Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Month: April 2005 (page 2 of 2)


The sun is out, the day is bright. Still there is a thin layer of ice on the birdbath. It was a cold night. It was a beautiful cold night that reminds one that Springtime in the mountains is definitely not summer. There are indeed four seasons in Southern California, one just has to get over 5000 feet to find them in their splendor.

To many, I think, the Spiritual life has the quality of an add-on to a house. The house is mostly built, just have to tear down that wall, hook up the plumbing, call the electrician, and add a door or two. Then it’s just a matter of decorating and using the new space.

The Spiritual life isn’t this at all. It’s a fixer-upper. The house doesn’t need a new room or new landscaping. It’s a home from the 1930s with outdated wiring, old plumbing, termite infested walls, leaky ceiling, and all other manners of issues which are not as much a project as akin to the constant attempts by sailors to fight the corrosion of the elements.

The laundry room was originally built for a bucket of water and a hand wringer, with the line outside to be used for drying. The Whirlpool washer doesn’t fit, let alone the high capacity dryer. There’s no hookup to cable, and the phone line doesn’t allow for DSL.

But, with some work these can be fixed. The moment one thing is fixed, however, cracks appear in the walls, the roof begins to leak, and the paint is so old that the walls are permanently stained with the ravages of time. Each new project overlaps with the one before. Each plugged leak exposes a leak in a different, even less accesible place. Feral cats have taken up residence in the small crawlspace beneath the house, and for some reason a colony of ants have decided on a seasonal pattern of attempted Empire building.

The house is falling apart even as money and time and effort are continually expended to fight each particular issue.

And sometimes we get lazy and go for years without even mowing the lawn or washing the dishes, let alone addressing the core problems.

It helps to be in a neighborhood where everyone cares about the upkeep… but this just gives good peer pressure, it does not remove the efforts constantly demanded on us as the owners.

Someday, the prophets and faithful tell us, we will be given a new home, with wireless internet, granite countertops, fire-resistent roof, and all other expressions of wonderful home safety and convenience.

For now, though, we’re making do, our efforts to fix up are noted and the beauty of our homes, or lack thereof, is appreciated by those who see. It’s tiresome, exhausting, and frustrating to continually find yet more issues and discover one more old problem the old owner neglected.

Keeping at it, however, despite the problems is the essence of the Spiritual life.

A person full of anxiety about worldly things is not free: he is dominated and enslaved by this anxiety, whether it is about himself or about others. But he who is free from such things is untroubled by worldly concerns, whether they relate to himself or to others; and this is so, even if he is a bishop, abbot or priest. However, he will not be idle, or neglect even the most insignificant and trivial details; but all he does he will do for the glory of God, accomplishing everything in his life without anxiety.
—Symeon the New Theologian


The day was almost perfect. It reached perfection then went a wee bit too far as the day went on. The air was too still, there were flies beginning to find their Spring wings, construction echoed across the hills.

Tonight, though the wind picked up, it became quiet as humans went inside, and the particular majesty of a mountain Spring sunset covered the forest with that marvelous glow that brings out the rich, deep, and infinite shades of greens and browns which burst forth from the rain baptized soil.

I’ve stepped back a bit in recent days, not because I feel hollow or sad, but because it feels right. I feel like I wake up and need to pray, feel like I go through the day and have to stop to pray, and everything else seems like it’s going along just fine even without my persistent fighting for something or anything.

I’m reading theology now again, books I’ve laid aside grab my attention with excitement. I’m even thinking of cracking open one of my foreign language texts and renewing a study of one of the three or four languages I’ve supposedly started well in learning… but didn’t keep up when grades or sermons didn’t insist on regular study.

The Hebrew was open for a little bit when I thought to go to Jerusalem… but when that fell through, my study fell off.

I’m not sure there’s a reason… maybe it’s nothing more than a purposeful discipline… but I think my time would be well spent getting back into some non-English form.

