Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Month: July 2005 (page 1 of 2)


This has been a week filled with ups and downs, often taking place within the course of a day, occasionally all through the day. I realized today I was holding on, but holding on with a dissipating coherence. It was like my soul was slowly falling apart, and yet there was enough substance to manage my tasks, and be at least a shadow of who I am supposed to be.

But, today I realized this isn’t enough. The persistent incoherence in my being became just a little too pronounced, my anger and frustrations becoming a distraction. And with such distractions as these, which are not at all common, I realize I am at a crossroads. Or rather a u-turn. I can go back and find the trails anew, or I can press onwards in this loss of coherence.

Likely only a few people could even see this in me, and more than a few likely have talked to me and seen me over the last few weeks and not suspected there was anything amiss. Really there wasn’t. It’s a trend, and a trend I don’t want to participate in.

Part of this is realizing that I plain don’t like computers. Odd thing to write in this context, I know. I’d be happy to never turn one on again for the rest of my life if that was an option. I realize that while I am learning and interacting, too much time spent staring at the glare seeps into my soul, acting like oxygen on the iron within.

I begin to rust you see. So, rather than pressing onwards without caring, I decided to stop today. I decided to read, and eat a significant less, and sit in my room, trying to restore my soul, so that it not only appears filled with light, it might really be once more.

Oddly enough, this all wasn’t without times of spirituality. I prayed, and wrestled with God, finding his light and being light. So, I look within tonight not as much with guilt or shame, but more with concern at the growing shadows. It’s time to stop and look about, restoring my center and coherence, finding the light of the Spirit, and renewing those things which renew my soul. I picked up some nice theology, and likely will spend a large portion of the week doing little else than surrounding myself with thoughts on God and his work in this world.

The pondering of the Divine fills and restores my soul, and so to Scripture and History and theology I shall go, taking a wee vacation from these other tasks. For no one is helped when I am lost in incoherence of being. Not me, and not those around me.

So now there is only to turn around and look about. I already feel the renewal beginning.


I woke up at five in the morning. It was dark, the birds were quiet, there was very little activity going on. I woke up fairly wide awake. This is generally a very good time to get to work, or to praying, or to some other useful activity.

Instead of these I woke up and still linger with a very strong feeling of frustration and discontent. It’s vague and it’s quite pervasive, without having any specific point yet keeping me knocked off my spiritual feet.

In my time of usual focus I am decidely unfocused and lack an inner cohesion.

Dawn is coming soon and I’d hate to think this is what the day has in store for me. It’s not that I will let go and quit the day. It’s more a frustration at the frustration keeping me from finding fruition, and having me wallow in something unseen and unknown for the next eighteen hours.

Have you ever walked five miles through five foot deep chocolate custard?

It’s kind of like that for me this morning. Which is curious of course, especially if one doesn’t especially like chocolate.


The hot weather fairly does my brain in. For whatever reason my soul also feels done in, with a decided ebb going on in my spiritual life which honestly worries me. I feel done in, exhausted more than frustrated, without a change of belief, and more of an emptiness of being. This has been around for a while, interupting my writing… for sans inspiration to write such a task becomes difficult.

There is only to press onward, and in doing that it seems always a good idea to look back and explore the old roads once again. Maybe I took a step off the path, maybe my time isn’t quite being used as it should, maybe there are things which I am missing or could add. Or maybe it’s just hot, or maybe I’m just in an ebb. I don’t know.

It bothers me because I feel so emaciated. It bothers me because I feel like I won’t come out of this, and while I had a good run there for a while, my spiritual being is plain out of breath.

I stand and I look.


The day is starting off warm but I have hopes it won’t end that way. There’s a breeze you see, and words of approaching thunderstorms.

Indeed, yesterday afternoon some came by, and dropped a wee bit of rain on us. It wasn’t very much, only it was enough to cool the breeze, fill the sky with some active clouds, and otherwise make what was getting to be a ludicrous stretch of hot weather into something far more appreciated.

