Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Month: January 2005 (page 1 of 2)


Or, methinks on this day I would find myself more creative if I had a Muse. 


So, it seems the daily considerations have slowed to a twice weekly crawl. The enthusiasm of sorting through my inner spiritual self has declined, mostly as the considerations are not often shaken up. 

I’ve entered a slow point, for reasons I don’t know. Which is fine. My heart is tending to look outwards and so I continue to wonder. Last Monday I wrote nonstop, filled with an almost fury. Tuesday, slow. Wednesday, slow. Thursday, nothing. Friday, little. Whatever had sparked has now dissipated. Which is fine.

I wonder if what I need is simply a time in the forest, seeking God in the midst of nature with no other input. 

Or, I’m looking outward because my soul is ready for a change of pace, and my higher energy level has meant I need to throw myself outwards again. The pastoral bug bites. 

But, since I had a hard time writing this week I realize a fair source of this present malaise. And I realize I think too much about it all and simply need to do the tasks each day offers. 

It’s funny how the more one progresses the less profound points of wisdom become. Not that they are less profound, rather like a cloud in the sky, the simple is filled with complexity, more than we see at first. 

So, I will continue to pray, continue to wander forward, continue to seek wisdom and patience and courage and light. I figure if I keep doing those things, it’ll all be fine however or wherever I go. 

There’s also the reality of a lack of interpretive experiences. Away in this mountain I don’t exactly have much activity or interaction which would prompt my regular musings. 

Stay in one’s cell and there one will learn everything the desert fathers said. The cell is a slow teacher it seems. What I really need is patience and faith… I really need patience and faith. Then I think my mind would find peace and would give up it’s pernicious habit of thinking too much.

Then again, I guess that is the real lessons of the present… patience and faith, without which there is no good end. 

I’m excited about this coming week, and I don’t know why. In fact I didn’t know I was excited until I wrote that right now. Curious that. 

Enough rambling… time for bed. 


Some nights the soul is quiet. This isn’t a stillness or a contentment but a quiet, a staring off into the distance trying to comprehend that which is most incomprehensible. 

Who is to know the heart or the soul? We think we do. We try. Yet, always there are surprises. I think this is the appeal of a very philosophical theology. If a person can systematize God, putting all his being into neat little categories, then there is hope to understand ourselves. 

Yet, we are made in the image of God, we are designed to reflect his being in a profound way, and destined to reflect something other than his reality on account of our daily sin. There is hope and light and peace calling always. So hard is it to hear and see, so difficult it is to grasp that at moments a person wants to toss it all away and yet cannot. There is nothing else. 

I wonder tonight about my past year. I wonder if I have had my time here and am now getting some kind of pushing out. I wonder because if some call came from anywhere in the world at this instant I would leave. I seem to have hit a patch where my heart retreats, my soul struggles to hold on to the light. My emotional self is strong yet my spiritual self is sliding quickly away, down into the depths, so that I cannot see the heavens anymore.

I am stuck in the mud and the mire, and feel weak to once again emerge. So, my mind looks outward and elsewhere even as I don’t know whether this is acedia or a movement of grace to point me towards a new reality. 

So, tonight my soul is quiet, telling me nothing, pointing me nowhere. 

There is only to pray for wisdom and direction and light. Despite myself I know God is leading me and desires me to follow. Even with my weakness I know he is running after me so that I might one day be strong. 

I write even though I do not have words, and I express this even as I don’t have any concept. And I wait. Sometimes the silence of God is deafening.


The full moon rises and covers the ground in a mystical glow. There is not a slightest breeze nor a single cloud, or any sounds outside. All is still. 

I went to church this morning. A surprising thing to note given the nature of this website and my general pursuits but it is a rather unusual event. Getting rather burned on occasion did something to my soul. Some would guess it’s a post seminary effect. It wasn’t. Oddly, seminary made me more excited about Church and more excited about what can be done. It was when I tried to work this out and oddly found myself in both agreement with all the higher staff of this church I was a part of for ten years, and out of alignment. Only I could never figure out what this was. Which kept me at it, which kept me getting more burned as what I thought was going on wasn’t and somehow I got shoved to the side.

It’s a bit like a bad breakup, where you realize the woman you are dating really loves you but can’t help messing around with other people. There’s something wrong and the only recourse is to break it off. 

So, in my theological passion I had a bad church break up and haven’t been going to church. There’s more to it really than this I guess. No one needs to convince me of the value of church or the importance of church. I could argue with the best of them… it simply hasn’t seemed right in my present pursuits. I could be wrong, but that is a matter between me and the Spirit. 

