Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Page 2 of 56

lessons

I’ve come to realize one of the hardest lessons for the spiritual life isn’t about the internal state nor is it even directly related to our perception of God. The hardest lesson of the spiritual life has to do with that oft source of frustration — other people. It’s hard because we’re always around people, and it’s hard because this is the area of life in which life with the Spirit goes so much against our natural inclinations that it requires a constant and steady work of the Spirit in order to keep us in line with Christ.

What are our natural inclinations? We want to control people. We want to judge people. We want to rate people. We want something from people. We have expectations of people. We have demands. We have desires. We want people to make sense. We want them to agree with us. We think God should be doing the same thing in other people that he is doing in us. We want respect. In short, there’s a quality in which we want to be a little god to other people, God’s own representative so that we can manage people to be the way they should be. Even if there’s only a few Mugabes and Pol Pots in history, we’ve all a bit of the tyrant in us. Which is expressed in anger, or depression, or a maybe, if we’re really trying hard, just a mild form of irritation. We get out of sorts.

And yet, Paul wrote in Philippians 2:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!

We are not called to be little gods, but rather to follow the lead of Christ in letting go our insistence on our supposed dues and becoming a servant.

Servant is an overused word in Christian culture. Everyone wants to be a leader, everyone wants to be a servant. We all want to be the kind of servants who get to tell other people how and when we will serve them, lording over them with our service. But, Jesus, though Lord, didn’t lord over anyone. He didn’t assert his authority but did something else.

He remained open to people. And that is one of the most profound spiritual acts a person can do. Why? Because people hurt, insult, fight, ignore, crush, use, abuse, dismiss. People have mixed motives. They fail. They have different goals and different hopes and different expectations. They might not share our feelings, or our yearnings, or our dreams. People can be fickle. They can be flighty. They can be ignorant. Indeed, God might even just be talking to those other people as much as he is talking to us, and what he is saying to them isn’t the same.

In the face of this, where other people for whatever reason don’t match up us, it is extremely natural to let the ego have its way. The ego is that part of us that defends our supposed identity. It provokes anger and frustration when people don’t match what we want them to match. It stirs up jealousy and fear and provokes us to go on the attack, rejecting or denying another before they get the chance to do anything to us.

And so in the face of natural inclination we have to be thoroughly unnatural. We have to risk being hurt. We have to enter into interactions in which there is a possibility for heartache. We have to set aside our ego’s attempt to defend our innermost self, and let our innermost self face the brunt force of other people’s egos. We have to trust. We have to help. We have to give. We have to love. Even when this might not return to us. Even when our being open might deliver to us sadness, or hurt, or emptiness.

That is Jesus on the cross. That is our call, to carry the cross, not the cross of our own sinfulness or our own faults, we have to carry the cross that others build. In remaining open, even and especially in the face of potential hurt, we become conduits of the Spirit to move within a situation, taking hold of faith’s promises rather than our ego’s fears.

This is, frankly, humanly impossible. Which is why I think of this as being one of the more advanced spiritual lessons. Learn this and there is nothing anyone can do to removed us from God’s presence, nor are we battered by the fierce storms of others. This is the love of the martyr for their persecutor and the love of Jesus for all of us. It is the openness of love, that transcends our ego and places us within the community of the Spirit who seeks the wholeness of all people.

That sounds nice theologically. Practically? It means getting the heart crushed and broken but still not crawling into a shell. It means understanding when someone else is hearing from God and that means a limitation or a separation or a silence, while still praying for their best and knowing that they are walking with God. It means listening to those in pain, and offering assistance to those who hurt when there’s not a bit of chance they offer anything in return. It means being a friend and risking unshared feelings, doing the part God asks. It means letting go of the often right perceptions of slights and insults and dismissals, washing the past from all regrets and ill will. It means acknowledging all the hurts that have been caused, understanding these as being real and true, but not letting any of this guide future actions. Bless those who curse. Honor those who insult. Make peace with those who yearn for war. Turn the other cheek.

This isn’t an exhortation for national policy, this is how I am supposed to live as a disciple of Jesus. I have to remain open to people, even and especially after being hurt, knowing I probably will be hurt, and while being hurt. I have to let even that go for the sake of Christ, always seeing others as Jesus sees them, and hopes for them, and yearns for them. The Jesus who welcomed the denying Peter back into the fold is the model for my own personal interactions.

And God has been teaching me this lesson, certainly through my life, more explicitly over the last year.

But sometimes it’s too hard. Sometimes I close off. In the absence of palpable sources of renewal sometimes I lose heart, and hope, and so struggle to maintain my openness. Sometimes it’s too hard. That’s not a sign of someone else. That’s a reminder of my own immaturity.

