Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Author: Patrick (page 1 of 56)

Pa rum pum pum pum

It’s a cold, overcast day, a tiny sliver of blue sky off to the west, but the rest of the sky is gray.  Forty two degrees, just a tiny breeze, just enough to shake the now brown lingering leaves on the bare branches.

I stand outside for brief moment, to take the scene in but nothing really pulls me outdoors. The busyness of a suburb during the week is just enough noise and activity to pull my thoughts from running free as I stare at trees and birds. Oliver joined me outside, a crabby boy indoors, he seemed delighted to look around with me. Cars passing by, trucks and planes off in the distance making noise–it’s trash and recycling day–but we talked about birds, and that tree over there, and how it’s hard for people to fly.  He also realized he needed some socks, so ran inside to get some before coming right back.

We live near the edge of the city, so not in the middle of the hustle and bustle of urban life, yet it’s a consistently active street, a minor thoroughfare through the housing developments, one of the few that get a person from the main street to the upper neighborhoods.

I miss being able to sit outside and hear the wind in the trees without hearing or smelling the cars going by.  My discontent stirs as I wish to be where I’m not and wish for a place I don’t have, a place with a quiet getaway from the frenzy, a place with trees, and birds, and animals to get to know, and maybe a creek.  I pray for that place, but I don’t know if I’ll get there.

That’s one of those persistent conflicts for me, realizing I’m about as introverted as they come, surprisingly sensitive to noises, and come from many generations of folks who kept coming West to work the land.  My genes have combined over the generations to yearn for a lot of space away from the crowds.  I want that to be the song I sing.

But my rhythms haven’t led that way, and so I seem to constantly be in battle with where I’m at versus where I want to be, and realizing (in my quiet moments) that I’m at where God wants me to be, and so it’s not just an issue of aesthetics, it’s an issue of obedience and faith.  God made me one way, I realize in my more frustrated moments, to not fit in with those places I seem to be the most. This underlying tension of my rhythm not matching the rhythms around me, dissonance and missed beats resulting.  When I want to clap on my 2 and 4, I end up clapping in the world’s 1 1/4 and 3 1/4.

When should I clap? My tendency is to stop clapping altogether.  To feel the strain and stress and do that which manages my stress, which is generally retreating to solitude.  But that’s not my calling in this season either. I’m called to more hospitality.

The tension builds.  And when I move around, exist in the everchanging seasons of different uncertainties, I never quite get a rhythm of the place I’m in, and lose my sense of self.  I leave behind hobbies, and rejuvenating places, as the busyness abounds. So, struggle getting reset.

It’s all part of this whirling, swirling. Which sounds much more dramatic than it is. I’m gazing deep into my inner being right now, and trying to discern what leads to the outward discontent and diminishing enthusiasm.

All of this speaks to how I’m securing my being, how much I’m existing as a participant in the Kingdom versus other systems of value.  I think that if I truly was oriented wholly in the Kingdom, I’d find a consistency and enthusiasm uninfluenced by circumstances.

That’s the challenge as I face a year of more busyness and possible upheaval.  Stop blaming, start being.  Because there’s always something, whether in lack or in success, there will always be something to try to pull me away from my true self.  I have to find the rhythm of the kingdom, and offer myself in that rhythm. That is the point at which I’ll really be worshiping in full and really living as my true self.


I had a problem with this site, not surprising after letting it lie fallow for so long.  I backed it up, uninstalled it, imported the old posts. It looks exactly the same, but it’s all new. There’s an analogy in that somewhere.

In the midst of this, I was worried I might lose my posts in the process, so I went looking for a document I made a number of years ago using all the posts. It’s a Word doc, and I was reminded of a couple things. One, is that my posts over the years make up about 362 single spaced pages, and that’s 238,311 words.

