morning

It is memorial day weekend. Memorial day, I believe, goes back to the Civil War in which those who died for the Cause were honored. This has since broadened beyond that one war to be the day in which all those who died in war are honored. We celebrate the day by going off on trips to various places of leisure, choosing our particular poison. The freeways below were jammed with those on their way to Vegas or Palm Springs, my kayaking yesterday was abandoned when I couldn’t find any parking due to trucks and trailers, with a lake filled with the boats they were carrying. We honor by doing those things which symbolize the freedom of the American society, taking breaks from life because we can. Some think that having a parade or moment of silence is a better way to honor the weekend. I think getting out and away, celebrating the life we have is a better way, for it is certainly how those who died would have been spending the weekend. They did not die so we can mourn, they died so that we could live, and spend time with family and friends without the shadow of evil over us.

Of course, I’m not going anywhere. I think there was talk about doing something, hiking to the top of the nearest high peak (which is about 12,000 feet I believe). Only it’s covered in snow right now, and I’m the only one with snow shoes, and even with that not too eager to risk a late spring avalanche. So, those plans were abandoned, and none replaced oddly enough. Instead of traveling to distant vistas or celebrating with family and friends I sit here rather alone, feeling like I should be enjoying the surprising quiet of the neighborhood but just not finding that feeling in my soul right now. Instead, I feel a burgeoning discontent.

The Spiritual life is often misconstrued. It’s portrayed as peace and blessing, a walk in a bountiful field of everlasting beauty. Only it’s not that, or only occasionally that. Most of the time, I find, the Spiritual life is about choices, neither of which seem at the moment to be particularly satisfying. But we choose. We choose to go up or down, more often than not the incline barely perceptible either way. It’s only in the carrying along one direction or the other we realized we’re higher than we thought, or lower than we wanted. Each moment contains a choice, each minute in life we rise towards God or sink away. Get too far away and we lose the sight of God to drive us forward. And yet, even rising upwards is not without it’s own frustrations.

I’m trying to move forward. Instead of finding an increased peace, I am finding myself continuing to muck up. I gain altitude then find some inherent weakness that knocks me over, each time trying to address that before rising again. It is in the attempted progress, however, that these weaknesses become so vivid, and so only in the seeking of the Divine that we see most clearly that which is least Divine in us. The trick is to keep at it despite ourselves, riding the Spiritual life like some unbroken stallion, with each fall a failure and a call to get back and try it all again.

That was this past week for me. It began well, with my heart and soul finding new life in prayer and spiritual devotion. On Thursday, however, a hammer fell, a unseen hammer which felt like my whole being was demolished. I have no idea what was going on this past Thursday, but all my zeal fell apart, leaving me stranded and covered in the dust. I stand again and get back on the horse, having learned the lessons, seen myself, realized that yes, I am not yet whole.

So, today my soul is mired in a vague discontent, and I know that I can choose to embrace this or choose to press on despite my inner frustrations. I don’t know where relief can be found… but that’s not the point. There is only to press onwards with the hope of relief unseen.

If I could just learn to live in the moment, and not let my own nagging doubts dissuade my hope and joy I would be doing well. That’s the trick, isn’t it? This becomes a wee bit harder if there isn’t a voice of encouragement outside myself. But, that is where I am today, and so I must find the hope in the quiet whispers of the Spirit, calming the storm within so that I can hear.

Such is the Spiritual life at this age.

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morning

The day is quiet, and relatively moth free. The noise of last week seems to have abated, as the burst of energy which comes from the first warm spell of the year has now dissipated. A cool mountain breeze massages the flora. I sit listening to a bit of Beethoven to massage my soul.

“I am putting together a spiritual disciplines reader for my church,” a friend e-mailed me the other day. “It made curious to hear what kinds of disciplines you are finding helpful right now.”

Well, okay, I thought. What are my ‘disciplines’? I don’t really have a rule to follow or a steady pattern. I see the spiritual life, primarily, as a state of mind, and then do what helps foster that state of mind most fully. But, there are certain things, and since my reply to this question is a bit related to the goals of this present page, I post my response here:

Right now, I’m really trying to find my way through prayer, mostly because I have always had a hard time praying, and yet the more I study the greats of the faith I have to accept that coming to terms with prayer is essential. It’s the bedrock. That means taking several times each day, cutting off the world, either through earplugs or going out to a secluded spot, and letting myself focus into prayer. I’m also finding that priming myself by beginning these times with spiritual reading, like Cassian or desert fathers, or other monastics, really sets my mind into focus.

Exercise. The monastics would call this work, but what we mean by work is not what they meant. Getting the body in motion and working physically is an essential part of my spiritual and mental well being.
Solitude… but that’s assumed, even if it really is more difficult here than one might think.