Today I went. I went because the last couple of weeks it’s been stirring in my heart, and this past week a good friend, one of the people I genuinely respect as a Christian pursuing God to the fullest, told me basically I was thinking too much about the whole thing and should just get to a church come what may. 

The fact was I have been thinking too much, and self-analyzing myself into an ecclesiastical paralysis. 

A few months ago I had the chance to go to the Cathedral in Los Angeles which is always an oddly fulfilling experience. Odd because I’m not Catholic by any means, nor tempted to be so, and yet that was precisely why it was comforting. I go to a church and I feel the weight of expectation… on myself mostly… to get involved, to use my gifts and training. The Cathedral has none of that for me because I can never be a priest. I can’t even fully take part in the entire mass. I can sing, and pray, and listen the homily and participate with others who are seeking Christ in their way, but I can never ascend in involvement. This is restful really.

But I went today, not to a Catholic Church, but a Baptist church. Not the “four services, we’re wanting swaths of land to build our new Building on” church, but the one service church I drive by on my way kayaking where there’s no hoopla or Purpose driving, simply a good collection of people of various ages gathered to sing together and hear what is a simple and yet very solid exegetical sermon. 

I could have thrown myself into no end of churches who were seeking to make themselves seem grand in this world. For now, the smaller, more relaxed atmosphere was comforting to me. I first went earlier last year, amidst a sudden flurry of church visiting in May. So, even though it has been a good many months, I chose then the church I would start going to if I should start going again. 

Then, there is the issue of my own rootlessness. A friend asked an earnest question a few weeks back about whether I had a timeline for being up here. I mumbled some answer, implying no and suggesting I was waiting on the Spirit. Which is true. But that might imply some sort of commitment. Part of why I didn’t go to Church was because I have always felt this to be a temporary existence, without even a wisp of the kind of permanence participating in a church deserves. 

Even now I feel this strong. I feel my heart drawing away, which has led me over the last couple of months to explore the wider world. I don’t know if this is creeping acedia or a whisper of the Spirit. So, I explore and have not yet heard anything back which would indicate an open door. But, after a year of this rootlessness I figure I might as well give that up as an excuse and go to church anyhow.

I know, if this sounds overwrought it certainly is. Indeed more so than I have even expressed. 

So, I went to church this morning. I arrived a little late and I was one of the first people to leave when it was over. One of the reasons I decided on this church is because the people seemed the friendliest and bot the pastor and an elder got in touch with me after my first visit. That’s worth something, but today it wasn’t worth more than my presence. 

Slow steps I suppose. 

The other issue is that I am rather theologically settled and a bit mixed up. The ideal church for me would be one open to the various “charismatic gifts” but not gaga that “wow, I can do cool spiritual things”. I would love to be in a setting where folks who have prophetic gifts can talk, where folks who have teaching gifts can teach, where it is both focused and casual. The more meeting the better; a daily gathering of prayer and eating would be ideal.

The only problem is this is very hard to find, and for something like that the Spirit would really have to lead me in the right direction. (Though for something like that I would go just about anywhere). I’m generally Baptist in my theology, at least on the various issues that tend to divide the Body into separate bits. 

I’m not opposed whatsoever to getting involved, indeed I think my life holds some pastoral demand, but I am wary about getting involved. 

I stepped forward in doing this not because my wariness had changed. I stepped forward because it seemed like everything in my soul had bogged down, my heart was constantly slogging through, my soul is caught in a mire in which the heights seemed unattainable. I struck out trying to forge something new on my own. 

For what purpose? That remains a mystery. My hope is in Christ, and I am learning the bounty of the discipline of thanksgiving. I pray, and others pray for me, and so today I went to church. 

Tomorrow I am going to write. Beyond that, who can say? I pray for wisdom and peace and thanksgiving and light in all things. I pray that my mind will focus, and not churn around wrestling with paralyzing considerations. I want to be free and whole and fluid in the work of the Spirit… something which above all seems to be the very purpose of my present. 


It is an odd thing to turn and see a flicker on the beam outside my window staring at me, staring past the jay eating seed in the hanging container and right at me. He flew away when I noticed him. Curious, that. I did put out a more varied selection of seed for the animals in response… they can get demanding. Flickers have those rather sharp beaks so a person doesn’t want to mess around with those.