Basically, there have been two things God has thrust me into learning for the last long while, and not just learning about, but really finding, so that the depths of my soul become saturated with these. They are the kinds of things I could have never, ever really taken hold of had I stayed in constant ministry, or even stayed where I would have all the other sorts of ‘interests’ more easily pursued.

I see it, very much, as a return to the old patterns of the Christian life, where God called people out of the normal stream of things because the lessons of deep spirituality tend to be best grasped in the desert (real or figuratively). My seminary life taught me a great deal, and my own self-confidence spurred me onwards thinking I could have a rather good time of it. Only God put up the stop sign, closed all the doors, and said, “Wait here a while, Patrick. Sit a spell, won’t you?”

In being stopped, and in being separated for a time, pulled out of the relationships and friendships, and other sorts of ‘success’ I have found both prayer and humility in a way which has transformed my perspective profoundly, even if this doesn’t always come out in a casual conversation.

Both of these things are essential, and yet neither of which are things which those who professionally lead the Church tend to exemplify (with rare and notable exceptions of course).

God is doing a work, but it’s all foundational work, taking my seminary and training and gifts and making them turn towards the Spirit rather than turn towards some other notion of success, leaving me willing to wait and always watchful for how the Spirit is working, knowing that even in this curious set of circumstances God already has done something significantly more profound than if I had wandered off to even a succesful ministry or job during the same amount of time. God knows his work, and he does a curious work to be sure, but at the end of the day, whenever that comes, it’s the kind of thing that we will celebrate with thanksgiving about. The goal is to maintain the thanksgiving throughout as well, and see in faith and understand in faith what is happening, even if it seems little is happening.

So, that’s my little bit of thanksgiving, to make sure my occasional silly comments aren’t taken for some kind of grumbling.


When I wake up at 3:30 in the morning and already feel a bit warm I suspect it bodes poorly for the temperate hopes of the day.

It’s also dry, last I heard 14% humidity, though as that sounds pretty low and came from a neighbor’s weather station I’m willing to admit some leeway on that point. It is dry, however, enough so that I really can be drinking water all day, and still wake up with my mouth dry, my eyes dry, my tongue dry, my head a wee bit dizzy and mildly headachey. So back to the drinking of water and the occasional juice. Fortunately there’s a slight breeze which picks up in the afternoon. And it’s not really hot right now, it’s more of the expectation of heat, that certainty when I look outside and know that this day isn’t going to be friendly. Sure, it looks all calm and sweet now. That sun is a desert sun and not to be trusted with spurious claims of cooling trends. I fell for that last week.

So, I woke up at 3:30 with my usual bit of inner reformation, spurring me to the heights at that curious hour, and spurring me beyond the prayer and monks which tend to keep me most occupied during times of devoted devotion.

I have a hard time reading Scripture. This is scandalous I know, and I’m hesitant about admitting this, except for the fact it is true, and I already have admitted it. Don’t get me wrong. I value Scripture, I love Scripture, I pepper Scripture about in writing and discussion. I’m convinced that part of why I kept at theological education as an undergraduate and graduate was because the assignments insisted I read Scripture and read it thoroughly. This education and my Picture Bible have given me a solid foundation in Scripture, even if I have a hard time reading.

I’m not kidding about that Picture Bible, by the way. Sure, some purists might offer their disdain, but if you ask me purists really need to get out more, and also need to realize disdain is not one of the Spiritual Gifts given for the edification of the Body. It has been, however, one of the key anti-Spiritual gifts used for the dissolution of the Body over the years. So watch that log in yer eye, ya purist.

The Picture Bible was brilliant at one particular aspect, and this particular aspect is really a major weakness throughout the Church. It gave a sense of the Story. One did not pick up particular verses to be used in ecclesiastical combat. One missed out on certain details, but a young boy or girl could be immersed in the whole Story, from beginning to end and get a sense of the flow, the trends, and the style of God’s work through time that is almost impossible to find in many Christian psyches.

