Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Category: musing (page 1 of 10)


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.













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