They are not the dominant birds however. Over the months I’ve noticed the fauna hierarchy. Chipmunks and juncos coexist rather well. Nuthatches travel together with the juncos and chickadees always form orderly lines for their food or baths. Squirrels and jays have a fractious relationship with the dominant depending on the context. Squirrels will shoo away a jay on the ground or ledge but in the branches I’ve seen squirrels harassed to no end. 

The flicker is an independent sort who, because of his size, tends to go where he wants, even if with a bit of a clueless attitude as to how he’s relating to the other little beasties. The chickadees and chipmunks don’t seem to mind the flicker but will move if the flicker wants to land right where they are standing. 

Jays are fractious with everyone, including themselves, even though like a street gang they travel in small groups. They are social but with a constant assertion of dominance underlying it all. When the jays come, the chipmunks leave, the chickadees aren’t as comfortable and the juncos go the saplings. 

The flicker becomes watchful, though will push away a jay in her apparent cluelessness at times. Most of the other birds come in their own flocks and the squirrels and chipmunks can often be seen doing their own thing by their lonesome. The flicker is almost always around when other birds are around. He’s like the big awkward oafy kid who likes the interaction but isn’t very good at it. This isn’t quite right because, of course, a flicker is a beautiful and graceful bird. But, socially it seems awkward more than shy.

The chickadees aren’t really shy at all, not about anything. Stand near the birdbath and a chickadee will land in it, take its daily bath, without a care you are standing two feet away. 

A shy bird around people but not around other beasts is the acorn woodpecker. When a woodpecker flies in, usually announcing itself with a plaintive call, the other birds keep their distance. You can see the authority in the woodpecker’s serious mien. This is a bird who takes no gruff. All the seed eating birds and beasts let it have its time on the balcony. I would too. I’ve had one stare at me, challenging me it seems to make the slightest comment. I didn’t. Generally, only one woodpecker comes at a time, though in places they really like one can see them gathered in a large group.

There’s a house down the street riddled with woodpecker holes. It’s someone’s vacation house so rarely occupied. When empty the woodpeckers claim it as their own, and I have learned to be as wary about walking near that house as I would be about walking in south Los Angeles. The birds stop their pecking and stare, and call, and fly closer. Not like swallows who will dive bomb in a collective cloud anyone who approaches their nests, more like sentries who will fly to a near branch and ask me what I’m about.

“Just walking by,” I say. 

“Carry on, and quickly,” they reply. “There ain’t nothing to see here.”

And I listen. Never ignore the warnings of anything with a sharp implement and a bright red head. 

So, among those who come for seed there are the chipmunks and small birds at the bottom, then the jays and squirrels. The flicker is near the top though without any arrogance or awareness of the fact. The woodpecker is aware and confident and arrogant about getting what she wants.

We have ravens too, a fair number. Ravens are in a different category. They are likely the smartest animal on the mountain, excepting of course the human population, or at least some of the human population. They can fly, know they can fly, enjoy the fact they fly and really have no regard for anything or anyone so base as to not be able to fly. Though, they do have a curious interest in dogs, wild or domestic. People, however, they notice with a clear disdain because we have to drive and go to the supermarket and can’t enjoy the joys of a good uplift. You can see it in their eyes. They aren’t impressed with what we can do and really have no regard for us. 

Other birds keep their distance from the ravens for the simple reason that ravens are opportunistic at every point and will eat whatever is convenient. Jays will raise a ruckus but won’t get too near. I had a recording of a raven that I played while a jay was on my balcony. It was like a cartoon. I played it and the jay leaped into the air and for a moment seemed to forget how to fly, it stumbled in the air managing to make it to a branch, looking around like it had been hit by unexpected lightning. 

Ravens are big birds and fly like no one’s business making acrobatic twists and turns which would make a WWI flying ace jealous. If I hear ravens cawing nearby I always give a look around. They are superb coyote spotters you see, and will follow a coyote harassing him and announcing his presence to the neighborhood. I’m not sure if they do this for a safety reason or because they realize coyotes are smart enough to be annoyed and there is nothing a raven enjoys more than a good teasing. 

One would think hawks are higher on the totem pole but they don’t seem to be. In fact I watched a hawk land on the top of a nascent totem pole in the village and have a good look around. Two ravens, flying in exactly like two intercepting jet aircraft, in perfect wingman formation, came from somewhere nearby within minutes and starting swooping on the hawk, driving it from its perch and way away over the lake. A while later the two of them came back, flying in formation again and went to wherever they keep lookout. 

Then there is the sight of seeing a large raven on San Miguel Island in actual aerial combat with a hawk, entailing air to air contact, somersaults, inverted dives and extended talons. 