Before filling in the details, a framework of understanding is built, and knowing God becomes like learning a native language, rather than the foreign language quality of divided chapters and verse. This does explain my weakness when it comes to the Prophets, as the Picture Bible doesn’t do much with the Prophets. I still, after twenty five years and good learning, have the pictures of various scenes pop into my head. The whole Elijah story arc is imprinted in my mind, with pictures of the death of Baal’s prophets and the death of Jezebel later on popping into my head at the mere mention of the story. I can also see Cain and Abel, David, Jesus and Lazareth, and a good many others, even if I haven’t even opened that book in a good decade or more.

That’s certainly not the point of this post, which we’ll get back to right now. I have trouble reading Scripture. Most people do I suspect. Though it’s not quite fashionable to admit. This is true mostly because those who don’t have such troubles with Scripture or Prayer define the conversation so as to imply an implicit lack of Faith or Spirituality. Evangelists are like this too, only because of their personalities even more obnoxious if one doesn’t share their ease of communication. Camp People are the same way. I don’t remember one valuable experience at Camp in all my years, and yet such a negative review can’t be mentioned in a Church where Youth Camps are more ingrained theologically than the Eucharist. This is a key reason why I never became a youth pastor. They wouldn’t have me or any of my ilk who had no place in theological development for camps and the associated xtreme sports. Prayer and Scripture people don’t harangue, they just look down on us wee ones with a gentle and holy disdain (see note above).

For whatever reason I have over the past many years become better about learning how to pray. Philip Yancey sparked the move back in College, though it’s taken a fair bit of time and a fair bit of more obscure writers to help me along. Learning to pray as relationship rather than pray as request is helpful, and learning how to pray in response to the Spirit rather than a list is also helpful. But this post isn’t about prayer.

I have a hard time reading Scripture. For that reason I was surprised this morning, in the early morning, when I had the urge to read 2 Corinthians. I have no insights to give on my reading, as insights don’t coalesce until after five, but it did strike me that I found a path for my reading.

Too often I read Scripture for Information, or Points to Make in the Great Debate, or History. These things don’t match my innate yearning for that Story which the Picture Bible enabled (see note above), and yet I have a hard time getting back into the Story, having read it a number of times and become familiar with the overall trends and now the details.

This morning I was reading and it occured to me to think of Scripture as a guide, not a new thought I know. The temporal question of the Faithful is, of course, asking how we live this Christian life in a decidely antagonistic world. I’m not talking about persecution per se, with Christendom being likely one of the more difficult times to find a pure Christianity. Scripture is talking about that. It’s not about our details, and the New Testament seems almost arrogant in its unwillingness to give specifics of order or theology. It’s like we ask, “How then do we live?” Scripture says in response, “Well, here’s a story of someone in similar circumstances. Here’s another. And here’s a picture of how God works in this world. How’s that?” Okay, thanks.

Then it goes on to tell me about prayer and the Spirit, and how Scripture itself realizes it’s a guide and inspiration, not a detailed set of directives which could put us happily on our way. For sets of directives one has to go to the various churches who have chosen a particular era as their ideal.

So what do I do? “Well, Patrick,” Scripture tells me, “this is what Paul did. Peter wrestled with similar kinds of things. God does work in this sort of way.”

There’s an integration between the Spirit who inspired the words of Scripture, and the Spirit who inspires me to my work, whatever that might be. If I can find that integration, and let Scripture be the guide in this discover, not demanding specifics, but letting the words shape my overall understanding of God and his way in the world, I think I could better read Scripture with a daily appreciation.

Like with prayer, reading Scripture isn’t a discipline we do in order to please God. It’s something we pursue in order to find God in our lives and in this world, so really it behooves us to get to the tasks in a way that really helps us find God. No one is helped when we don’t do either, and the same people still are not helped when we do both but without really getting anything out of it. It’s all about finding that key to discovery, which I think is part of the Spirit’s work of maturation in each believer.