Interestingly, one of the more potent ‘disciplines’ I’m realizing, that is having the most effect on my soul as I’ve begun to understand it, is ‘letting go’. There’s a voluntary leap into not only poverty but also complete loss of having to compete or impress or live for someone else. As I’ve let go my ambitions I’ve discovered a peculiar peace that comes from utter humility. More than anything else, this progressive ‘letting go’ is shaping my spiritual life, and really filling my heart with an increasing wholeness. I think this is breaking down my vanity, pride, and all sorts of other deep seated sins, that I likely would have never overcome had I gone straight into the pastorate. In a way this is like fasting, but more profound in my mind. Fasting has always been difficult, as I can’t do it without ‘expectation’.

Another bit that I’m beginning to add recently is the ‘vigil’. I’m not near finding it consistent, but I’m going to try and do a beginners version a little more regularly from now on.

Thanksgiving. I’m not denying my emotional realities as they ebb and flow, but in each moment I am seeking to find the light and peace that each day holds, turning my heart upwards with effort.

Spiritual reading. I’m differentiating ‘academic’ reading from more spiritual reading, approaching the latter in small chunks, trying to absorb rather than get through. The orthodox monks are a good treat in this regard.

Bible… though this is not consistent enough. Five psalms a day, and a proverb (this gives a monthly read through of the Psalms and Proverbs).
I’m not sure if this is a discipline, but I’m trying to be more ‘watchful’, taking stock of my soul better, and seeing how even small things can turn me towards or away from God. In this I’m trying to find a fluidity.

I’m really not a great example of steady discipline and devotion, more mucking my way along each day. It is the prayer and the ‘letting go’ that is really most important right now, and in which I am seeing the most growth and change.

I added as a followup:

It’s the inner letting go which strikes against pride, while just giving away possession can actually build pride. It’s a curious thing I’m still learning because it’s not full yet, but because of my position in life, and by coming to terms with it, I am finding some measure of wholeness that couldn’t come by being in a position of real responsibility. What I’m also seeing is that this includes a ‘letting go’ of my spiritual life. I’m increasingly relaxed as to my regular devotion… not to say I’m not intent about it, but more that I am letting even my heart and soul be led by God, rather than forcing myself down some path. In this, partially I think, is my restoration of some manner of prayer.

It is a result of the various disciplines to be sure, but it is also a discipline in itself, because it takes a purposeful perspective and approach, meaning that as I grasp this I become more cautious about how my soul is owned or interacting, so I am more watchful, and more focused on the direct goal. Like fasting is a discipline, this ‘letting go’ involves both a mental and physical approach, encouraging me to be aware that I don’t fall into the old traps or perspectives. I’m definitely learning, feeling like I am at the very beginning of something I just realized.

This all being the case I’m not sure that my approach is in itself too demanding for anyone. What I am thinking, however, is that finding the ‘beginning’ needs the sort of space I have. As I grow and learn, I can see how this same approach can be translated into a more active life, but the washing away of the old perspective on things is needing the more contemplative approach. I am finding in this a lot of real appreciation for the Orthodox monastics more than the Western, with Cassian seeming as a beginning now to this more complete perspective, which is fun and peace-giving all at once.

Writing is a discipline that I didn’t note. It certainly serves as a context for spiritual growth and is a consistent way for me to gauge and recenter my soul. In a way writing, on my website and otherwise, has a confessional quality that serves as a substitute for more involved community. In a way the writing is what brought me up here as I began to see themes emerge that suggested such a place as this was becoming necessary for my progress.

My friend asked if I considered this a more ‘permanent’ role. I certainly don’t see my context as permanent, though I do see the general pattern of being as permanent. The goal of this pattern, you see, is to create a fluidity that transcends the contexts, so that wherever I am I find the same centering in the Spirit. This, for now, means a more contemplative reality but can easily, once grasped, translate easily into a more active life. It is a stillness that is not lost in the busyness of life, as it derives its reality from a transcendant source. It is a stillness that once learned can be retained no matter the context, as long as one stays connected through prayer and faith.

God is doing a work in forming my being, so that as contexts change my soul is static in the vagaries of this present life, while remaining fluid in the realities of the Eternal life. Therefore, West or East, busy or quiet, honored or humbled, I will find contentment in Christ who saves and the Spirit who guides. It is a lesson to learn, and a lifelong work to retain.

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evening

It’s been a bit of a while. Since I last wrote, the two primary wildflowers have bloomed, accented the hillsides in bright yellows and subtle purples. The western wallflower and ground iris announce that it is indeed time for warmer weather.

It’s the moths, however, that have marked the last four days. A rule of thumb is that when sealant is used to seal in cracks and crevices around the house make sure to spray inside said cracks and crevices with your prefered bug spray. One never knows where eggs have been laid. One does know when they hatch and the bugs only can go inside.

On Friday night I was bothered by five or so moths flying around my room, landing in my halogen lamp and catching fire. These are big moths, hearty little beasties. Every time I would turn on the light I would see these moths, and they kept landing on my bed. So I slept downstairs the next night. Same thing happened Saturday night. Sunday night I decided to be more light conscious, working in low light, and trying to keep my brightest lights off. This seemed to work, as there were no apparent moths in my room.

