Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Month: October 2004 (page 2 of 3)

evening

There are days which teeter. Good or bad, worthwhile or a waste, teetering all the day until something, even something small resolves the tension. And today was resolved as good. No real reason for it, but at the end of the day I am left feeling it worthwhile. Now, the cool breeze has picked up, the dark night settles over the land, all the busy birds and beasties have settled into their nests. So too will I soon.

Because it’s connected with the ideals of this section I feel it good to suggest here what I wrote elsewhere.

There is hope in my heart, grand hopes that what I write has meaning beyond simple amusement. Grand hope that God is working wonderfully, and my cause is to remain standing before him. Maybe, above all that is why this day ends so well, because I end it with profound hope, and profound prayers that others will share in this hope.

I have no idea how my words in this website come off to others. My wrestling with various issues external and internal carry assumptions within my heart which I don’t often relate.

But the core of all of these, the core of every decision I’ve made in the last ten years of committed pursuit of God, is that I indeed have hope, a hope so strong I will leap out into the void, and seize hold of eternity in the present. My hope calls me out, and leaves me with a light so strong I am blinded to a lot of other realities of life. For now that hope has me here. Who knows what tomorrow or the week after next might offer.

There is only obedience, and obedience coupled with hope can take us on a weird path indeed, where sometimes the only relief comes in finding others who share this wild adventure, and who resonate with the realities of the Divine Call. But, at the end of the day, those who walk this path will celebrate with hope more palpable than faith. And it will be good, it will be good. But, you got to leap out for it. So I did, and I pray that all which my hope yearns for will soon be revealed. If not, then I will keep at it. For that is the Call. That is the Way. For those who have been giving a taste of it, there is nothing else, there is no turning back.

morning

In the evening the stars are still dull. A light mist seems to block all but the most strident. At two thirty in the morning, however, the stars are gathered for a feast, countless bright spots in their little cliques, circling in the universe on a trek just short of eternal. In the morning, the bright blue skies block the stars above, but there is no loss, as the sun bathed fall forest bursts forth in manifold beauty, every leaf, every shrub, every trunk, every speck of dark earth proclaim a distinct call of the Divine, each aspect an ornate brush stroke, purposeful and profound.

I know the look of the stars at two thirty because that’s when I woke up. I woke up completely awake, having suspected I would. I felt it even when I went to sleep that God would have a conversation with me during the night. So he called me out, and we chatted for a while, at first in my room, then for a longer while as I sat underneath the spreading branches of an oak and took note of the many stars and great silence of the early morning.

I prayed for my own status, for wisdom, for direction, for counsel. I prayed for others, those who I know very well, and more curiously for those who I feel called to pray for even when I don’t know them well according to natural means. I prayed for those who touched my soul in that early hour, and sought God’s wisdom and peace on their behalf, though they likely would never know of my early entreaties, and I may never know how he is working within them. But, all is in God’s hands, that which we see and do not see, that which is far and that which only seems far. This renewal of prayer is maybe even more momentous than my recent recovery of a writing sense, and they are likely related. God is calling, and I am learning to answer, still with stumbling and tripping, but more fluidly, trusting that the God who calls is indeed worth answering. Even, especially, in those silent hours of the early morning when the stars alone hold court.

I turn my eyes to the mountains;

From where will my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot give way;

your guardian will not slumber;

See, the guardian of Israel

neither slumbers nor sleeps!

The Lord is your guardian,

the Lord is your protection

at your right hand.”

evening

The purest signs of Fall are exhibiting themselves today. The sun no longer peeks through my northwest facing window, having moved too far south. Squirrels are running around, seeming to be a lot fatter than earlier in the year. And best of all, most beautiful of all, large yellow oak leaves, shaped like big hands, are floating down from the heights, sticking in the needles of the evergreens, bright yellow badges for the cedars and firs to wear.

Yesterday I didn’t write, and there was no reason for it other than completely falling into writing my primary work all morning and into the afternoon, then shutting off my computer early in the evening for no other reason than to enjoy a glare free evening with a fine book.

Today, I woke up without the same eternal yearning, finding the low slope once more, knowing that all it would have taken was a good push on my part to re-engage the heights of yesterday, and not giving that push. I mourn for my own lack in this regard, but know that today is just a day. There are many more, and the trend upwards continues.