Second, in my rebooted posts below, I talked about my goals in moving to the mountains and having to recover that sense of purpose in the face of my uncertain future. To latch on to my true calling. Well, it happens that in my random quick scrolling through that document, I came across a most appropriate post from May 2004:

Here’s the relevant part of what I had to say:

There is a place for the focused pursuit of God, I believe, where being an adult means being mature before Christ, not proving to this world how I can do exactly what 99% of people accomplish. Maybe that’s my issue, I don’t feel a need to prove myself, or I don’t most of the time, so I’m happy to do that which brings real progress in my soul, in my spiritual state, willing to let loose the security of this present world to grasp ahold of that which is eternal.

Others who feel a need to prove, look disprovingly on me as not playing the game rightly. Assuming my reasons are what theirs would be in retreating, the feared show of weakness, the abhorred reality of incapability.

That is the case, and yet at moments of confusion, at times in which I stumble, I feel the weight of justifying myself. I know, of course, knowing myself, that the real challenge is not others… it’s me. The person who had dreams of a federal judgeship while in college, who planned for many years the precise path, working at the foundations. Or the person who came up with what, I think, were some rather nifty ideas about church, who found himself dialoguing with some great thinkers and influencing thoughts, knowing that given the right context he could make a real mark in the church world. That person found frustration along those paths, the heavy hand of God leading and guiding, and yet not removing the inner ambition, the drive to have a voice.

Now, voiceless, influenceless, without any aspect which one could admire or respect, living what many would think is the worst reality for someone of my age and education, I struggle to show that my ambition has redirected, become more attuned to the Divine. I struggle because I myself rebel, doing those little things which assert my independence, when in reality my only freedom will come in completely letting go.

I feel the need to prove myself, to myself, to those who doubt. At the same time I realize this need is precisely against my higher goals. Only when I let loose my demand to justify myself will I find the contentment which eludes.

I know in my mind what I cannot achieve in my heart. So the dissonance arises, stifling any expression, making me unsuited for either reality. Ah, but at least I know what battle to fight. That is something. I hope.

Tidal Life

I didn’t know anything about Sacramento before moving here in August 2015. Well, I knew it was the state capital. And I knew it was a little less than halfway to Portland, situated on the 5, so made for a sense of accomplishment when driving south to north and north to south.

I didn’t know it made an attempt at seasons. Southern California hardly even tries. The trees, some of them, change color, but not always when you’d expect and sometimes at different times of the year. It got more consistently cooler but never quite cold in winter. There’s reasons why they haven’t written about SoCal Christmases. “I’m Dreaming of a Seventy Degree Sunny Christmas” doesn’t have the same romance to it.

Sacramento doesn’t get cold, though snow and cold is within reach in the mountains (about ninety minutes away), but it does get cooler. The trees turn colors, leaves are everywhere for about a month, and it gets foggy and stormy. Or at least it should. It has gotten cooler, lows in the upper 30s and highs in the low 60s today, but that’s a lot warmer than it has been the last couple of years where it seemed to get up to the 30s during the days in December. I remember because it gave me the rare chance to wear my winter coats.

The past two years, I would sometimes walk to work, which was about a mile south of my house. About half of it was through a curiously shaped park, and another 1/3 involved walking along a drainage canal. Which doesn’t sound very inviting (a river like runoff from farms to the north), but it has a nice walking path and I would regularly see geese and wading birds like egrets and herons.

It was also a daily way to stay connected to the world around me, noticing the trees, the quail, the jack rabbits, the bees that picked one tree to buzz about in but wasn’t where they lived, and all sorts of other moments of minor wonder. I also got a daily bit of sunshine, good for my being in all kinds of ways.

That office shut down entirely in August. So, I’ve not had my destination driven walk to and fro, and I’ve not had my daily interaction with Natomas (our neighborhood in Sacramento). It was another loss among the losses that drove a sadness deep into my core, and which I’m trying to find my way out of without, and this is the key bit, having a replacement or transformation. The loss just sits with me each day. The could-have-beens, the what-was-this-fors, the what’s-nexts, all the needling quibbles of being where I was sent but then the reasons for being sent pulled out just as we got here.