Then I opened my door to go get a glass of water. Opening my door is generally interesting, as it opens to look out the big living room window, that stretches in a roughly triangle shape about twenty feet high. One watches the sun and the moon pass in front of this mostly southern facing window. The light of the full moon illuminated the outside vista. With the light coming from outside I could see dark shapes on the window. Moths. Not merely five or six. About sixty.

This is not an exaggeration. They covered the window. It was like a horror movie, except that these moths were mostly docile and entirely horror free except for their larger than average size. Still. Sixty moths is passing the point of an acceptable night sleep, and is really an absurd thing this far north of the equatorial rainforests.

It was nine-thirty at night and sixty moths covered the window, some fluttering about, most moving slowly around if at all. I thought about bug spray. That is a lot of bugs. A bug bomb? Saturday I used a bug bomb in my room, killing stray moths and other assorted forest insects which loved high ceilings and dark crevices. That wouldn’t do for the living room, certainly not at 9:30 at night. Bug bombs require a commitment, with at least five hours in the process.

“Ah,” I thought. “The vacuum.”

Over the years, and various vacuums in this house, there has built up an accumulation of vacuum attachments. Most important for this situation was those that extended the reach. About seven of these can just about reach the top of the window, if one is standing on a step ladder. So, with the step ladder, the shopvac, and the attachments I went to work.

These were lazy moths for the most part. I slipped in underneath and sucked them in. When I was down to the last five or so I discovered the darwinian elites. These fluttered away from the hose, and made it generally more difficult.

Did I say I did this in the dark? Turn on a light and they would flutter around. The dark kept them against the window where I could see them from the light of the approaching full moon.

The job done I went to bed. And I can honestly say it was the worst night sleep in memory. There’s no specific reason for that. I’ve slept less, dreamed more, but as a cumulative night, this was terrible. Just now I repeated the moth vacuuming process, with about the fifteen or so who survived last nights purge in some hidden lair finding themselves pulled
inexorably towards their companions.

Oh, it’s was also brutal hot this past weekend, with today being just as hot but with a wonderful cool mountain breeze which made it feel not so hot.

Other than this I’m doing fine. God is good, even if he is curiously working without filling me in on the details. I guess that’s what faith and prayer are for.

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Morning

The day is still, and the day is warm. Morning birds have settled into their day, chipmunks run across the warming asphalt with their tails held high. I watch but do not listen, deciding to quiet the world with earplugs, not letting the noise of engines or planes or power tools grab my attention. I have a tenuous grasp on focus this morning and do not want the slightest push to distract.

The other day I heard a dog barking and looked out to see two coyotes hanging around the neighbor’s fence. They seemed friendly enough, the dog was barking and wagging its tail. Such deception is common, and the coyotes were likely looking for a way past the gate, so as to expose their more pragmatic interests. As is my occasional habit in these parts I went outside in my bare feet and walked the forty yards to the fence. I whistled when I was halfway, getting the coyotes’ attention. One ran, one didn’t raise its head. So, I walked closer, whistle again, and this time the coyote took notice and trotted away. Not all the way away, just out of sight in the ravine. I went back home. They were back by the time I sat down again in my room. So out I went, jogging towards them now. The dog was barking at me, bothered by my intrusion. One left, not to be seen again, the other stood on a small rise and stared at me, determining me. I ran at it, it ran away. Not all the way away. It was back by the time I sat down again in my room. One more time out and back, then the neighbors themselves came home and I figured my stint as a coyote irritater was over.

So, this morning I block out the noise of potential dog barking, homeowners adding, or hobbyists hobbying. I miss the bird songs and the chirping chipmunk but such sacrifices are occasionally in order.

“How is the book coming along?” she asked.

This is a curious question because it is one I love to hear asked and one which I don’t really have an acceptable answer to give.

So, while I could have hemmed and hawed I decided to be openly honest and say, “good question.”

So, I hemmed and hawed a little bit before I decided to be openly honest.

“To be honest,” I finally said so as to set apart my hemming and hawing, “it’s not going so well. I’ve been a little discouraged about it ever since a recommended manuscript service sent off what amounts to an abstract to about seventy different publishers via their monthly newsletter. Even though this service, recommended by IVP, validated my manuscript as quite publishable, not a single publisher even got in touch with me. So, I’ve fallen off in my writing as I try to figure out what hurdle to overcome, and then try to overcome it.”

I didn’t say these very words, as what I did say had a lot more pronouns and vague concepts already discussed, which wouldn’t explain the point of my sentence in this present description.

“I have a biography problem,” I said, these words actually being said. “And in writing about spirituality I find that God is presently insisting I learn more about spirtuality, finding wholeness first before I move forward.”

