Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Month: June 2005


I haven’t been writing here recently, or anywhere very much for that matter. The reasons are varied and all too uninteresting being mostly internal kinds of reasons and not a fascinating reason like fire or flood or marriage or some such upheaval. Maybe that’s the issue, my life is so completely un-upheaved nothing stirs around the sediment, letting everything settle to the bottom where it’s difficult to find.

It’s not that I am averse to some such upheaval, though I would certainly prefer the positive sort to the more negative kinds at this point in my life. In fact I tend to thrive at such times, finding myself at the lowest ebb when there’s nothing provoking my heart or soul or mind. God knows this and in his great wisdom knows I can only discern the texture of his work in the silence and stillness of a humbled state, and so removes the provacations of activity that would otherwise ignite my being towards some great cause.

I was expecting to begin teaching this week, and so in doing stir my soul towards activity and proclamation of learned insight, finding my status rather cut short when the powers that be decided an art teacher was more capable of teaching US history than me, though as they make those kinds of decisions I didn’t take it personally, especially as it wasn’t a gauge of my teaching–something they never saw. Of course I did take it a little personally, as it happened to my person and not someone else, thereby upsetting the plans of not only the next two months but as I have been preparing to teach such fairly upsetting the plans of the last two months as well.

There’s a mostly full moon out now, low in the sky and of a curiously yellow shade at the moment. It is also the first day of summer, and as such something of note to say that I am wide awake before dawn comes. The confluence of moon and sun in the night’s thoughts seems a useful call to write, if only to say why I haven’t been writing, which is to say I’m not sure beyond that absence of inspiration towards such in my soul.

And yet there is inspiration towards such. It is like a flashlight shining out bright but with nothing to illuminate. There’s nothing for the light to settle on it seems, so I look about, wondering where I am.

Thoughts bounce around, none too compelling to settle down, none too focused to find expression, all too fleeting to be captured and tamed.

I pick up some of my treasured spiritual writers and experience the same sort of satisfaction a hiker finds when coming upon a particularly beautiful mountain stream. So there’s that. I need to return to that with regular focus. This leads me towards prayer, and I need to return to that with regular focus, finding my prayer to be hanging around without a regular schedule or focus, a life of happenstance prayer which pursues the depths with just enough intensity to keep my head above water, which isn’t enough if I want to cross the wide ocean.

And I need to exercise again, run and kayak and the like, my spiritual feeling the listlessness of too much time spent without the delight of active movement.

I also need to wait and have faith and realize the stillness of the moment, finding wisdom in this cell, finding hope in the quiet, finding power as I let loose the promises of false power to embrace the fullness of ultimate power.

So there’s that. It’s the first day of summer and it seems like such a day is made for realizing such things and putting them into renewed practice.


It has been a while… what is going on in my soul or my head. Much and little, as consideration sometimes impedes contemplation.

There has been much of the former, and a little less of the latter these days.

I have thoughts rattling around that likely will be here soon.

Just not tonight.

It’s late. I’m tired.

And it appears I will have more time to write in the near future than I expected.


The fog has been rolling in once late afternoon arrives. The day is sunny, and generally begins sunny, so sometime during the night the fog rolls away, revealing the stars and bringing just enough cool moisture to help the day retain a Spring chill. The stars are out now, and so I don’t think it must be very foggy, though it’s hard to tell as it’s four in the morning, and very dark out.

I fell asleep on the couch last night, aware that I was falling asleep on the couch, and not worrying too much about it, even enjoying the process. The couch has this great view of outside, and so the sporadic sleep affords the delight of waking up and noticing the passage of the night sky and the darkening of the neighborhood towards stillness. It’s a scattered rest and yet one I valued, for I could wake up, say a prayer and so have a punctuated vigil of sorts, though not a kind any spiritual guide would recognize.

Now I am fully awake, and my prayers have left me, leaving me neither encouraged nor discouraged, nor really much of anything, except feeling that which is worth writing about, which is the spirituality of the mundane. This is an all too neglected topic, as this is the sort of spirituality which really encompasses most of our lives, at least those of us who aren’t hopping around the world, or engaged in constant heroics, or planning for the next big event. Of course the lack of understanding this kind of spirituality is likely that which pushes people into pursuing the more active, and the more forceful, kinds of spirituality in which things really seem to be getting done, or at least accomplished, or at least moving forward, or at least requiring effort that may or may not be worthwhile at some point.

The mundane times of life are those in which nothing really seems to be happening, though much may be happening, when one can sit back and realize that either one is waiting to hear a road is open for travel, or one has no impetus to travel whatsoever, leaving the soul in a holding pattern. Provoking the soul at such points may be effective, though curiously the cure for listlessness and laxity is not activity, it is a profound stillness pursued through quiet pursuits of the contemplative soul. The spirituality of the mundane is not really marked by occasions of great sin or temptation. The temptations reflect the environment of the moment, and so are rather mundane or anemic in themselves. Yet because of this they hold great power, as our conscience is not so much conquered as rendered languid.