I seek heaven. Not with complete consistency, nor always with absolute fervor. Like a man in a foxhole with bombs bursting about, my heart falls at times, wishing for relief. But the battle waging is a vital one, and though my heart may waver, I pray my courage to press onwards never does. I seek God, and I seek him through the paths he has opened up, I seek him despite myself, despite the many ways in which my own actions seem to undermine the cause. I continue on because I know that I can do nothing else. I have to. This is the path God has given, and now I am committed to it.

I pray and continue to pray, firmly believing in the power of prayer, firmly trusting that God is indeed at work. When I pray for others I absolutely believe he listens, it surprises me if there is not an answer of some sort. So when I pray for my own cause I am left with the realization that God is answering and this present is his answer. I am to walk a road which he has, so that I end up where he wants me.

For had I had answers to past prayers, I would not be writing, and I would not be engaging the Gospels to any near degree as I do so now. This all despite my lack and failings. I press onwards because I fail, and God wants more of me, and wants me to become more of me.

I slip and stumble, but at my core God knows my heart, and knows that I truly only desire his goodness for my life, and to become a true servant for his purposes. The process to getting to this point is sometimes absurd. But, the Bible tells me to expect that, so I’ll keep at what he has called me to do.

evening

The more I watch them the more I like them. Ever since that first day when I saw one gamboling over the woodpile I thought they were fun. Now, everytime I see a chipmunk I am more impressed. They are wee little beasties to be sure, but a fair measure more bold than the squirrels. And they watch. They take note of their surroundings with more interest than the squirrels regularly do. I’ve watched a chipmunk sit on a sun bathed stump, swishing his little striped tail, looking all the world like he’s enjoying the chipmunk life. Two just now scrambled over the woodpile, not looking very serious at all. I almost get the sense that I if went outside and told them a funny joke, they would get it. The jays never would, the squirrels wouldn’t, the ravens might but would think me droll and beneath their lofty wit. The chipmunks would, and would return the favor.

If I were to have a tea party I would definitely invite the chipmunks, even though they would have to leave early for another appointment.

I’m not ashamed to admit it. It has taken me a year to finally get to really reading Thoreau. I started Walden a few times since it was given to me as a gift last year for my birthday, but haven’t had the spark to keep wading through. Thoreau is, of course, funny to me, as I reflect his thought like I was a disciple, without ever reading his words before. I’ve come to the same conclusions about a great deal of life and now meet him as a compatriot, reading his words that strangely reflect something similar to what I’ve written in the recent past. I picked up a selection of his journal entries the other day, again, but this time I was bit by it, coming up for air only after fifty pages.

It’s not that I couldn’t read the words or didn’t understand him. It is more that over the past year I’ve somehow gained insight that allows me to really be able to read Thoreau. I have more of the ‘ah, yes.. that’s it” moments rather than the “isn’t that interesting” kind of moments. I feel the words, with his observations raising within me the emotions and memories of fraternal experiences that I have found in my last year. I don’t have the east coast of the mid-19th century, but I have experienced related emotions in similar settings, and find myself resonating thoroughly with Thoreau.

He wrote in 1841:

It does seem as though mine were a peculiarly wild nature, which so yearns toward all wildness. I know of no redeeming qualities in me but a sincere love for some things, and when I am reproved I have to fall back on to this ground. This is my argument in reserve for all cases. My love is invulnerable. Meet me on that ground, and you will find me strong. When I am condemned, and I condemn myself utterly, I think straightaway, “But I rely on my love for some things.” Therein I am whole and entire. Therein I am God-propped.

I know the feeling. I live the expression of this.

morning

Chickadees are well groomed birds. They flit around, busy hanging onto the side of trees, or underneath branches, getting into all sorts of piles on the ground. But in the mornings and evenings they line up at the bird bath for their regular washing. They take a few sips of water then jump in, dunking their head under and splash with their little wings, then splash with their tail. First they shake their front, then their rear, staying a while before flying off to a nearby branch to preen for a bit. When one bird leaves, another flies in, the steady line continuing for an hour or so in the mornings and evenings.