This is true, at least it is how I perceive my present pursuit. Writing as training has been somewhat replaced by training in the depths of the faith, an alternating exercise pointing me towards some fruition and purpose. In writing I developed a burgeoning skill, now I must refocus on the foundation which will utilize that skill for some potential purpose.

This spirituality has taken shape over the last month as I find a new name for what it is I am seeking.

Hesychia.

Simply defined this is a “watchful, inner stillness”. Most discussions of such center on the centering prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.” There is more to the reality than this and this reality is summed up in the more approachable word “stillness”.

Our souls are frenetic things, constantly in movement, constantly provoking or defending or attacking or stumbling. This is easily seen upon stopping a moment and trying to come to real terms with our inner being. It’s a mess. From this inner frenzy our outward actions take shape. Even the spiritual tasks become marked by this inner hysteric. The Spiritual Disciplines themselves are tools engaged by an uncalmed soul. In the pursuit of maturation we become slaves of this inner immaturity, mistaking its voice for some spiritual demand.

It is in stillness, however, that we hear the whispers of the Spirit. This isn’t just about stopping to watch the birds flutter or gaze at a cloud going by or staring at one’s navel for hours. This is a profound stillness in which the constant movement of our inner being is allowed to come to a complete rest.

Until recently I didn’t even know this was an issue in humanity. I knew the joy of rest and prayer and contemplation but I never approached the reality of stillness in which the fullness of God can really be present. I never knew I had a frenetic soul which needed to be slowed. I raged and mourned and fought and stumbled, wandering my way along the path in a drunken lurch because it was how I saw everyone else walking.

A year and a half after I come to the mountains I begin to taste of the call and wisdom of profound stillness in my life, finding in this a potential for my own purpose. If I can find stillness, I can be a tool for others to find stillness. If I can rest my soul, I can calm the souls of others. If I can apprehend peace in this place, I can bring peace to wherever I go. But first I must find this stillness in my present reality and bathe in its eternal richness.

The Hesychist is not simply one who prays a specific way. A hesychist is one who relates in a specific way, who has found the stillness in prayer and whatever manner calms and focuses the frenetic soul. For me, one of the most profound disciplines has been two-fold. It is the humility found in the letting go. I am not near the most disciplined of people, and others trounce me in their devotion. What I have done is let go of the demands other place on me, letting go my ambitions in the face of public scorn so as to find my ambitions fully realized in Christ. This is terribly humbling.

How do I talk to someone and explain my situation? I do so only with humility, and as this humility takes shape in my soul, the frenzy begins to die, my soul is calmed and lifted up even as it is depressed and pushed downwards. I can become because I have let go. I can be a servant because I have abandoned notions of being the master. I can rest, I can wait, I can find peace as there is no longer that ladder before me to climb. I’ve let go the ladder, and the ladder has fallen to the ground.

In this is the beginning of the stillness which I am beginning to taste. In this stillness is the fullness of being which I see can transform my reality from temporal to eternal, and in doing so allow me to enter into the fullness of life which the Spirit enables. As I find this stillness, I will become myself, and in this I will find conversations, relationships, dreams, and fruition.

It all begins with the letting go, and it is this full letting go which is so difficult as to be impossible without the insistence of the Spirit who works so it can work.

In this stillness will be the secret to my writing, and will be the inspiration of this fuller reality which God ordains. How this works out will not be a specific issue because in all things I will find the stillness which is at the root of the frenzied soul’s ambition.

Such a pursuit takes a lifetime. So, I am glad to finally learn what I should pursue. I suspect I will not be long in these mountains and in discovering this here I can take this lesson to wherever my pursuits next bring me.

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morning

It is a warm day… and really warm at that. The birds are making quite a bit of noise, there are flying bugs finding flowers and whatever else grabs their attention.

I wonder about the previous message. Mostly because I consider whether the doubts and frustrations are worth posting. I figure they are, if only because in the honesty I will find answers. To deny that occasional emptiness is to flee from my own core, to dissipate whatever wholeness I do have. In saying, yes, these are my frustrations I provoke myself towards a cure. It is a manner of confession, because I would much rather write words of hope and light and peace and joy.

So, in considering these thoughts I thought it good to pray. So I did, through the night last night, through the previous days, restoring my sense of the Divine through holy reading and holy pondering and pursuit of stillness and fullness.

There might be a voice, or many voices, who are to participate in my present but it is a the Voice that restores my soul towards freedom.

Prayer is the gasoline for the Spiritual Life. No matter our direction or purpose or gifts or contributions it is the foundational power which fills and restores. They speak of gifts to pray… I think this a misconception, for prayer comes first, no matter the gifts. It is just that some have arranged their lives so as to pursue under their own power. In the depths of humility, however, one realizes the fruitlessness of this, and begins to rely on the power that does not waste away.

In prayer is the life and renewal to press onwards. There is nothing else as foundational.

So I prayed, for myself, for others, and in doing so restored the center and balance which fled from my senses.

