Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: March 2, 2005

Evening

The sky was blue when I woke up. Well, it wasn’t. It was black, then became blue as the morning progressed past dawn. Until around eleven. Then clouds slowly filled the sky, eventually drowning the blue in a matte white. The fog started rolling in around four, and kept rolling in. It still rolls, now so thick it is difficult to see the other side of the driveway even with my light on. The trees drip with condensation, making it seem like it is raining.

I’m fascinated by fog. Or any kind of mist or smoke really. I’m not sure why. A couple of years ago I was cleaning a fountain pen in some water and the ink formed a cloud in the water. It struck me with wonder as the particles spiraled out in an amazing complexity. Now, I blow out a match or a candle and am struck by the same wonder. Or with fog I stare as it flows like an airborne tide. I’m amazed for a reason, only I don’t know the reason, except for the fact that it is one of those things which I know could really explain a great deal if I could only just grasp what it is saying. There is something in it all which touches on everything I’m doing, making me delight in it, hoping for an insight. Or maybe I’m simply supposed to appreciate the visualization of otherwise heady pneumatalogical analogies.

I’m also fascinated with people who dream. I don’t dream. At least nothing very interesting. The most interesting thing about my dreams is that my regular sense of deja vu comes not from feeling like I’ve been somewhere before, but that I’ve dreamed about what I’m doing… and sad to say it is about something mundane. I rarely remember my dreams, except for my very occasional nightmares, the number of which I can count on my fingers. I remember one when I was no more than three, maybe my earliest memory. It was black and white dream about a fire, or the aftermath of a fire in our apartment complex, which left the ground pockmarked with craters.

I had a nightmare in 1998 that I remember, during a time I was getting involved at a church which had a murky past. Something foul was afoot, and the spiritual realities were striking. I dreamed I was chased by a woman with wickedly long fingernails through town. When I was awake I felt strongly something wicked had me under its purview. It was a church with a murky past which did not want light to shine in the shadows.

But, other than these very occasional dreams, at points in which I think my discernment gift is in overdrive, I don’t dream. So people who do are fascinating because they have a gift which can speak beyond words. And, to be honest, we need such people to break through our rationalizations and hear what is going on in the artistic center of the Spiritual Life.

I say this because I chatted with someone who dreams recently and the conversation reminded me, again, about how essential we are to each other. The hierarchical models of the Church have pushed aside the realities of our interdepedence. They have created layers where there is supposed to be interpenetration and have substituted rules for perichoresis. All those ten dollar words to say that we need each other profoundly. This need isn’t like bartering or even like sick souls trying to become whole by banding together. The theological realities insist that we need each other in order to find a fullness of being beyond our own fullness. We need each other so we can together go beyond what we would just be as a collection of individuals. Through the Spirit the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

But getting to that point is tricky, so God plays around with grace. Some have dreams and see realities which are beyond their ken. But in themselves they see lack. So another comes along and encourages and exhorts, feeling a lack in themselves but not in the other. We are driven towards God through prayer and driven towards others, always being reminded that the spiritual person cannot be Spiritual without another.

That is the beauty of the Trinity which is reflected in our lives. The whole person becomes whole with others, creating a complex unity while still allowing for distinct diversity. It is beautiful to behold. But it is hard to let down our inner demand to be whole by ourselves. So, God teaches us, drives us, lets us feel the emptiness of a lack of the Spirit in us so that we resonate with the presence of the Spirit in another, making the whole spiritual life a complex dance of being which rises towards heaven into eternity.

All that to say, we need each other. And it is good. It is a delight. Especially, when the music begins to really play and others are around who delight in the choreography.

Morning

Snow can never emit flame. Water can never issue fire. A thorn bush can never produce a fig. Just so, your heart can never be free from oppressive thoughts, words or actions until it has purified itself internally. Be eager, therefore, to walk this path. Watch your heart at all times; constantly say the prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me’. Be humble, and set your soul in quietude.

—St Hesychios the Priest

As I begin the morning with some measure of renewed purpose, I find this quote to be perfectly expressive of my path over the many months. This is the month of Spring. May it be thus for my soul as well.

There is a slight haze in the air, a light cool breeze moving through the branches, making the scene outside both one of constant movement and stillness. A chipmunk gambols along the roots of a tall cedar, near where two mountain quail walked by a few minutes ago. A jay calls, announcing itself to the world.

About a year ago I began writing this section, this public journal of my heart and soul, meant for me, but with the realization that the journey I walk is not unique to me. The particulars and purpose might be unique, but it is the same Spirit who works in men and women throughout history and throughout this world. Sometimes we see glimpses of this in others, a glimpse which brings joy and sadness. The joy comes from the shared potential, the knowledge that others pursue God and are pursued by God. The sadness comes because of what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1:

8 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, 11 as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

He who rescues us blesses us. This is a profound lesson that is only learned through suffering… be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, and often all of these together.

The problem comes in that our generation doesn’t teach these depths. We are told of feasting without the fasting, the celebration without the mourning, the victory apart from the struggle, and resurrection without first dying. We are told of David’s victory over Goliath but not of his years hiding in caves. And it is the story of the caves which marks the spiritual journey through life. Not a single character in the Bible found God devoid of finding suffering… so why do we expect to find joy without first finding sadness?

We are told to sell the Gospel with all its bounty and blessings, but in order to sell it better we have forgotten the depths of heartache which comes from traveling far down the road. The struggles are the meat, the protein which makes us strong and able to endure all things.

So, I look back at March 1, 2004 and wonder what I’ve learned and realize I’ve learned the lessons of the mountain. Last year when I wrote there were mighty pines outside the window. The wind whistled through these giants, they shaded the sun, gave access to birds and beasts, a home to some elusive flying squirrels even. But they were dead and dying. They had been killed by the bark beetle and were brown.

Now they are gone, cut down by men with chainsaws who with ruckus and noise emptied the mountain of 100 year old giants so that the mountain could grow and heal. Now small pines and cedars and firs are outside my window. They are a small home, good enough for the juncos and chipmunk, find for the quail to hide under, but not quite strong enough for a raven’s nest. But they are alive and growing, and so the mountain that was filled with death is now full of life, a life which blossoms from historic rain that no one predicted. The dead pines would have sucked energy into their brown limbs. Now, the new can grow.

So, with loss comes growth, with death comes new life, with emptiness comes filling, with heartbreak comes hope. If we let go and trust the Spirit is working.

I’ve written less, lost some of my noticing eye, not followed my 1000 words a day habit for too long, and otherwise feel myself farther away than ever before. But, in my soul I know I am closer, and know that God is closer, and know that those who walk with God, for God, are closer.

And that is something.

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