Meanwhile, ravens are flying over the house from the hills to the south and back, a steady, if not regular, line. I think they are juveniles sneaking past established territories to get a drink from the lake. They have that look about them, that look of frivolous adventure with a note of caution. The mated pairs who own the woods over which these juveniles fly are quick to re-establish priority.

I spent the morning editing, finding myself lost in my own story. The images returned with even more force, as I sharpen the description rather than create a new world. It is like writing about a scene outside. What I note, and how I phrase things are the tasks. It’s in my imagination, now I have to convey the movie I see in my head.

The only worry is the promotion of all of this. An answer seemed to spark, only I’m not sure of the spark now, sure neither of the direction of the wind or even the duration of the flame. Thoughts of Egypt pass through my head, something my reading of Isaiah 30 last night encouraged even more. That I read by candlelight certainly encouraged the mysticism of the moment, but I still think it relevant.

There is a crucial point in which one decides for uncertain integrity or certain frustration. I could be sure of what I do, and sharpen my own skills trusting in the vagaries of a hidden path, or I could take what seems to be the broader road, though with still uncertain results, merely because it seems more assured. The latter means a loss, maybe a great loss for myself, and maybe, if the Spirit is working, in what I can offer to others.

I stand at the walls and look out not knowing whether Egypt is my ally in reality or my foe in disguise. That is the question. So, I pray for wisdom. And I stand at the walls, not yet turning down an offer nor leaping into the arms of a suspected salvation. I wait.

I ask for wisdom, for while there is the passages as represented by Isaiah 30, there is also, I know, the very interesting tale of Pharoah Neco.

May God give me the light I seek.

evening

The air outside is still and comfortable, for some reason “easy” pops into my head as a description. It doesn’t seem to intruded with any sort of message, letting a person simply be. I’ve taken to lighting candles in the evening, at least the last three evenings. The dance of the flame is soothing, as is the gentle aroma of the various scents.

Some of these candles are old, a couple of years, bought when I did a station for the Stations of the Cross. It was more symbolic than direct, with a long entry and gentle music drawing a participant into the scene of Jesus meeting with the women, and then following this up with words from various women mystics. Someday I might transfer all of this online somehow. The aroma of the candles tonight instantly bring back those memories, soothing memories of music and spirituality, my last real concerted effort within a formal church setting. It was in fact good.

Tonight I sit like a sandy beach washed over by a winter storm. Driftwood is stacked all around, seaweed is piled, the once fine dunes are disordered. The clouds have not yet moved past, though the fierceness has, all without recognition. I am drawn to prayer and study more, and wrestle with thoughts of Egypt and Faith, trying to strike for wisdom within still swirling confusion, trying to understand the right path between trust and perseverance.

I didn’t write today, at least not for my primary project, which seems to be slipping away in my mind. Yet there is a part of my soul there, so I wander around seeking to determine the cause of this sudden wall within, and have some thoughts, no answers. God is complicated, to be sure, but he warns us quite clearly of the fact, so it shouldn’t be a surprise. He also warns us that he is passionate about our progress even in this life, so we shouldn’t wonder when he presses us onwards and upwards.

But we do wonder, I wonder, because I cannot see the end, and find the present a little too bare for my tastes. So, I’m left only with faith and trust that it will all be understood by the end.

Which is why I write here really. It is a record of the path, so when the end, or a end comes, I can say I had moments of faith, despite my occasional grumblings. I would have said those in the land were fierce and big, but I would have jumped at the chance to attack. What else is there but the wilderness I would have said. What else is there but the wilderness I say now. So I stand, a little shaky tonight, but I stand.

morning

Steller’s Jays are all about, flying artfully through the branches, voicing their presence with a surprising array of calls. The sun, now far along its wintery path, no longer stares into my window. It peeks, with tiny stabs of light breaking past the thick branches, and the rest getting stuck on the roof and rafters of this house. Just now it reveals its waning presence, which will soon be gone today, and gone for months in about a week. My room is a small, lesser Alaska, where the sun disappears from direct view all through winter, though fortunately, walking to the other, south facing side of the house I can move to the likeness of the opposite pole.