I take this as a good sign.

The heart feels the echo of recent frustrations and downturns, yet feels strong and vibrant in pressing onwards. God is working. I pray with all my being that this is not a mirage but a reality.


I saved some pigeons from an almost certain death yesterday. I throw some bird seed out on and behind my balcony so as to feed the wee beasties and birdies of the forest. The squirrels, chipmunks, juncos (who I think are gone for the summer now), chickadees, steller’s jays, and occasional acorn woodpecker are most appreciative. Occasionally I’ll turn and see a larger bird, a band tailed pigeon, surveying the scene from a branch. These are very wary birds, and rarely alone.

I turned and looked out yesterday and noticed a whole crowd of these birds, which are larger than the city pigeons most people know, and so take up a lot of space. They were busy pecking at some seed, excited to find such a bounty. I would guess there were about ten or twelve gathered close together.

I watched them for a couple of minutes, letting my mind wander as I watched them hustle about on the ground. Then I saw a face staring at them from the stairs about ten feet away, watching them through a gap of two closely spaced trees. A coyote had snuck behind the woodpile and was stalking these birds as I watched. He took some small steps down the stairs and began to inch closer. For a second I thought myself in a live nature program, with the harsh rule to never get involved always enforced. My nature program doesn’t have such a rule, and while I respect the coyote for his business and liveliehood, I saw no reason to passively assist.

I banged on my window, the pigeons erupted in flight to all directions, the coyote stopped, stood up straight, and pondered his misfortune. I watched him turn around, go behind the woodpile, saunter besides my parked truck. Then I stepped outside. The coyote turned and looked at me, knowing me for the cause of its misfortune. Accusation was in its eyes.

“Sorry,” I said, not really meaning it.

The coyote turned and trotted up the small hill, stopping to stare at me once again when it reached the top.

“No hunting allowed here, Mr. Coyote,” I said, taking a stab at the proper honorific.

For a moment I considered that a coyote hunting in the afternoon was possibly a hungry coyote… but I figured it was just on its way from there to somewhere else and saw an opportunity. It trotted away behind a house into an open part of the forest, stopping once more before it left to turn and stare at me once more. This time I took a picture.


The pigeons haven’t returned since, neither for seed nor to offer their thanks. Pigeons aren’t ones for vocalizing their emotions but I know they had gratitude for my good deed.

Most of the wee beasties can take care of themselves, such as the chipmunk who artfully weaved in and out of the woodpile as the coyote sauntered past a foot away. The pigeons are not well suited for tight spots in large groups. So, I helped them out… and bothered the coyote a wee bit. The coyote’s lot is a tough one to be sure. But they are doing well for themselves and certainly aren’t in need of any assistance.

Tonight the fog has rolled in. Today I’ve tried to make some steps to roll past my own fog. This involved a day of prayer, wondering why prayer made me more morose, and then yet more prayer, realizing there could be lots of reasons, none of which made prayer any less vital.

To pray for impossible things is a good exercise I think. Makes the heart stolid, or so they tell me. And when the impossible things come to pass… that’s a fine thing for one’s faith. There are three impossible things on my list, and only one of them fully involves me. The second sort of involves me, and the third doesn’t involve me at all but as an observer. There are other things to pray about, but these are not impossible, so the soul can breeze through those without too much effort. It’s the impossible things which drive the soul’s words, which limit the visibility of faith, and which seem to possess my mind these days. So I pray, and will keep doing such. For that, more than all, seems to be my calling these days.

A little over a year ago me and some family stuck around and prayed for an impossible thing… that the fire which encircled this mountain would not burn Lake Arrowhead. There was no possibility this wouldn’t happen. But it didn’t happen. “It was a miracle,” our firefighter neighbor said. Not an easy or stress free miracle, simply an impossibility coming to pass… or rather a certainty not coming to pass. And they were right, it did make my heart a little bit more stolid. Which is why I have gone from praying for two impossible things then, to the three that occupy me now.

