comes out, drowning the voice of everything else, showering me with both bounty and depression in the exact same measure in the exact same moment.

Everyone I think discovers their bounty. However, most live life so as to drown out the call, financial security is always a much stronger addiction than liquor or drugs.

The bold, spiritual, or stupid take the leap out and attempt it all, seeing what happens, come what may.

Which is why failure is so much closer to success than mediocrity. Failure sees success, mediocrity knows nothing past itself.

All this to say that I had a day in which projects burgeoned, in various ways, and I tasted peace in moments which came from directions I never expected. All this to say, had I settled, or been allowed to settle, in career or relationships, I wouldn’t have found these moments.

There is a gift within it after all.

morning

At three thirty in the morning I woke up and felt it coming in the room, quiet, soft, welcomed. Cold air. Air chilled to about forty degrees filling my room with that marvelous chill, which makes me sleep sounder and wake more refreshed. I awake urged to write, to be productive, to again struggle with this present world.

Today is not going to be filled with that strain and pushing, that breaking out which makes me think of myself as Michelangelo’s unfinished slaves.

No, in my burgeoning new tradition I will continue my pilgrimage of conservative Americana holy sites. First there was Graceland all those many years ago, then my years at Wheaton with the related immersion in multiple shrines of evangelicalism, then Tombstone, where the west was won and Republicans battled Democrats in a manner strikingly comparable to today’s political climate .

Today it is to the holy shrine of the pontiff of Conservatism. To the Reagan Memorial Library and Museum I go, with companions stout and pure in doctrine. My sister-in-laws birthday you know, and this is where she wants to go.

Should be a grand day.

evening

his, from another spot on this site, says it all for the day:

Okay, politics, as I’ve said, gets in my blood. It is seriously like alcohol or a drug to me, getting me riled up, getting my blood moving, my adrenaline flowing.

Like drugs, it may feel nice, but it’s not good for my soul.

Why? Because it is not who I am supposed to be. Politics is a wonderful field, full of interesting arguments and positions of vital importance. But it is not for me.

I am not called to the political arena and am not called to weigh in with partisan rhetoric.

Like drugs there will be a withdrawal.

This week I waded back into this world, with thoughts I earnestly believe, and could easily encourage.

But this leads me away from who I am supposed to be.

I moved to here from Pasadena because I did not want to live the usual life of working to pay bills, to impress others through the sacrifice of my own soul, and live a life devoid of eternal perspective.

I came up here because I tasted of the mountain air, I listened to the voice of the trees, I filled my nostrils with the scents of the forest and the sounds of the birds and knew that my soul resides where life is full, where the Spirit abounds in manifold witness to the wonders of the Triune God.

When I turn my eyes, even to something good, my soul emaciates.

So, I turn them back now. And will seek to make this again that which I originally planned. My voice is not of politics, but of spiritual things, where the unseen and the seen mingle in a wild dance, sometimes graceful, sometimes chaotic.

I’ll keep up my own goings-on, but in referring to that which matters I will tie it in with a spiritual thought or concern. That is my role, my contribution.

Countless voices speak as I did this week. There does not need to be more. Few look above and beyond, letting the eyes be only one way of seeing, and the ears become only a part of hearing. The soul speaks and listens, the spirit within rises up and seeks a word or two.

I’ve tasted again of this brew which tantalizes while it dulls. It lulls and mars. I again seek the sweet amrita. Once tasted, it never relents.

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