And that’s the driving frustration in my heart. Because that’s a common theme in my life. Sent but not settled, neither here nor there, always in between, a sunset without the glow, a sunrising into an overcast day. That’s not me being negative. That’s my experiences, in which God has certainly worked, but has left me with a deep sense of always being an outsider, always a wanderer. I’ve not had a settled place since we moved from San Dimas in 1983.

Some of that has been disasters happen in my family–loss of homes, etc. and so on. Some of it has been my choices, initiated with hope and purpose, but then leaving me feeling alone and stranded. I’ve sought to follow God’s leading all along, and I feel like I’ve been in a wilderness for the last 34 years. Disaster and un-chosen change always around the corner, attempts to gain a foothold beginning well, then slipping, falling.

Which raises the important question, am I just a silly sinner? That’s what I was told when I was dealing with a lot of depression in college. It’s not untrue, that’s the problem. But I don’t get a sense that this is all a lot of trickery and punishment.

A good navigating rule in theology is that God is not a trickster. He’s complicated, to be sure, but he’s not a trickster.

And that means in this present reality, where I have a job but don’t have a job, where I have a home, but don’t have a home, everything loosely given and loosely held and even if there are answers ahead they likely involve radical changes, and yet more transitions.

I’m weary of going but never arriving.

Which brings me to my current immpasse. I can’t keep going in the way I’ve been going. I’m exhausted and discouraged and frustrated. It has led to my loss of focus and struggle to hold onto hope.

Which isn’t me talking about of depression. This is me diagnosing my inner reality. Because I’m trying not to choose depression. I’m wanting to move forward. But there’s no forward, even in the answers, there’s only this driving, swirling, experience of upheaval that lifts me up in its winds and drops me back down from its heights. And that’s just how life seems to be and how it will be, at least for the foreseeable future.

The challenge, and this is what I woke up to this morning at 3:45 thinking, is not to somehow abandon the calling (because I think God has called me out and up) or to embrace despair, both of which whisper and tempt me these days. The challenge is to reconceive (again) my purpose in all of this. Did I get a PhD so that I could find honor in the academy? Did I get a PhD in theology so that I could get social respect? No. I got a PhD in theology because that was the door that opened in light of my lifelong pursuits of seeking God in the midst of disorienting challenges. I stopped and faced that crashing wave, which crashed over me, and gave me, apparently, thoughtful things to say that I wrote in a couple books and that got me a fully paid fellowship.

I didn’t pay for my PhD. All my debt comes from what came before. So why is my heart so heavy in me as I face a future where I wonder if my PhD in theology was worth the struggle?

The struggle is that I want to have a house, and pay for food, and provide my kids with the kind of settled life that I never seemed to have. Do I trust God to provide for that?

The struggle is that I felt like I’ve followed God’s calling in going to Wheaton and then Fuller and then Fuller again. Did God trick me? Is there even a God? (Ah, there a whispering woe sneaks up behind me!)

Why did I do that which I did? Where do I seek value?

I ask this now, when my future is undetermined (at least for me). I don’t know what I will be doing next year or where. I may very well be still in academia, teaching and researching (and oh how I yearn for more of the latter finally). After teaching 10 different courses in the last 3 years, I look ahead to only having classes I’ve taught before and the dream of writing a lot gets me exited. But if that doesn’t work out, if I don’t get a full time position in academia–and I don’t have any offers right now for that–will I abandon hope and fall into frustration

Why did I do that which I did? Why do I do that which I am now doing?

That’s the fundamental question. Because if I can find my way to saying–really saying, authentically, wholly saying–I do it all for the sake of God, come what may, I think that is the place of substantive peace. If I stay in academia, then I can navigate that world while being driven by God’s leading, rather than the honors and values the academic system uses to co-opt theology. I can participate in that world without being defined by that world, and I’m pretty sure that is how to actually become a real person in that world. I can be free in teaching and writing and creative exploration because i’m not always second guessing. And if I don’t get that chance, if the door closes, if I can find that peace of value in God’s kingdom, then my PhD won’t have been a waste because from beginning to end it was always, really, about finding a depth in God, pursuing truth, exploring the treasures of wisdom.