So I’ve been behooved towards prayer in recent years, and it seems that maybe I’m being behooved back towards a more personal discovery of Scripture. Which is a lovely thing really, as all the finest Christians back to Christ himself commend both as really being the core disciplines of the faith.


They are black-headed grosbeaks. It took me a bit to figure that out, even though their large and sturdy beak first suggested that I should start with a grosbeak. Fortunately the male spent a lot of time on the bird feeder yesterday and today, and the female joined him on the rail, where corn and sunflower seeds seemed to keep her content.

The chickadees didn’t mind the company, and so while the grosbeak sat on top of the feeder, a steady stream of chickadees flew in and found a space wherever a foot could grab hold, whether on the top or underneath or on the side. Chickadees are not picky about being right side up.

The young squirrel spent another long time on the deck, exploring and tasting and generally getting used to its body that can do wonderful acrobatics, though it did miss a leap on top of the birdbath, and fell forward a couple feet. When I walked outside it stood on a branch above me to check me out. I gave it a hearty welcome to the neighborhood and offered some tips about life in these parts. It scurried away just before I got to the point about being careful of the coyotes on an evening, so hopefully its mother will share that one.

The day was hot. And as mountains are supposed to be cool places to visit, there’s no air conditioning to alleviate the heat. It just gets hot, warmer inside than out because of the lack of a good breeze. And my mind stops when it gets hot. That’s not an excuse, more of a reality, and my reality of this day was that it did end up getting away from me, and I never could quite lasso it back. My sporadic attempts at restorative prayer were punctuated by long moments of distraction, leaving me wondering where exactly this day went off to, and wondering what I could have better done to engage it for what it offered.

That, however, is what a tomorrow is for. We can get up, shake off the dust, and try it again, this time a little better, hopefully, and a little sharper, God willing.

Though, I should note this is the first real Morning and Evening posting in a very, very long time. That should count for something. Shouldn’t it?


So I woke up early this morning. I don’t mean I woke up at those peculiar hours like I have sporadically for a long while, those two in the morning wake up calls which leave me wide awake during the deepest night. No, I woke up early, for what is an acceptable start for the real day. Five or so I believe.

I poked around a bit, wondering why a squirrel on the roof was so particularly interested in doing a jig, and wondering what it is about July that caused the spiders of the world to unite in an attempt at complete domination of the neighborhood. I thought I should get to praying, and after a half hour of poking about I finally did. I went outside, where dawn was likely happening if I had a view of the eastern horizon, but was still building for its jump over the hills that block such a view.

Chipmunks chirped and chased each other around trees, before standing and pondering in that curious way that our chipmunks seem to love, tails swishing and with thoughtful gazes. The acorn woodpecker crowd down the hill a bit had some kind of going on, for there was a burst of their voices in various pitches. Coyote? Maybe.

I prayed as I sat on the top of the steps.

It was a peaceful morning with a lovely soft breeze and little human noise. For whatever reason praying got me depressed. I don’t know what happened, and I hate when that happens. It can either be a good sign or a bad sign, a sign that I’m being frustrated in my attempts to pray or a sign that somewhere along the line I’ve taken a misstep and so praying highlights that discerning drive back to peace.

The problem is I don’t know. And really there is only to keep at praying, except for the fact that I was getting more depressed as I kept at it. So I came inside, which is likely not the best reaction, as perseverance is the best goal no matter the cause.

I write this now because I want to sort out what’s going on in my soul, and writing tends to do this better than just about anything else, or at least it unclogs the stopped up thought processes.

I woke up feeling grand and then I prayed. Now I feel distinctively less than grand, and know that there still is only to pray and keep at it.

Delving into the spiritual world through prayer and consideration is often fraught with more difficulties than one might expect. I suppose that’s why folks talk about prayer more than praying… sort of what I’m doing right now as a matter of fact.

Any insight, will, of course, be posted, unless, of course the topic is currently off limits. In that case I’ll note it but not expound on it, unless I feel like it at the moment.