Prayer without ceasing is the secret to contentment in all circumstances.

The trick is to remember this at each instant and stay within a life that provokes such.

It is also the secret to my inspiration and writing and any other hope that I may have. First comes prayer… and then anything else.

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evening

It was a warm day, hazy and peaceful. Not really all that warm, only in comparison with recent weeks. It’s certainly fully Spring.

Not surprisingly I’ve let my regular, non-website, writing fall off. I’m not surprised but I am a little disappointed. The initial fervor which drove me up into the mountains has cooled, petering out in late February, pushed aside in March, and exhausted in April. Now May is here and little in me even cares about pumping out any words not related to online consumption.

This bothers me as I actually have a project to do now, albeit a simple project.

Some of the trouble is me to be sure. I’ve lost heart, even as I’ve found myself busy in other ways, when I stop I know I’ve lost heart. I guess the constant voices of “do this or do that besides writing” got into my soul. “You should have stayed in academics!” “You should be a teacher!” “You should be anything more explicable!”

There is a lot of support for talent and creativity, etc. and so on, but very little for me. I feel that tonight. I feel a loss of inspiration coming from a rather complete loss of impetus, that I know would be greatly reignited by even a single voice unrelated to me who says, “I believe in you.”

I say that to others, and I know I say those kinds of things because I need to hear them. I need to hear someone who asks me how I am doing with my writing, what I am learning, who I’ve sent things off to recently, how I’ve dealt with having silence in the PO Box after sending things out. I need that outside support that doesn’t engage me in continual explanations or arguments, having me try to define one through the other. I am whole, I know, just discouraged, and need some whole others to spark my waning enthusiasm. In the past I suffered from a lack of wholeness, overcoming this with some inner ambition. Now that I am whole, I am proven to myself, and find peace in my being… just no push in my prose.

I find myself wanting to pray and read the greats of the faith, knowing that all the while I am supposed to write with more purpose. I see sloth beginning a slow creep towards me and I’m not really caring.

It’s fine and good that there are many people excelling on paths that I might have gone down. I value praying and offering encouragement and finding connection because I have been an often rare voice in saying certain people are really much grander than they think of themselves.

But I came here in a way because those voices of frustration were plaguing me down the hill, voices of such discontent they do not know how to see hope in struggling against it. I occasionally slough off those voices… but never completely.

I seek out new voices, where peace and light seem to shine. While those aren’t silenced they are inconstant.

So, I delve into the masters of solitude and stillness, finding in my sharper moments words of revelation that confirm my soul’s longing. Finding in times of lesser being such words not continuing to echo.

I am young in the faith, and I know this, still trapped between here and there, not sure where to be.

I guess I need that voice of light to inspire my soul. Whither that voice I don’t know or control, and so I wait, uninspired, wishing desperately for renewed inspiration, finding in this moment a sadness of unshared longing and shriveled impetus.

I myself am on a shore, walking alone along the beach. It is either dawn or dusk, and so completely between this and that.

Other than the impetus and enthusiasm about my own present purpose I am doing rather well. It’s just that those things are bothering me right now, as I wonder what happened to that initial fire and wonder how that fire can be renewed. It bothers me a lot right now really.

But what is one to do when impetus itself is fading away?

Pray, I suppose. There’s always that.

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morning

The sun is out this morning. Usually this isn’t worth noting, being Southern California. Recently, however, it seems a rare delight. Fog, clouds really, have been rolling in and through almost non-stop these last weeks bringing occasional rain and hail. Mostly the fog arrives and stays a spell without comment. It’s beatiful and dramatic, while also being a wee bit melancholy. I felt the fog yesterday, the accumulation of weeks of dark skies with only a hint of sun finally reaching into my soul. Combine that with not nearly enough water drunk over the weekend and my heart felt rather downward focused. Awareness of both this reality and the immediate causes do help one’s overall perspective, even if the weight still is present and whispers those lies (always with their helping of truth) deep into the heart.

Today the sun is out and I think I’ll bask in its brightness letting the warmth and brightness do all the chemical things that it does so well. The squirrels are active and busy, chasing each other around stumps and up trees. The jays are pulling twigs off oak branches (why the branches on the ground aren’t good enough I don’t know). The oaks themselves are full along in their Spring display, with the larger trees first to dress for summer and the saplings only this week showing the red and pink buds which will turn broad and green in coming weeks.

The forest takes on a new hue with these oaks. The pines are gone and the oaks are fully exposed, white and gray in winter, green in summer.

I’m a little antsy to write in full now, my eyes keep turning left and looking at the rising sun. I did want to briefly note the various events of my curious weekend, and begin a thought I might develop more this evening.

This past weekend I went down the hill for a couple of days. I went sailing out of San Pedro harbor, to about a third of the way to Catalina island before turning back. I was offered a brief writing project which will primarily be for Hungarians. I heard how an impossible thing became a possible thing, slowly over the weeks then with more punch in the last few days to the point where it is almost about to become an actual thing.