By staying and praying we risked our lives, foolishly but with faith that it wasn’t foolish for some peculiar reason. So still, I stay and don’t do what makes sense, praying for three impossible things knowing that a change of winds or a sudden storm or the breaking dawn can do wonders. It helps that I know someone who prayed for a different impossible thing, namely a wee bit of rain after a long drought. The wee bit of rain wasn’t impossible… but I’d say the twenty five feet the Lake has gained in the last four months rather was impossible.

That’s the other lesson, of course, namely stay close to folks who also pray for impossible things, especially those who seem to help them become quite possible indeed. Not only are their prayers effective, their stolid hearts are useful when one’s own seems slack and wane. But, that’s why the early church gathered every day… they had seen an impossible thing and were praying daily for many more. It’s a tradition, and a good one methinks.


Writing ultimately is about thinking on a subject. It’s putting into words a situation or feeling in a way which communicates that reality to another.

So, what to do when the thoughts themselves do not coalesce or the words do not come. It is like a bar too wide to grab, the hand can’t wrap around it, no matter what angle it tries.

Various things stir about in my life, none related. I feel called, yes called, to pray for a specific person, and I don’t know why. Various obvious reasons wind their way through my brain, though my present situation seems to negate these reasons, leaving me to pray and speak… with limited visibility. God could do many things, wonderful things… such things that are seemingly out of my hands, even if I have a part. I hold these things lightly, at least I should.

I feel a yearning to write, only my creative spark has dimmed, my creative approaches have dulled, and initial responses have dried. I’m a wee bit lost in this now. Again… limited visibility.

Then I have friends, good friends, wandering in a fog of their own, a thick, dangerous fog which is filled with dangers on all sides. I find myself not only praying for them but indeed taking on some of the burdens they feel. Not purposefully, and not really intellecually understandable. I know that in the last few weeks I’ve identified on a deep level at times, feeling and thinking outside of myself. Twice I’ve felt crushed, absolutely hopeless, only to hear that those very moments were when one of these people were feeling absolute, wonderful peace. Quantum emotions? I realize this is a part of my spirituality, and something which I’ve realized for a number of years now, only it takes me by surprise. If I intensely pray I find my emotions being stirred, taking on the texture of that which I am praying for, either in empathy or in absorbtion. My former pastor/boss saw this as a reality which meant I wasn’t intended for the Church. I felt too much in a situation… an odd thing given my generally very strong INTJ personality. It’s the work of the Spirit, not personality which evokes this empathy… a fact which confused those at my church who saw my reactions to a very difficult church situation as being emotional faults.

That I called everything right wasn’t the point. It was that in calling things right I absorb the emotions of the situation, and in a way share deeply in what the Spirit is doing in others. This, thankfully, is also a reality with those who resonate wonderful aspects of the Spirit, and get my exhortative/encouraging parts to go into overdrive. I see more in people than they see in themselves… or often want to see in themselves.

These swirling realities are likely why I appreciate the solitude of the forest, at least as much as I can get of it. They also throw me for a loop as I can’t be either inward nor outward, but a confused mucking up of neither. For a reason? That gets me back to the visibility business.

So tonight I feel mucked up. I feel like I’ve stepped off some path and can’t quite get myself back on it, nor know if I want to really. I wouldn’t mind a significant change of pace, maybe to a different state, though I am learned enough to admit that this feeling may or may not have any connection to the Spirit’s guidance. That, I guess, is out of my hands at this moment.

I increasingly feel there is only to pray, though I’m not necessarily increasingly praying. That muddle again pops up and keeps me looking outward when I feel inward, not trusting either direction and finding myself wandering in neither direction.

I feel like I’m waiting for a phone call to put it all straight, something which will help me say, “aha.” I also know not to really trust this, even if it’s true.

So, I continue to wait.

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