I’ve been driven to see God, and yet God is always just behind the next hill, and there’s a hill in front of me yet again and a wave behind me, and I’m tired of walking. So, so tired of never arriving. But now is not the time to let the fears stop the insanity. So forward.

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.


A couple of days again the insight that, most of all, I needed to get back to writing hit me. This fleeting thought turned then to how to write in the midst of so much other work. I realized that I couldn’t really consider the the other work, especially when everything feels draining. But, at the same time, when my other work is also demanding my creative participation, to let all the steam out of myself would be detrimental.

So, I thought, a 1000 words a day is probably to much, it pushes me to the edge of my daily focus. How about 500? That’s the new goal. Five hundred words a day might be a very approachable goal. Of course, me being me, it’ll spill over into being more on most days, but 500 is the goal I want to keep as a minimum.

The question then becomes what I should write about. Last evening, while my mind was wandering during a sermon, I got to thinking about the story of Jesus I was writing. Fictionalized account of the Gospels from the eyes of a secondary character. Indeed, I thought I might try for more than this, looking for the story to progress into Acts and then… who knows!

But now, I think I’m seeing how much work that is to pull off. There’s a lot of research on the topics that I just don’t think I’m ready for. So then what? Wander afield in a random bit of fiction every day? A five hundred word masterpiece that would no doubt revolutionize the world while providing an easy outlet for creative exploration. Well, therein lies my problems.

I think too much and then think too much about how what I do will hopefully have some kind of meaning beyond just doing it. That’s a dangerous way of thinking because of course it won’t. If anything I do ever does, then that’s a grace from God. That’s the way I have to think, because that’s reality, not letting my imaginative creativity drift into the arena of my actual experiences. I need to sketch again, sketching in words, though I’m cautious about doing so in public because of the pressures to succeed. But that’s stifling.

I’ve never succeeded, in whatever ways I have succeeded, by being cautious and trying to do the correct approach. At the same time, I have this constantly burdening memories of saying too much and getting myself deeper and deeper into a hole.

So, I must do without thought of what I am doing will make a difference or if what I am doing matters or is constructive. That’s not really the goal is it? Not with this. The this is the doing without the goal, the acting without the intent, the sketching without the product in mind. For the sake of my own focus, not for the sake of my own progression.

I need to find a way of unknotting the threads in my mind and in doing that becoming free to be the sort of writer and thinker who is better about expressing my impressions when the time is ripe for my impressions to have some kind of meaning. I need to write because I need to write, I need to find the freedom of expression again that has become lost in the restrictions of overly intentional projects.

I say I love to write, that I want to be a writer, but when I consider how much I really write? Ah, there’s a problem there. I don’t write enough to think of myself as a writer. So, the only answer to that is to write, to write, to write, to hone the craft through constant application.

In effect, I need to re-discover my voice, because my voice is what is my key to progress, but more than this, my voice is what is key to myself, to finding the words that tap into the inner maelstrom, that bring relief to the crowds, that break apart the now dense flotsam that has collected against the dam of my consciousness. I restrain and I clutter and I then get caught up in a mental approach that finds increased depression and distraction. I have to wander a different way.

A Returning

When I first began to write more seriously, about 8 years ago or so, I did so because I found the more I wrote the more clear my head was. It was a release of pressure, relieving the steam that built up inside as I struggled with the chaos existing around and in the rest of my life. The more I pressed on in writing, the more clear I felt, the more I was able to focus, the more I was able to find hope and peace. The curious aspect of this is that the most effective kind of writing wasn’t the internal analysis that sought to unknot the many and many threads that had somehow become entirely unmanageable. The best sort of writing came when I left the introspective reservation and wrote on other topics.

At first I thought it would be most helpful to engage the world, to write on politics or culture, to share the wealth of my gathered supposed wisdom in applying it to the events of the day. But, that tapped my soul too. I found as I engaged the chaos, the chaos reverberated back into me, scattering my already fractious thoughts, emphasizing the conflicts and disagreements, thrusting me into the midst of added controversies, and ones in which I had utterly no role to play except expressing an opinion.