I ate a very wonderful Carne Asada burrito and shook hands with a Cardinal… though not at the same place or time. As I considered the reasons why I’m not a Catholic I had a very nice time at the early morning Mass, worshiping God with the Communion of Saints in a building that expresses Vatican II significantly better than the words of any theologian.

I had an Afghan patty and Afghan fries at a nice suburban restaurant in the heart of a town that curiously hosts one of the top engineering schools and a premier conservative leaning college alongside some of the most liberal political and theological schools. I was there because it was Mother’s Day.

The sun was out all morning and left by the afternoon. I drove home while watching the clouds cover the sky, and the road.

I took a wonderful Sunday late afternoon nap.

All in all a different sort of weekend. Good and fun, but I find myself happy to return, restore the rhythms and resync my life with my present calling. It takes a day or two, and so yesterday was a bit of a muddle. Today, however, the sun is out and I feel renewed.

I also feel a bit like a sailboat myself.

That’s a thought that would be better developed when I don’t have an overpowering urge to sit outside amidst the singing birds and gamboling squirrels. So into the forest I now go.

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morning

In the ebbs and flows of the Spiritual life it is easy to become discouraged. Especially in the ebbs. Lose a little focus, become a little sick, find one’s way a little more troublesome, and it’s easy to put it all aside.

Unless, of course, one is so thrown into the mix that there really isn’t other path but straight forward. The discouragements become nothing more than hindrances rather than defeats… because where else is there to go.

I think that’s the benefit of throwing oneself into a situation where faith isn’t an intellectual option. If we constantly give ourselves ways out, or make sure we have our own private security, or wrestle with questions of doubt in relatively safe environments, then we open up the door for retreat.

Make the passage and burn the ships once shore is reached. Throw out doubt by styling a life that shows the contrasts of faith and no faith so clearly that it is impossible to fall away, even in doubt. That I think is the difference between the Disciples and some of the followers of Jesus. They committed. The others knew where to go when things got dicey. The Disciples had no where else to go, and so they waded through it. That or they, at least one, became a traitor. There was no middle ground for them anymore.

Faith is difficult, distressing, conflicting, and troublesome at times. It is also ennobling, glorious, whole, and beautiful. But these elegant vistas are at the beginning and at the end of the trails, leaving all too often a barren wasteland to wander through on the way from here to there.

That is the lesson of the desert. Give everything up and commit. Don’t surround yourself with paths away if you want to grow in the faith. It is not so much that the desert is quiet and still, it is that the desert is the place where no one else comes and so no one else draws you away from the inner drive towards eternity.

We are told left and right what should fill us, what our heart should yearn for, what is the proper and right goal in this present life. We are told this by people who are more likely than not trying to convince themselves of the same, and feel that the more they sign up for their lifestyle the more justified it is.

Only in the stillness of the desert can we really hear our heart and taste our yearnings and discover ourselves apart from what others want us to be.

But, once bathed in the world’s demands even this becomes difficult, as we yearn for the safety of other’s approval.

I’m reminded of Eustace’s dragon skin that had to be peeled off, painfully, layer by layer, until finally he was himself. The peeling off is painful and we’d rather not deal with that pain so any road away is the road we will take, with the most tempting being those we think are alternate routes to the same goals. Finding God becomes replaced with serving God. Knowing God becomes replaced with knowing about God. Stillness becomes replaced with activity and hope is replaced with ambition.

So, there is only to stop and throw ourselves into whatever situation might best remove our substitutions. Some might have to travel the world and find a remote spot. Others must find themselves in the same spot, transforming their present through divine perspective. A few might be called into solitude, or isolation, to find that which can only be learned by staying in one’s cell much longer than initially expected.

Whatever the context, however, the goal of finding ourselves and finding the Spirit who works peculiarly in us is the same. And this goal is difficult and life-giving. But, those who make it to the end say it is worthwhile, so I press onwards, having thrown myself into a situation where God must be real.

I note this because I’m leaving for the weekend and while I’m expecting a fun time, there is this part of me that is increasingly wanting to stay. I am increasingly wanting to embrace those spiritual lessons, and find the peace that comes only through Christ’s presence. I’m wanting to stay near, so as to develop the habits of a spiritual person, and learn how to let go that which seeks to distract my mind and soul.

I note this because while I am eager for the work of God to lead me however and wherever I am supposed to be, I am finding the burgeoning contentment that Paul talks about.

And that is something.

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morning

First off I woke up wide awake midnight. I’m not sure why. So I prayed a little, read a little, and fell back asleep.

Then I woke up at 2:30 — wide awake. I didn’t know it was 2:30 until I decided it was near enough to dawn to go downstairs and, at least in part, begin the day. Two thirty is not the time to begin a day, unless one is getting paid for some overnight shift.

I am not being paid thusly.