A person can spend a lifetime in such a mediocre existence, stirred neither to great evil nor great joy, which isn’t really a great selling point to encourage others on the same path. Yet, in the spirituality of the mundane there is also a great boon. When nothing demands our purposeful attention we can find a measure of stillness that a time of spiritual weight cannot afford. We can find in the bland this beautiful reality, understanding that it is in such moments that one can rest, or not rest, in the Spirit, trusting, or not trusting, that God is the one who works. We can let go, or we can ignite our frenetic souls, eagerly grasping and tiring ourselves in the pointlessness of the mundane, becoming exhausted before the movement of the Spirit, leaving us of hardly any worth at all. We do when we shouldn’t do, and don’t do when we should do, confusing the world with our pursuit of some purpose when the purpose hasn’t yet called.

I note this because I had a rather mundane week. Planning for my upcoming projects were put off as the specifics of the projects became murky. Yet they are still upcoming so demand my attention, and yet that attention no longer has specific topics to rest upon, leaving me without focus, and yet unable to redirect my focus, leaving me to pause on a mountain I’ve half climbed, neither advancing nor retreating.

So, I wallow in the mundane, without a stirring of soul coming from any direction, noting the curious amount of encouragement I received on Monday, and wondering what it was all about, given that really nothing seems to be happening, either internally or externally. I wander in the mundane, trying to hold onto that measure of joy and fullness, losing even the stillness at times, a curious thing given that there is less to hold my attention.

There is only to pray, and to wait, and to have faith that what seems mundane holds more meaning than I know, or see, or hear, trusting that while God is doing a work he doesn’t always fill me in on the details, and expects me to do what I am supposed to do, whether I know the details or not. What I am supposed to do is pray, and wait, and to have faith that what seems mundane holds more meaning than I know. In doing this I transform the mundane into the profound, not by doing but by being.

At least that is what the spiritually mature say. It is always good to trust those who have gone before, not least because they hold a word of encouragement especially in times of empty mundanity. The world is not what it seems, they write, and reveal that it is in such moments as these that the fullness of the Spirit can be doing a rather marvelous work. If we are still enough to listen, this work can transform our souls.


The night was cold and maybe for this reason I slept as sound as I have in a long time. It was one of those sleeps in which one awakes and feels a measure of peace, with a yearning to go back and try it all again. But morning has come and such a blessing is not to be repeated at once, the straining after it would ruin the peace of the moment.

With it nearing the solstice I notice my room has a curious neolithic monument quality. With each passing day the sun shines more and more into my room, with each day’s progress indicating that by the longest day of the year I might wake up to the sun shining on my face. It will not linger long there to be sure, and so my bed is like Newgrange, in which the solstice sun shines into the deepest recesses on one day only. In Winter the sun never makes it into this room. Unlike at Newgrange it is not really a sign of anything unless I make it such… just an interesting note on this late Spring morning.

I woke up with a fair measure of prayer because of this peace, wanting to rest in eternal conversation and instead finding myself drifting away to various other roads. I hold onto the prayer and yet as I do this my heart is filled with a discontent, a thanksgivingless frustration, over a seeming lack of progress. This surprises me, which is a good sort of response to such negative emotions as I’m able to both feel such and analyze such in the same moment. It surprises me because of the quick transformation from one end of the spectrum to another, with my easy infrared flashed to ultraviolet in a matter of a half hour. Interestingly this was borne out of spiritual reading, the words striking at my heart and provoking my sense of incompleteness, renewing my sense of Joseph’s journey before he became assistant to the Pharoah of Egypt.

“What blessings?” he might have asked, even as God was working and even as he had faith God could work. Yet there were blessings at work, and there are such at work, even if they are yet shadows to some unmanifested reality in which hope is the closest thing to palpable participation.

I look behind and wonder about this desert road, wondering about what I’ve passed and what lies ahead, my thoughts faithful and suspect all at once, not wishing to alight on anything in particular for fear that it turns out to be a mirage. The thirsty seek satiation, sometimes too much. The only water around may turn out to be brine, and thus death. So appearances do not speak of fullness, and shadows may or nay not manifest possibilities, and hopes do not always translate into realities. It is the realities that I want, that I want to taste and hold and ponder. Want too much and I drift into thankgivingless moods, wearying of a journey fraught with much besides palpable blessings, either internal or external.

So the trick is to both hope and be still, to understand the Call and be patient in its progress, trusting that it is the Spirit who is to fulfill and I who am to become.