I like to express my opinions, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a strained passivity about doing so when your opinions don’t have any power to make any difference whatsoever. It’s passive without power, but it’s strained because it gives off the illusion of having some sort of authority. Sort of like being the Vice President of the United States, I guess.

I found that the biggest help always came when I attempted to write fiction. I think that when I sought to engage my tensions directly, I always came at them with the same interpretive keys, gauging what I couldn’t understand with my own understanding. This is useful, I think, if you’re still sorting out some new or especially potent issue, but after a while, when the issues being dealt with are stale and crusty, it’s just going around in circles. Which is why journals never really have been useful for me.

When I wrote fiction I realized that I was still approaching my issues, but indirectly, through a creativity which quietly and deftly picked over my subconscious, suggesting themes which did not seem at first to be my themes, but which certainly did, in a way, turn out to be pointing towards what I was wrestling with.

The fiction I wrote became a sort of counterfactual of my own life. Never intentionally so, never with purpose. That would have brought it back into the introspective spiral. Just being free to write a story, freed me from myself, but gave insight into myself that steered some very key decisions I made in life during the middle years of the first decade of millennium.

I think about this now because I’m all knotted up again. Unlike in 2003, however, I’m not dealing with isolation, rejection, frustration, and aimless wandering. Life is good. I certainly would like to make more money, but that’s just what it is, not a major barrier. I still feel knotted. I lack the sort of creative enveloping that takes me out of myself, into a mode of exocentric focus, where I can, as I like to say, dance.

I can’t dance in real life, so that’s only a figurative expression. Nor can I sing. I can’t paint or draw. I can play music, but I get caught up in the constant realization that in a cramped apartment complex every noise I make has to be heard by everyone around, so I feel stifled in doing that. What can I do? I can write. And I realized again yesterday that I need to write.

I need to write more than just for school, which carries with it both a mix of creative exploration but also tension filled demands of trying to please the right people, trying to stand out and in doing that maybe someday get a substantive paycheck. Writing for school exacerbates the tensions which already gather together in regular storms on my soul. I need to write, freeing myself to explore again for the sake of exploration. I need to write not as a task for my vocation but as a creative task that hones the craft.

This is the latter bit that occurred to me as I was writing this. Writing well is a craft. It’s one that I’m better at than I was ten years ago, but one which I have not even approached becoming an expert. And the only way to master a craft is to do it, do it constantly, and do it with discipline.

I haven’t had discipline in writing for writing’s sake in a very long time.

I miss it. I need to get that discipline because I think that when life takes on even more busyness and steals more of my attention in widely different directions, I need to have built up a pattern of focus that keeps me moving forward in my career. More than this, however, I need to write because writing frees my soul, helps my mind to think again, helps me to encounter the day with a feeling of peace rather than frenzy.

So, even if I don’t have a task to turn in quite yet, I need to get to writing with discipline. And maybe even get back to writing fiction. We’ll see. What we won’t see is this sort of writing about writing about writing. I get weary of this sort of writing pretty quickly. But for today, it’s what I needed to write.

poking my head back in

This used to be, for a while at least, the place I tried to better enunciate my inner life. For a while the words dried up and I was left with pictures. Not very good pictures, but sometimes interesting nevertheless.

As is often the case with my writing, I find myself returning to pondering whenever I hit a rut. I’ve not been in a rut in a while, I suppose.

But now I’m back here and that says something quite clear.

I’m in a rut.

Which is kind of a odd way of putting it, really. A rut is a groove in a road made by people going somewhere. More specifically by wagons, with so many over a long period of time making it so the scar in the earth deepens. I saw the picture the other day of how there was still places along the old Oregon trail where the ruts were so thorough that nothing would grow.

But that’s a sidenote, to whatever this main note might be.

I’m in a rut.

In the post below written a couple months after being married I noted the stress of school, that it wasn’t a heavy class load as much as it was a heavy reading load in combination with the pressure of doing well enough to keep up a scholarship. That school year ended and my fellowship was indeed renewed. A 4.0 gpa and a nice amount of other work certainly helps. This past year, my 2nd year, also ended with a continued 4.0 gpa and other apparent successes. But there was no fellowship. Fuller, they tell us, ran out of money.