But I was awake. I of course gave up thinking of beginning my day and went back to bed, though not asleep, finding my prayers turning in usual directions, and letting my thoughts wander down random trails, cleaning out the clutter. It’s funny what comes to mind when one is wide awake at two thirty, and how many things seem to be mentally settled at that hour, even if by the next morning one doesn’t really remember the specific topics that were supposedly settled.

I turned the light out, which apparently was a sign.

A coyote started howling, surprisingly close to my window. Then the whole pack joined in, yelping and howling.

On a still night when one is wide awake, finding peace and solace in prayer, the yelps of a nearby coyote pack have a mystical quality. I’m not exactly sure of the nature of this quality… except that it’s mystical, and does hearten one’s continued prayers.

They say “we are what we read”. I’m not sure if they do say that, but it seems like something they would say. “We are what we eat” is definitely something they say, and what we read is our intellectual food. Even for those who don’t read. They may not ingest it directly, but they do let the words of those who do end up reading fill their souls. The words are pasteurized, some of the nutrients are removed, to be sure. The end result is the same. Sometimes what we ‘read’ is culture, or some other non-verbal cue. It shapes who we are, and shapes our goals, values, expectations, and yearnings.

My problem, of course, is that I’ve read all the wrong things. I didn’t realize that then… and now it’s likely too late.

In my searching for some measure of soul satisfaction over the years I’ve followed a curious trail of discovery, which is all the more curious for someone of my theological leanings.

But it has shaped my perspective so much that to exist another way is seemingly impossible. I revel in it still and yet because the influences are so foreign I realize I am foreign now to many people. I live in a different culture of sorts, not better by any means, just different.

It started when I was a junior in college facing a dark time in my soul and being told by pastors it was because I was caught in sin. What sin they didn’t know, and while I certainly was far from perfect this didn’t strike me as credible, but no one else had any wisdom.

A professor assigned some readings by John Wesley. I took this path and have followed the trails ever since. John Wesley led to reading other spiritual influences, beginning with his contemporaries, then the medieval spirituals, and finding the most resonance in John Cassian. For most people that is a trail not even on their map.

Cassian has developed into reading those who founded and continued his tradition, including the desert fathers and later Orthodox monastics. Now I’m reading through the Philokalia finding as much delight and insight as most folks get from reading Eldridge.

Again, not better… just different. Finding one’s reality in popular book club texts tends, however, to solidify community a lot better than finding one’s reality in book club texts of millenium old communities.

So, I read all the wrong books, and thus have a reality which is virtually indecipherable to those who don’t track along with the Spirit’s work in my life.

I press on in this direction, however, because I trust the words I do read as pointing towards depths virtually unknown in the communities of which I have been a part. I press on because as one friend trying to grasp ahold of my reality recently said, “one can see the Spirit in the fruit”.

“Am I on the right path?” I asked. She paused, then said, “yes.” She also said other things which is curious of course, as I have come to expect my reality not to intersect with most people anymore. She, of course, has a life entirely different from my own in just about every respect. It is the Spirit who gives sight, and for those pursuing the same Spirit, different contexts are not necessarily different paths.

I read all the wrong books, of course, but really they are all the right books because they are pointing me to myself, and in finding that I will find the fullness of the Spirit who has called and filled me. “Be who you are,” is one way of simplying Paul’s Colossian admonitions. So, I’m following that trail, and seeing that as I progress I find wholeness and peace and humility which has reshaped my interactions with this world.

I note this because there is both joy and sorrow in having read all the wrong books. There is joy in the process of becoming… there is sorrow in that having a reshaped reality means I am less able at this point to interact with those pursuing different plots. I have my story to write, and it is a different genre.

In the past this worried me as I saw the distance. I sought to bridge the increasing gaps, and keep a foot on each cliff, with the widening chasm testing my flexibility. It came time to choose, however, so I did, and I stand on one side now, looking out, still within talking distance but not within sharing distance to most.

Then I realized that I’m not alone on this side. There are others. And as I find these others I will find people of resonating faith, and in joining with them I will taste of the beauty of heaven itself.

On this side of the canyon all the wrong books are all the right books, and in my solitary pursuits I will find a bountiful community.

This has not yet occured… but I’m still settling in on my chosen side, resting my overstreched legs, and just beginning to recognize the presence of others.

Should be an interesting trail from now on. Still uphill… but with beautiful flowers lining the path.

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morning

Some bagels didn’t quite make it into the house. It was a bag of nice garlic bagels, which in a flurry of other activity somehow got left on the deck — overnight and unsealed.

The thing about modernity that isn’t often addressed is that it has made the whole bunch of us pansies. A hundred years ago my forebears regular ate things left outside. Indeed, they grew the things, left them outside for a whole season, stored them, and ate whatever the rats didn’t get to.

Of course, people in the past got sick and often died at young ages so there is something to be said about the fastidiousness of our present civilization.