I say this, knowing this but not feeling this, feeling only that weight which drives a soul beneath the waves, as it yearns for a tangible hold. And yet there is encouragement.

“I don’t know how old you are, Patrick, but you have the golden touch, and however old you are is inconsequential anyhow. Pursue the muse.”

This comment came after I sent a thank-you for a previous note.

“If you’re not a writer, I have a strong feeling that you ought to be.”

Having the same feeling does not mean that I don’t greatly appreciate, even need, such encouragement from someone whose writing I very much respect.

It’s a curious thing because I’m being pulled away from writing right now, into a teaching position that is interesting, and yet right now fraught with more than a little connected irritations. Encouragement like this comes, I’ve found over my life, at moments of decision in which I need to hear that I’m not a fool for my path, and not blind about the realities which seem to be forming out of the shadows. It is not that palpable change that seems so important, but it is affirmation that pressing onwards is not a waste of time. I can wait, and I can yearn, and I can exercise patience with progress, but with even small words of affirmation I can do such with a measure more of joy and hope.

And really it is that core reality of joy that spurs me onwards into all manner of directions. I may feel a measure of discontent, and yet I still must pray, and keep praying, and continue to trust that efforts made are not in vain. In the continuation of the knocking, in the faith outside of accepted possibilities, in the prayers for the impossible and trust in the curious continuing no matter my vacillations of mood, in the keeping of the faith and the standing, the demons themselves are repelled and light does shine.

So I am urged to pursue the muse by someone who crafts writing I regularly see as brilliant. I know this is where my own joy can be found, and I know that when I write I enter into a joy that mere outline development and associated busywork never approaches. This urging, however, raises not a slight worry in my soul, for my soul knows itself. I worry that this muse before me is that Celtic call, the voice of the Leanhaun Shee who seeks the love of mortals. As Yeats writes, “The fairy lives on their life and they waste away. Death is no escape from her. She is the Gaelic muse, for she gives inspiration to those she persecutes. The Gaelic poets die young, for she is restless, and will not let them remain long on earth–this malignant phantom.”

This means I find solace in both writing and in spiritual reading, in the pursuit of expression to myself and others, and the wisdom of those who learned how to fight malignant phantoms, so as to find life even as they faced death.

So I listen for the voice of that muse, and seek the vision of my soul’s satisfaction in prayer and faith, knowing that God is at work and he does a good work for those who are patient and faithful and filled with thanksgiving.

That is something, even if just a hope and a challenge. For right now… that is something.


The day was beautiful, the room is a mess. The sky was perfect, the breeze tantalizing, the Spring air filled with new life. Nothing was where it was supposed to be, boxes filled with all manner of papers seemingly exploded onto the floor, too many books and not enough bookshelves make for moveable piles rather than orderly research.

The night is beautiful, the stars are bright and the air is cool. The room is still messy, piles of this and stacks of that moved around so that I could find what seemed important at the time but now I’m not sure was worth the bother. Finding things I hadn’t been looking for but ended up being useful is always nice. Finding things that I’ve kept around thinking that they would someday find a use is not so nice. I’ve regularly gone through and rid myself of the junk, but now I have a mess, and it’s too late to do a thing about it. So, I’m going to attack it in the morning sun, waking up, I know, wishing I had spent time at it this evening.

Prayer is a curious thing. I’m learning a lot about prayer these days, realizing that even as its my primary purpose I am neither persistent nor skilled nor gifted nor understanding. I slip and I am bothered, and distracted even when I don’t seem to have anything distracting. I find the distractions and distract myself, even as I really know that praying is how I feel the sharpest and most thoroughly touch the presence of God.

I find it curious to pray for certain things and feeling like some aspects have darkness and struggle in the prayer, while other topics roll out of my soul like a great wave. It is like using a small piece of metal to find electric flow. Some spots have it, others don’t, and one can feel the difference.

I’m not sure what this means. Are those points of electricity points I am supposed to be particularly praying about? Am I tapping into some spiritual gulf stream? I think there’s something to that, because I know that praying for such topics energizes the rest of my prayers. Until I remember that “thing” I really need to find, and upset my whole living situation in the quest for that unnecessary treasure. The monks have something to say about such distractions, and what they have to say is not positive about the pursuit.

This is all about learning for me. Stepping right and stepping wrong, learning what works and then finding myself out of bounds and needing to know why.

Tonight though my room is a bit of a mess, and my soul is a bit of a mess, neither of which were messy last evening or even earlier today. So, I get back to work, falling off the horse only to get back on and finally get to taming this thing. The most persistent wins, that is the call of the Spiritual life. Sin is persistent, evil is persistent, but the true Christian will outlast them both when one’s eyes are kept on the real prize.

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