So, ravens and hawks are near equals with ravens getting an advantage because of numbers and hawks for sheer weaponry.

I saw a bald eagle yesterday and there is no doubt that this bird is at the very top of the hierarchy. It is said that bald eagles are being restored to the channel islands to drive off the occupying golden eagles. The golden eagles eat the island fox, an endangered species, and the bald eagles eat fish, not endangered. But golden eagles are intimidated by bald eagles so will give them space, thus saving the island fox.

Ravens give the eagles space as well. Ravens are playful birds, willing to harass just about anything for a good laugh. Whenever I see a hawk around there will always be ravens coming in to bother it. The eagle landed on top of a tree a hundred feet over me and perched there watching the world. Two ravens flew over, and I kid you not, saw the eagle, went higher in altitude and kept on their merry way. They were quiet, and seemed to be anxious to keep on going wherever it is they were going. Bald eagles do not appreciate jokes or bother and ravens are quite aware of this. 

Now a jay eats seed on the balcony, a chipmunk gambols on the ground, stopping to consider a bit and swish his tail in meditative emphasis. The saplings seem empty but a moment’s notice will reveal a rather large bit of movement among the branches as juncos bounce around in their constant busyness. 

I sit inside and write and consider and hope and pray. I also watch, because watching and noticing the world about brings renewed thanksgiving and delight. May I keep watching and stay thankful, for in doing that my soul rises to heaven. 


It’s a very high screeching sound, curiously a bit like a squirrel only higher pitched. The same staccato, the same almost mechanical echo. 

So, of course I turned my kayak towards the shore to see what it was. High in a tree looking out over the lake continuing to screech was a rather large bald eagle. I drifted towards the tree, it turned and considered me. We watched each other for several minutes. He certainly could see me more clearly. For one I was in a yellow kayak on green/blue water. He was in a tree surrounding by branches. And really the term ‘eagle eye’ has meaning. I could see the bright eyes, the boldly yellow beak, and the fact the feathers were still more a shade of dark brown than dark black, suggesting to me this wasn’t a juvenile eagle nor was it an old eagle. 

A squirrel was chirping in some tree behind it. I suspect there was a foot tapping on the branch as well, the typical danger call. 

Then the eagle opened its wings, flew in front of me and out over the lake where it proceeded to hunt over near the opposite shore. Bald Eagles hunt by lifting fish out of the water… they are too noble apparently to dive like other fish hunting birds. So the eagle hovers over a spot while it looks then lowers itself, only feet submerging. This time it didn’t find anything and continued out over some trees.

I heard some ravens cawing in the distance. When there are hawks around the ravens will be out to harass them. Apparently ravens let eagles alone. 

I like seeing bald eagles. A person doesn’t need to get out their audobon book to identify it. And they are a good omen even if one doesn’t believe in omens good or bad (which I guess is like defending the innerrancy of the Wise Men from the east while vehemently denying astrology). 

I’m thinking about John the Baptist alot this past week. For writing reasons mainly which drifts into a broader consideration. I like this. Not for any particular reason only because I see again the usefulness of a good mulling.

Mulling is an underrated activity. The brain, I think, is a lot smarter than we are. It really knows what it’s about and if we stop for a moment and let it go about its business we really can learn a thing or two. Its the stopping for a minute that is the problem. The mind will happily do what we want, no matter how menial, degrading, or futile the task. We can spend years occupying it and keeping it filled with all manner of minuciae. When we stop to mull it realizes its new freedom and often is surprising. 

A little like if Michelangelo had a job as a butler and could only fit in the art stuff in his spare time. 

Of course the surprises of a good mull often are so distressing that a person quickly learns never, ever to let the mind have its freedom. There’s a lot going on in our heads which we don’t know about and soemtimes don’t want to know about.

But this being the case I still enjoy a good mulling, maybe more than most folks. This is what brought me first to consider John the Baptist, then realize the short thrift he’s gotten over the millenia. Really he was the theological sidekick to Jesus, the second most important person in the New Testament, and the last of the Prophets of Israel. 

The theology he represents is grand and yet I think John as a person is even more interesting. There are moments of clear confusion amidst his bold and confident calls for repentance. He was the outsider calling the people of Israel back inside, a reality which certainly implies a fair measure of psychological dissonance. 

I haven’t mulled long enough yet to be sure. The fact I am so curious about John as a character is encouraging, however, both to my present vocational goals and my spiritual goals. I was a wee bit worried about each aspect this past week, so the encouragement of intellectual curiosity does my soul well. 