I am a product of my generation and so bagels left out overnight, unsealed, even though still soft and edible are rather unpalatable. Rather than bring them in, I left them outside. There were six bagels in the bag. I put three of them around the yard, and went back inside.

I didn’t see any interest, but by the next morning all three were taken, so I put out the three remaining.

These three I took and put around the yard in more conspicuous spots. One on a stump by the driveway, another on a stump by the house, and the third on a rail. For the wee beasties you know.

In the afternoon I took the dog for a walk. The bagel on the rail was gone. The bagel on the stump by the house was gone, but a pile of crumbs was left.

The bagel on the stump by the driveway was eaten around the edges.

The jays and chickadees were active that afternoon. The squirrels were foraging, mixing business and play. A chipmunk ran by me, not three feet away, on its way from the woodpile to its favorite fallen tree. And a raven was on the side of the hill, poking around, wary of me though not overmuch.

Later that afternoon I went outside again and the bagel on the stump was totally gone. And two ravens were sitting in a nearby tree. One flew over my truck around sunset.

The next day three ravens buzzed the kitchen window, flying under the branches, around the trees.

Curious, I thought. Ravens are around, but generally not thataround.

I took a bagel from the pantry –just to see, you know — and put it on the rail of my bedroom balcony.

This morning I woke up and looked outside. A raven picked that moment to land on a branch outside my window, and look around. He hopped to another branch, then hopped back.

After a minute he hopped onto the balcony rail, picked up the bagel in his beak and flew away.

Curious thing, that. I put out the bagels for the wee beasties and got myself some ravens.

Psalm 147:9 He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry.

Ravens like bagels. Who knew? To be honest I’m glad I found this out. In a book on ravens I have the author used roadkill to attract some ravens to his home.

Garlic bagels are a lot easier to come by and a lot less repulsive to put around the house.

Ravens are big birds, by the by, and take up rather more space on the balcony than do the jays or chipmunks. It was only one raven though I suspect this house will be raven watched from now on.

I fear for Huginn lest he fare not back,-
Yet watch I more for Muninn

And they watch for bagels.

Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed something. Prayer. A year and a half ago when I came here I would wake up in the morning and want to write. I would get up before dawn and write a couple thousands words, feeling only then content. More than content I would feel joy and fullness. There was no middle ground. Not writing brought discontent and depression, writing brought joy and fullness. So I wrote.

It is still like this in a way, not writing during the day is as bad as not exercising. It fills and fulfills, though I do not write as much as I did then nor do I wake up and feel immediately prompted to get to writing.

No, now it’s something else. I wake up and I want to pray. I go through my day and I want to pray. When I spend time in prayer my soul eases and my heart feels rest. I feel jittery and frantic if I do not pray. This is unusual for me, because while I’ve long valued prayer, I’ve long not been a person of prayer.

Prayer has always been difficult, especially when I am alone. I wrestle through the times of prayer, and easily let go the discipline of it. My first couple of years at Wheaton were times in which prayer burst out of me, and it seems like that same burst is happening again.

Prayer does not come as naturally as writing to me, however. In seminary I was forced to write, and write a lot, each day, each week, filled with various projects, most emphasizing writing.

I wasn’t taught to pray in seminary, nor pushed to pray, nor made to spend time in prayer. For one class I was… but this was an elective class that only took up one quarter. It was a grand quarter but the discipline slipped away.

Seminary was an intellectual exercise, not a spiritual training. Which is curious of course, as the spiritual long has been intertwined with the intellectual in historic Christian training. Study yes… but also pray the Divine Office.

So, now I wander the fields of more training, with prayer now filling and pushing me, not simply to pray but to shape my day through prayer.

Only I’m not very good at it. It is like running when one has only ran sporadically and periodically. I tire quickly and lose heart, pushed to carry on only because my soul demands it, finding fullness and joy when I accede to my soul’s insistence.

I note this mostly because it seems to be a dramatic change in my own emphasis, like the old semester ended and I have new classes to work on. This has also meant my reading has changed. I have gone from more literary selections, and selections about literary selections, to the old writings, reading the great books of spirituality as though they were water for my parched soul.

It’s a new season, and has been for a while, I just haven’t noted how much change has occured.

God is doing a work, and when he does a work he pulls us into the directions he yearns for us to go, giving us light or letting us stay in darkness so that we become sensitive to his leading and sensitive when he is not leading.

We are mice really, all in our maze, learning to do that which brings food and learning not to do that which gives a little shock. The problem is there’s a whole industry of folks who say getting shocked is part of the mice life. We are supposed to endure the shocks, embrace the shocks, revel in them.

All the while we’re just supposed to get through our maze and eat the food that is there for us.

It’s not that hard really… if we just learn to react to the stimulii as we should.

So, I write less and learn to pray more because that’s the direction this present maze has taken, finding myself walking in directions I wouldn’t have thought and interacting with people who likewise reflect the beauty of God’s work in their souls. In this is another delight of prayer.

“Where else am I to go Lord?”

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