But, there’s money to be had where they want money to be had, so for me and others, we found ourselves having done enough and well beyond enough, but not finding any associated validation of the effort. Financial validation at least.

I received a one quarter fellowship, which will pay for my upcoming Fall quarter. But after that? It’s all a mystery. Friends of mine in the same situation did not even get that much, even as they did as much or more, so I certainly don’t feel singled out. But, they also had mentors and others who opened up doors. They’re teaching in the Fall.

So, for me, I did all I had to do and beyond. I spoke at conferences, I got an article published in a decent journal, I have a new book coming out at some point before the end of the year. I wrote a 60 page essay for my class this past quarter, and I figure that because I’ve written a lot with my dissertation topic in mind in other courses, I have about 80 pages of my dissertation written. I’m speaking at a Church History conference in early October and I was invited to contribute an article to a book on Spirits in the World edited by Amos Yong, Kirsteen Kim, and Veli-Matti Karkkainen. I’m contributing to a major online Worship project being developed by Augsberg Fortress Press.

Only because of the rather disheartening non-renewal of my fellowship, and the decided lack of other more palpable areas of participation I am struggling with feeling extremely deflated.

And, being that I live in the city now, my usual tactics for renewal are much more difficult to come by.

I’m attending a church, though “involved in” would be a strong stretch of words, since I really still do not have any idea how to get involved. My attempts at more personal connections seem to fall flat. Everyone is nice, and everyone is very busy. So, I yet again struggle in my spiritual and emotional questions without any mentor. This is the common trend in my life, to be sure. I’ve never had a mentor, other than the writings of great spiritual leaders from centuries past.

But they don’t exactly help open up doors or point out what it means to be a budding theologian in a 21st century post-modern world.

This is the place of my struggle now. There are many people around, but I struggle with being quite bifurcated. My deepest self involves a decided mysticism, a spiritual awareness and pull, that for the sake of participation I seem to need to keep almost always buried and hidden. I make jokes and I offer long sentences of increasingly complex analysis.

But I do not feel rooted with God or his people. And I have no idea how to find a renewed sense of spiritual liveliness, one that does not encompass wandering off into isolation–which has been my path in the past.

Theology, in the West at least, is not a mystical enterprise. It’s mostly about tasks and statements and busyness.

Life with Amy is really nice. I love her and I enjoy her friendship every single day. I am not in the safe situation I was just a few years ago.

I’m in this different place, but being here I find my spiritual self not shriveled as much as shadowed and disguised. I’m much better about looking like I am participating in a world in which I feel a permanent outsider.

An image came to me the other day. When I was younger, working at NewSong, I was spiritually and emotionally volatile. I celebrated and I raged. I leaped into the rushing waters of church life as long as I could, and beaten against rocks I still tried to swim. I discovered new heights of creative contributions and new lows of frustrating negation.

Then it all disappeared. Like Moses after hitting the Egyptian, I fled the life I knew and wandered into the wilderness. I found healing there, profound deep healing, and even wrote a couple of books.

But I haven’t found my way back. I don’t even know if there is a back.

Which leaves me wandering about with this rising spiritual consternation within me, a sadness that wells up when I find a quiet moment, with tears never quite fully forming, but a burgeoning weeping touching the back of my eyes and suggesting a deeply stirred soul that can’t quite find the words or the touch to help find my way out of the caves.

This mystical reality that is my true home–much more than the physical world that I seem to occupy–roused me and stirred me over the course of my life — thrusting me into questions that were too big and answers that were just enough to spur me to see how much more there was to this whole reality. Which then pushed more and more questions.

Which is why I began to study church history and which was why I started seminary. Because I had questions that no one around me could answer, and yet I knew — for the deepest parts of my soul told me — that there were indeed answers to be found.

But now?

I’m in a rut.