It might even inspire me to reread the dead sea scrolls today under the light of a winter sun. Or, I might find a good tree to stare at for a while and spend a long time seriously mulling.


Yeah, I still am feeling averse to writing. 

But, I’ll have a go anyhow. The rain mentioned kept coming, bringing down mountains and causing no end of problems. The roads here were shut down since Monday leaving this community in a curious state of trapped enchantment. Once the rain stopped it became beautiful. Three feet of snow melted away under the pounding storm leaving everything boldly bright and green.

The lake has risen about fifteen feet since I last went kayaking before Christmas. It’s a different lake really.

Whether it’s the rain or something else there has been a measure of melancholy in my soul. Nothing too severe especially since I sent off a writing proposal a few months in the making yesterday. But it remains today, enhanced a wee bit by changed plans to meet a friend. No road, no traveling for me.

So, I was in a low ebb of being today, a low reflection of light and spirit, a shadow of my possible self in mood and deed. I realize the spiritual life has its rhythms so I wonder if this is it, or I wonder if I am too long living the ronin spiritual life wandering free and stifled because of it. 

I don’t know. So, I don’t reflect. There is the charge of discipline which rears up at times like this and the realization of the importance of a peer community to strive alongside with. 

I suppose that is really it. Tonight I feel isolated and alone, the expected reprieve highlighting my own present, even though I know this is where I am supposed to be right now. 

What would solve this internal gnaw? That is even the trickier answer for it seems more profound than the usual suspects. 

Which is why I attribute it to a low ebb and trust that continuing to face the right direction will eventually find me on the higher crest soon enough. Don’t get discouraged by discouragement is a fine spiritual lesson to hold onto. So shall press on, slogging if I must. 


Rain is coming down fiercely. Wind is whipping the branches. The ground is still covered in snow. It is a cold rain. Indeed, it has been decades since this much precipitation has come. I think it fine and dramatic.

There are times in which my thoughts and mood draws me inward, where the secrets of my heart hold me tight and do not relent their grip. I find myself retreating from most everyone else and letting my own being wrap around me for a while. It is not so much I feel a need to stay hidden or secret, or that I am too lazy to share what is within. It is deeper than that. My soul recoils against expression because it is not settled on what to express, the retreating itself is the expression, the unwillingness to share is the profound statement. 

What is this? Is is recharging? Re-evaluating? Restoring? I don’t know. I feel fine and yet I feel inward as though the gates of my being are now shut tight for a while, as though I am besieged by some mysterious force which keeps me from exiting and engaging.

It could also be a call to focus on that which brings delight and focus away from that which distracts.

I don’t know. I write this because I don’t want to write. I want to leave a blank page as an expression of now, only I know that empty entries are more likely interpreted as not finding a moment to spare. 

I find a moment, many moments, and yet my heart whispers to stay quiet, to step away, to let the universe speak to me for once without my insistence on codifying my impressions. To listen and wait and absorb is my task. For what? For what is any of this? That is the eternal question.


Thin flakes fall on the already white shrouded ground, lightly and completely. The animals seems undismayed, or at least the drives of hunger after a cold night are worth a wintery foray.

Juncos bounce along the ground finding seed tossed out there early this morning. Two chipmunks venture out and back from the woodpile. More curious to watch is the squirrel on the rail of the balcony.

There is seed on both ends, close to the walls of the house, under the overhanging roof. The squirrel leaped off the beam onto the rail and for a moment ate of this piled seed. Then he walked to the middle where snow is collected about two inches high. He digs through the snow to find the seed from prior days buried underneath. The seed is more valuable if effort is put forth it seems.

I slept late today… peculiarly late for me and likely needed. I also lingered a while letting my thoughts gather and wander as I stared out at the white world getting whiter and the animals coming out of their places of warmth to see what the day had in store. 

Late mornings always throw me off a little. I’m quite the morning person, a lark of decided intensity.

But, no worries about my lack of progress beyond the initial daily responsibilities. Peace is welcomed and I pray it fills my soul and this house with its warmth on this cold snowy day.


Thick flakes of snow were falling when I left before light this morning. The snow was piled high by the time I came back, a day of driving to and fro in a wintery storm with all its beauty and danger.

Helped out with getting a car fixed, and it oddly turned out to be a fine day.

God is complicated to be sure… but if you are willing to wait for the punchline he is often funny as well. 

But boy am I going to get back to writing tomorrow. These holidays and related activities are finally done.

May 2005 be a fortuitous year.

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