Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: December 17, 2017

Sunday and a new day

As a family, we lit the advent candle at church today, read a passage from the Christmas story in Matthew. Amy led worship, always a joy, she has always called me back into worship from the beginning.

Beautiful day, but I only spent a little time outside, reading a book on Francis Asbury. About time I dug into learning more about his life as I go on to teach a class on Wesleyan Theology this next quarter.

That’s on my mind, as is a couple of commentary passages I’m supposed to edit, and a book I need to edit, and travel plans to make for my HT503 classes in Phoenix, and… well, add to the mix all the nibbling concerns that fill my mind with clutter.

In this day I also kept coming back to my thoughts of the morning, not intentionally, just part of the swirl. I realized something. Not anything new. Not really anything profound. But it was important nevertheless. I spied the source of my discontent.

It comes down to the Kingdom. I walk in many kingdoms, among which are my will, the will of the academy, the will of the church, the will of financial success.

I’m mixed in all my motives and divided in my being.

If I can find that way to really seek the Kingdom in full, as my concern, my orientating value, my constitutive desire, then I can see my way forward with joy no matter what happens.

That’s the challenge. That’s the trick.

finding the music

A lot has happened since I last wrote here, and much of it speaks of a wonderful work of God.

Two kids, a job with APU and then a job with Fuller. I’ve not been without medical benefits since graduating with my PhD. And yet, the nature of my contracts with Fuller and APU have been time-limited, first 1.5 year with APU and 3 years with Fuller. The former ended with a transition into working for Fuller, without a day in between, and also involved a transition to Sacramento. The moving process was chaotic, to say the least. We moved to Sacramento, got settled into a wonderful, God-directed (I have no doubt) home to rent a mile from the Fuller campus, and got started with a new life up here. That was late August. In earliest February, we were told they were shutting down the regional campus. First they said that next June (2016), then they expanded that to August, 2017.

This blog was a site for me to navigate finding faith in the midst of an emptied life. I left everything behind when I moved from Pasadena to Lake Arrowhead. I left behind rational ambitions, I left behind friends. I left behind a pathway to financial freedom. I embraced a kind of insanity. At age 28 (almost 29), I moved back in with my parents, to focus on writing, but mostly to stop running. As I said then, I was tired of being chased by a gigantic crashing wave that was always just behind me, leading me into frenzy as I sought to escape its tumbling, swirling, mass.

I had wrestled with finding the voice of God in my life for so long, and realized that the voice of God was not in front of me, the way I was running, but it was behind me, behind the wave.

Moving to Lake Arrowhead didn’t make any sense in the rationality of the world. My soul didn’t care. Creeping, enervating depression was my daily disaster, assuaged only when I wrote, and only so long as I stopped pursuing a rational approach.

I stopped running. I turned around. The wave crashed over me. In the tumbling, bruising darkness between life and non-life–not physical death simply social death–I learned how to listen better. I read monastics, I read myself. I talked with my parents, and the friends I had left, some where I had once been, some much farther away. I learned how to listen to the chorus of trees, to watch the rhythms and signs of nature around me, never pure, always punctuated by noisy neighbors and frenzied busyness, which served as the burr in my being that kept me from retreating ever inward and isolated. My frustrations were part of the cure, my anger and rage and irritation ignited and dissipated in my helplessness to change others. I had only myself. What was I to do with my self?

That is the impossible question, the unwanted and rejected question, that which leads us to seek any sort of distraction.

The self is a punishment. Which is why solitary confinement is used in prisons.

What is that? In my stopping, I had to face myself, giving up on my hopes to undermine the power of my fears, and having just myself. I made progress. Not as much as I would have liked. But enough for that season, it seems. God opened the once locked doors, everything in life blossoming rather than covered in frost. I published. I married. I bypassed a highly deficient resume by building a new course of life, a curriculum vitae, through PhD studies.

Life has not stopped since. The wave crashed over me and behind it, with the leading of God, was another wave, a wave I swam with as it led me to new shores.

Behind it has been another wave. A wave more like the first one. A wave that is made up of my fears and doubts and frustrations and anger at mismanaged opportunities and opportunities started well but shut down because of the goals of others. I face the summer with no contract, and a radical increase in busyness and travel these next two quarters. I miss listening to the trees, to letting my self stop and ponder, to watching the birds. The frenzy stirs and twists, nudging me toward panic. The wave behind me approaches, looming and blocking out the light.

I’m tired of its threats. I’m tired of knowing but not listening. I’m tired of waiting but not seeing. I’m tired of existing but not being.

So, I return here, to see how I might discover a reformation of my misplaced self. Not that I’ve done anything wrong, not that I’ve done everything right. I realize there was a opening in 2007 that led to new realities, but these realities were a new stage, not a conclusion of the work once started.

I recognize the fears, the frustrations, the depression, the distraction. It has been with me all along, and now, in the face of an unsettled future, it tries to take control again. Leading me and yelling at me.

What does it mean to stop running now and face the next wave? I don’t know. It’s not the same as 2003. But there’s a self-similar work involved, one that I must discern and find discipline in.

IF you do not stand in faith, you will not stand at all, Isaiah once said, when the city was surrounded by enemies.

Yesterday, while engaged in the relaxing reading of Sharpe’s Rifles, I read this and it poked at me the way Thoreau once did back in my 20s: “Now was not the time to let the fears stop the insanity. So forward.”

My path in life has been about embracing a kind of insanity. First to Wheaton, which I couldn’t afford. Then to Fuller, which I couldn’t afford. Then to the mountains, which I could afford but which kept me from being rational in gaining sufficient income for anything else. Then to a PhD program in a field where there are not jobs. Then, to teaching non-stop when what I really love is writing. Fears creep up, reminding how stuck I am, how lost I might be, how there’s no way someone with my training and personality (extreme introvert) can find another path. No doors open, no way back.

Now was not the time to let the fears stop the insanity. So forward.

But going forward isn’t enough. I need to come to terms with those fears, to deepen my hope, to explore my frustrations, to expand my love. To choose faith, to make faith an intentional choice when I really don’t seee what the future holds and have no power right now to make an answer happen, other than doing my daily tasks. I want to choose faith. I want to dance once more in the music of freedom, even when all around me seems like constraint. I want to be. So forward.

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