Again. Which is the basis of this post. This isn’t the blog where I try to say something interesting or witty or point out the goings on of some trip into nature. This is my soul blog, where I try to sort out what it is that is going on.

Because I have hope.

But I don’t, right now, have any answers to what is plaguing my soul — this deeply disheartened feeling of being untethered to any real community and all my efforts being but chasing after the wind.

So I write a bit, because I want to find a return. A return if not to an explicable lifestyle, then at least to a contented purpose and holistic peace that there is promise awaiting.

I hear music playing…

I haven’t written here in a while. And I haven’t written here regularly for a much longer while.

No real excuses.

I got to the point where documenting my inner state wasn’t opening new insights. I was going in circles as the state of my life remained in the same limbo. I had the freedom of time and a forest of sorts outside.

But never my own real space to let my thoughts wander and explore.

There was always busyness about the house as I lived with my parents during a time of their need and my need intersecting.

There was, all too often, construction of busy neighbors who came to the mountains, it seems, less for the ambience and more for the tinkering, image, or some other hidden trait, forcing their near constant noise outward.

I tried to be a monastic. But a monk, it seems, needs a monastery of either quiet or action. I was in limbo.

Limbo taught a lot. Not a lot about what I thought I needed to learn. Not a lot about theophanies or perichoresis or intimate encounters of prayer. I lost so much of my earnestness, my pursuit of finding prayer spaces, my seeking after seclusion.

But, I learned how to be irritated. Not that this itself needs a lesson. It’s the response to that, responding to other people’s noises and disturbances and inadvertant life that always seems to get in the way of my rhythms.

Everyone is playing a song, and it’s almost always a different song than the one I am playing or trying to listen to. The one I’m trying to listen to is God’s music. That’s the music to dance with. If we can find others who are also listening rather than playing than a real great time can be had.

But that’s rare. And that’s a gift. A great intersection of God’s people in a season of openness.

I’ve not had that for a long, long while. I don’t know how to find that and I’m honestly exhausted trying to find it, force it.

Limbo taught me how to be, however, when things aren’t as I would manage them and how to be when everything that is almost satisfying never quite gets there. A stream of constant frustrations about seeing what I would need and not being able to embrace it, knowing that it would have been an easy fix for God to arrange and manage the circumstances to allow for the communion I sought with him.

He never did. And that led to some bitterness, irritations, loss of caring, loss of the earnest attempts to find the windows in which I could commune with eternity and step out of the limited life that I led, if even for a small moment.

I lost the spiritual drive. I didn’t feel like God cared about reciprocating. I was trying to manage the relationship, through trying to manage what was indeed a strong desire for quiet time, reflection, and all those good things that people say are mandatory for our spiritual developments.

I learned to dance, I suppose. But not too well, and not without too easily giving in to the other tunes that danced in so many directions. I was flappable. Quite flabbable. And that was used against me.

The environment is different now.

I have my own apartment for the first time in 5+ years. I’m married now. I live in Pasadena rather than in the mountains.

I have a heavy school load, not classes but a lot of reading and pressure that comes from trying to do well enough to maintain a yearly renewed scholarship.

The dance hall I used to be in is now different.

But God’s song is the same. And as limbo transitions now into a semblance of a real person’s life, I cannot let go either the drive or the goals that the spiritual call has placed upon me. Now that life has changed I see again the victories and failures of my past season, seeing how I’ve grown and how I’ve remained so strikingly immature in faith and prayer and devotion. I have so much more hope and faith and stability and stillness now. But there remains much more to grow in these as I stretch towards a wholeness that I’ve tasted but am still so far from embracing as my own.

The last few days I’ve been poked by my spiritual life. Now that all the frantic busyness of wedding and moving and new studies have settled down into what seems to be the new reality I’m faced with my self, my God, my God with me and myself with others.

A new reality begins in which I feel drawn to discover the spirituality of this life as it happens, honing my strengths and maybe finding a way past the weaknesses so that I might become a better participant in God’s work and with him in the way that he asks.

Maybe this might even mean a return to regular musings on this page.


January 9, 2008

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