People wonder about me. They wonder why I didn’t stay in Pasadena, taking whatever jobs I could find in order to find some measure of independent establishment. I wonder too. I wonder about a lot of things. Had I a single reason beyond the faint whispers of possibilities I might have. There was nothing to hook me, nothing grabbed onto me and said I was welcomed or vital to any particular person. So I drifted along in some vague miasma of hope.

Then I started writing, and that eternal tug which has been everpresent pulled strong. That’s the core of everything I am and do. That tug. I wandered to a ludicrous college career, outside of any kind of rational ability or consideration concerning the reasons, because of that tug. I fell into the trap of reading complex church history, not only reading the church fathers but finding ecstasy in them because of that tug. I came home and worked as a person should, but then quit to do more independent reading because of that tug. I started a real life, and was pulled back extraordinarily strong by that tug.

I went to seminary even though the thought of being the smiling faced pastor in a sales pitch ecclesiology wasn’t within me. I battled and angered people who took advantage of their positions for foolishness because of that tug, even though this meant thrashing potential. And still the tug. I wonder about a lot of things, whether to go to the right or left, in or out, but always that tug pulls at my very being, constricting me as much as steel bars within a set path. I consider other movements and think how sharper it would all be, but then that tug reminds me of its inexorable power. It is a weight which is never lifted, and the more I pull from it the more I am snapped back.

So I walk a path different than that expected of me, wishing I didn’t have to, wishing I could settle down. But I wander the eternal fields, taking a spiritual trek reminiscent of the physical journey my forebears took coming west. There is no more West, the establishment merchants of the East have conquered what remains, leaving those of us who have the same yearnings that has marked a great many throughout history without recourse to response. Yet the response remains as God calls to journey heavenward, a relentless pull which is the exact same drive of men and women who forsook hearth and debt to take on something grander.

Heaven is my West, the goal unsettled as the journey continues, my only sadness coming from the loneliness of such a drive. But the tug, that obdurate, unyielding draw which checks my very soul at the thought of differing paths keeps me going towards a place I cannot see and do not know. That tug, with a tremendous grip, never relents, never eases despite myself.

And so today, I’m feeling the weight of discontent, seeing nothing forward, knowing nothing was left behind, yet pining for those wane hopes which were the full measure of the past. I’m lost in the great desert, seeking solace and relief, staring at the bleached bones of those who did not make it.

morning

The day is beautiful and cool, a delight of mountain fall. Sounds of contruction began, I believe, around eight, sounds of construction meant to assuage a soul looking for solace through imposition and expenditure rather than through meditation and quiet. There are indeed people who see the mountains as a quiet place, and their reaction to such is to impose themselves. Like Christian College students who ‘rebel’ by having a drink, these same hearted people feel more within by making their mark. So, they see the calm and quiet and know only to yell and scream through various means. They taste and are drawn by the peace, but they do not know what to do with it, their own soul is clamoring so loudly, they have to be louder. Not simply through noise, but through patterns in which there is no rest within.

I know this, and am not really bothered. The neighbor has visited with his family twice in the last six ten months. He comes up once a month or so to meet with contractors. When he drives by, I know also to look for the contractor who he will consult about a ‘project’. This time I guess he found one and has proceeded to make changes which make an architecturally interesting house more blocky, more typical, expanding it in multiple ways when no one besides contractors ever visit. I’ve also noticed that like a circle in a pond when a stone is tossed in, this neighbor makes an appearance when confusion has arisen. There are people who are led by the Spirit, and there are those who, even though not evil themselves, respond to a different spirit, thinking they hear a spirit of light, but cannot tell Truth from Lies. A curious thing indeed.

My concerns are different. And I don’t mind the bother because it forces me inward. I shut the bamboo curtain, I put in ear plugs, I shut the window and light a candle.

I pray, and I pray, winding my way through the trails of the Spirit seeking solace for my soul which cries out for a nameless answer to an unknown situation.

I read Psalm 27 and find encouragement, another suggests Psalm 63 — a Psalm which I call the “waiting Psalm” because that’s always the word that stands out.

Thoughts of prophetic warnings against trusting Egypt and images of Jesus overturning tables in the Temple because there were those who sought profit off of worship fill my head.

I ponder, and sit, and I pray, finding myself unable to do anything else, called to pray in a way which I haven’t felt for a long time, and more unusually without any accompanying circumstance which gives purpose to the prayer.