I fear, however, that this day got away from me within a half hour of its all too early start.

I can either participate in this growing frenzy of a spiritual river gone to rapids, or I can engage myself in pursuing a radical stillness no matter the flurry and roar. How this day ends up will be determined by this choice, and it is mine to make.


The wee ones were out and about through the day. Not children, well not human children. There was a particularly small squirrel prancing about on and over the trees, on the deck, on the balcony, finding new treasures in potted plants and bird baths, curious about the birds and the chipmunks. All the young ones of Spring are now exploring their world away from the nest, not quite adults, but with the responsibilities of such. Fortunately this is fine neighborhood to grow up in, and so I think they will do well for themselves.

The warmer it gets the less introspective I get, the less I focus and look inward, the more I just get to doing things here and about. It’s not that the creativity is lost, its more that the inner drive is dulled enough so that if something specific doesn’t present itself I don’t feel the pull to pursue.

It has to do with the sun, I suppose, and all the chemical changes which such light provides. It’s a happy thing, and so while I wonder where went my inner gaze, I am fine with spending a little less time so focused.

I seek after prayer, and while my tasks are not the most uplifting of sorts, I seek wisdom even in these, trying to wait on the Spirit and those led by the Spirit, trusting in the fluid work of God who is arranging and preparing, asking me to do that which is before me, always with thanksgiving and prayer.

Other thoughts stir, but I’ve wee bit of a headache tonight and so shall cut off the computer early and wander to words printed.


Did I even go outside today? Yeah, now that I think of it I did, if only for bare moments. I walked the dog for a little bit, picked up a shirt which had flown off the deck down onto the brush below. I stood for a few moments on my balcony, just to stare for a little bit, and another little bit while I was on the phone.

These little bits did not do justice to the day. It was a brilliant day, with a wonderful breeze blowing along all afternoon, keeping the air cool and positively chipper. It was the kind of day which welcomes one outside to sit a spell, and read, or if that doesn’t work out then do nothing at all but absorb the beauty of a mountain forest. It was not a day to be spent getting frustrated at computer tasks, staring at computer screens, and realizing the software I have newly received is Coltrane… and I’m just getting to know Taps.

Yet, the way the day was not made to be spent was how I went about the day, finding myself feeling inadequate to no end, which drifted into other areas of frustration, and then entered my soul as some pervasive emptiness of being. Computer code will do that I suppose.

Yesterday I felt the similar feeling and decided to go for a rather long run through the hills. Well up and over and back up and over at least, if not exactly through. I thought about the requisite spiritual analogies to such a run, and was otherwise brightened in my demeanor.

Then more books came today. Instructional books for the humbling software which made me sit and stare, hands on my forehead. But, that’s what comes and I guess what I’m supposed to do, even if it isn’t exactly the Answer I’ve been praying for.

Which brings to mind the other realization I had on my run which is a consideration of how I view my role or response within the broader Body of Christ in this world.

I’m a pastor by training, with pieces of paper and letters after my name to prove it, without a church to call my own. Realizing my role and response is important, because it keeps me from seeing my past years of training as being some kind of waste and misdirection. With prayer and a good long run up and over some steep hills I regain the perspective which helps me see myself as who I am and how I work. Which is thus: I am an investor.

Most pastors are products or services. Most of those who work in a Church have gifts which are meant to be highlighted and people are drawn to such gifts, and they tell their friends they just have to see this new product, and the pastor sells the core membership by expounding on the benefits of living like this product.

I’m an investor. A venture capitalist of sorts. I have proven I can do the pastory things, and do them quite well, except I’m an awful salesman. By awful I really mean terrible because I have far too much of the “take it or leave it” attitude to ever convince anyone of doing what I very well may believe will in fact change their life. I hate selling things. I like talking about things. I like discussing things. I like engaging things. I hate the whole concept of packaging and selling. No, it’s not that I hate it, it’s more like I am missing that gene altogether. It’s just not there.

However, I like to invest in people. I see someone who is capable and gifted and I want to work to help them find themselves, to help them find the Spirit within, and help them to have confidence to pursue their highest path. I want to provoke and aid and assist people to go beyond what they can see and find that golden reality which I see in them. I want to use my gifts to help their gifts blossom. I want to invest so that they become fuller and wiser and more hopeful.

This personal reality means I’ve picked up a rather wide set of skills over the years, and touch on a curious manner of interests, some profound, some mundane. I see people and I want to do what I can to propel them forward.

The problem is that this means I am far too interested in investing in people I know, and not at all interested in investing in faceless corporations or businesses. The former give more satisfaction, the latter give more money. It’s a spiritual investment, you see, so the money isn’t as big a deal if I can really see myself helping to propel people forward. That’s a major part of my present circumstances, which will sound curious to anyone who knows the details of my present circumstances. I am in a position to be profoundly helpful to two people who have different goals, yet who I am able to come alongside and assist them as they press onwards.

I cannot sell, and I cannot invest in that which seemingly has no eternal value. But, I pour myself into people and directions, seeing how the Spirit works through me to be a light.

Getting discouraged hides that light, which leads me to understand prayer, and present circumstances lead me to understand humility. This is my nature, however, to be one who invests, and so I can embrace this aspect or seek to be someone else entirely. By embracing this I might lose present favor, from some, but by seeking to be someone else I lose myself. So there is only to press onwards, and invest in those who accept my investment, and be for them what the Spirit calls me to be.

All the while I wonder what new investment opportunities might present themselves, and watch for those which seem especially curious and interesting.

In this, in finding light and stillness in this, I think I am learning the fluidity of the Spirit. Sometimes, it just gets hard to hear the whispers and feel the direction of the breeze. Tonight has that. So there is only to return to prayer, and keep returning, until I find it.


Now, admittedly I’m not very good at math. It’s not that I wasn’t once good at math, it’s more that I haven’t had a real math class since High School, and that’s a fair bit of time now. My highlight came in Physics class when on the last test only two people got the bonus question right… me and another guy.

It was homework really. I didn’t do any in high school. And since then I haven’t done hardly any math. It’s still in me, I think, and there’s a part of me that would almost be interested in taking an advanced math class just for the sheer mental exercise. I’m certain there’s a bit of my present issue with getting to know computer coding related to my now distant math experiences.

I doubt I will take that math class, however, and so have to live my mathematic and scientific interests vicariously through people who know what they are about in those fields. Or at least, that’s a side benefit to knowing such people.

But even with my vestigial math skills I can do a bit of adding and multiplying. According to my calculations, and I can show the work if needed, the title of this webpage is Morning and Evening. Those equal two things. Now there are approximately thirty days in a month, give or take a day, generally give — which is a wonderful Christian concept as well.

Two times thirty (or so) equals sixty, or thereabouts. Last month, according to the statistics in the upper right corner, my posts in June on this page equaled five. Two plus three equals five. Two times thirty does not equal five.

It seems my computational skills are amazing compared to my present productivity skills.

I’d change the name of the page to “Some Mornings and, occasionally, an Evening” but that would be a lot of work to get all the various links updated, and so it’s a lot simpler to just try and post more, even if there is is less profundity involved (ie, this present post).

I did find a raven feather on my run the other day, which is worth noting as a potential omen, but only if something happy happens.

Other than that it feels as though I’m in some curious state of being, caught in a fog of sorts, with my prayers not quite flowing out as much as they once did. I make note of this, and press onwards.

And I also make note of my new hummingbird feeder. I have little expectation of any of that particular species visiting for a while… but it’s nice to have out there.

The area spiders are already doing a yeoman’s work as nuthatch feeders, so I don’t need more focus in that direction.

So to sum up. I have forgotten the math I once knew. But I still know 2 X 30 = 60, and not five, despite the fact the name of this blog indicates otherwise. I am praying in a fog of sorts, but I don’t know what that is and I have a new hummingbird feeder.

There you go.

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