I pray vague, and trust my groaning words are taken by the Spirit for insightful utterances.

I pray the swirling storms about resolve, and confusion which abounds all around is quieted and repulsed.

I pray for wisdom, in myself and wisdom in those who interact with me. I pray for light to shine, and angels sent to minister would overcome the prince of persia or whatever hinders.

I bypass the rational in which I usually dwell, and bathe more thoroughly in those so-called charisms which anoint my being yet only rarely are revealed.

I pray, and shall pray. For what purpose I don’t know, and may never.

There is only obedience. And today the task for me is to pray.

evening

I had a productive morning, writing a fair bit, focused, alert. Then the storm came. Not one I could see or understand, but it came with a fury which has yet to relent.

A little less, very little less, than a year ago fire swept through California coming within a couple of miles of this house… on every side. The town was evacuated, we didn’t go. Why? Because we felt safe, and because there was a strong burden to prayer.

So a week of prayer commenced while watching the surrounding hills for glimpses of encroaching flames, and watching the fire planes sweep so low over the house I could read the numbers on the tail and see the pilots in the cockpit.

All week I felt the burden of the fire, a tenseness, a watchfulness, feeling not only caution and danger, but the very emotions of a forest dying, pain coming from all quarters, an evil of sorts exuding itself over the land wiping away dreams and memories, property and lives. I stood in the wee hours watching for flames that could have easily, should have easily, burst through. They didn’t, something our firefighter neighbor says according to his twenty plus years of fire experience is inexplicable. It was a miracle he said. The hand of God was sheltering this valley from the fierceness of the flames.

I say this because that feeling I had then I have tonight. There are no flames, and I’m not staring at the hills or watching planes. But, it’s that same feeling.

Curious. Pray for me, won’t ya’. If I learn anything I’ll let you know.

Maybe it’s just a normal turn of emotions. But, I’ve never ever been one for overbearing, random anxiety (“I love tests” is my school motto). I felt this during the fire, and during other vital moments. I don’t know what is going on in realms beyond my ken. But it’s something. It’s something. So, I pray and stare.

And may do this for a while still, even though it’s late.

morning

The perfect days continue, all is bright and cool. Birds fly around in active exultation, my soul drifts easily from the mundane to the ethereal and back again. The branches move in the slight breeze, a bit like they were just beginning to feel the music but are not quite ready to dance yet. They bob their heads, move their shoulders, tap their feet, feeling out the rhythm. Oak leaves are beginning to turn brown and shrivel in their seasonal demise, cedars are losing their brown bulbous tips, as the seeds fall to the ground to encourage the forest most strenously that the day of Pines are gone and this is a Cedar neighborhood.

The moments of sunshine on my desk are lessening, soon to be gone, as the sun moves south along its yearly path.

There is an aspect of spirituality which I think is not discussed very much, and yet it is the deepest, most profound aspects. It is the being there when someone needs you. I’m not talking about intentional acts intended to both tell people they need help and then help them, or even the great aspects of seeing a clear need and responding as so many charities do. I’m talking about the more subtle aspects, like going and hanging out on a street corner for no other reason than whim and striking up a conversation with someone who really needs to hear helpful words of blessing.

I’m talking about saying something that may not seem important, but it is for the hearer, or doing some small act which is both casual and profound. I think this is deeper because it requires something of us we cannot manage or control, it requires a spiritual instinct so sensitive that we react with the Spirit without even knowing it. We just do the work of the Spirit naturally, and are even surprised when we are told it is such. There’s a place for intentional ministry to be sure, only I think a church that depends on this is an anemic church. It is not the intentional aspects which define the work of the Spirit in our midst. It is those instinctal times in which we reveal the Spirit working within us, acting and doing that which promotes the Spirit’s ends while remaining unaware.

It is the difference between playing the set notes of a simple song, and falling into the mastery of improvisation, where the instrument becomes less of a tool to fight and more of an extension of one’s soul.

The closer we get to God the more our actions will instinctually align with him, the farther we go the more our lives will encourage even more confusion in those we meet up with. We are always drifting towards one of these directions or the other, and this reality is profound indeed.

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