Tonight I see the ways in which I have remained open in the face of potential hurt. And I see the ways I have remained open in the face of recent hurts, knowing friendships served purposes even as they took part of my soul with them. And I see the ways in which I couldn’t sustain it and lost my perspective, lost my openness and likely contributed to hurt, and the hardening of other egos.

I pray that I do more of the former and less of the latter, taking on hurt so as to help be a beacon of peace and openness to others.

I think at that point I will truly see Jesus, for I will have finally grasped his attitude.

morning

Early in the morning light a chipmunk decided to walk down the stares, pausing every few steps, watching, listening. A jay visited, for only a brief moment. I was up early again, the first time in a long while, before the sun even hinted at a rise, the calm of the predawn hours a balm to my active soul.

I woke up wanting to read, wanting to read ancient texts. So I did, for a while, slowly sloughing off the dross of the last couple of weeks, my mind feeling like returning to more fruitful fields.

There is a peculiar sense in my soul I have passed yet another marker, a stage in which some of the old is left behind. I stumble around still, but find myself more ready to plunge forward, less interested in that which distracts and more in what fills. This is peculiar because the outward aspects of my life don’t necessarily reveal this inner sense. Many, manifold, are those who more readily show a life pointed towards the eternal. Yet within… that is the measure God takes of us, his concern is not for our actions, desiring we rather spend all our lives within a single room, unproductive, then go out and do wonderful works at the cost of our soul.

We mark this life by what we do, who we know, how much influence we can assert over others, over ourselves. God only cares about our heart and how it increasingly reflects his presence. That is a key aspect of shifting our perception to the eternal. What we do becomes a distant second to who we are, knowing that only if we are of God will what we do be of God. Wesley paraphrased, “First God works, then we can work. First God works, then we must work.” God works within, transforming us entirely, to the point where we don’t have to convince ourselves of doing what is right, we don’t have to wrestle with the ethical questions or try and arouse a passion within, instead as Paul said, we can’t not do what is of the Spirit. The goal isn’t the activity, it is the becoming of people who instinctively act in accord with the fluid Spirit, letting our lives and prayers join in a dance together, our worship arising from our being in resonance with the Three-In-One.

For now, though, the dance is awkward, the steps are confusing, the rhythm difficult to master.

This morning it seems, however, like I’ve stepped to a new stage, one I can’t define any better than I could define the previous. I only hope it’s not a remedial class. I’m eager to learn new lessons, though I’m not confident I have yet mastered the old.

Either all of this, or some measure of regained focus feels like I have waded through a rushing stream and am dripping clean.

hot

It’s now 85 degrees in the house. I realized a few years back that it’s at 85 degrees that my brain stops working. It’s not that I’m bothered, or frustrated, or otherwise put off by the heat. It’s just that as I try to do something I realize the brain isn’t working, and consistently that happens at 85 degress.

Of course then I get bothered, frustrated and otherwise put off by the heat.

So, there it is.

Spirituality and weather do in fact go together.

nearing Summer

I’m fairly certain I’ve lost some friends this past couple of months. Now, in the past I’ve had that happened and I’ve lamented the decisions I’ve made. Well, not much lamented the decisions as lamented the fact that I really thought that God was leading me towards making those decisions and lamented the fact that some people aren’t good about dealing with people they find inexplicable. They didn’t agree or understand, and drifted off.

Now, though, I realize I made decisions and if I’ve lost friends over it it’s entirely my own fault. As I wonder about this I wonder both about what to do and I wonder about the inner workings of my own soul that led to this unfortunate state. Now that I’m starting to feel more open again I’m feeling it a lot more heavy. Which is basically the one negative aspect to my decidedly more cheery state of late.

It is often thought that the spiritual quest is one of finding out our callings, or our goals, or our focus, or otherwise those enriching points of interaction between God and our lives, so that we can set aside the frustrations of mundane life and move onwards to the higher planes of fruitful existence.

Only, from what I can tell, while that’s a part that’s not nearly the whole of spiritual progression, especially at its more mature phases.

Finding a calling or purpose or focus is all well and good. Gives a bit of hope and purpose to what might otherwise be long seasons of slogging.

But, the more mature phases, from what I can tell, involve already knowing the calling then sloughing off those inner realities that hamper and restrain. Which means we go from rejoicing in being saved by Grace so that we can learn who we really are, to being propelled by grace to overcome those issues and tendencies which are not part of who we really are. God teaches and we reach, straining because of the grace and light of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, but straining still because, you know, those parts that aren’t who we are really seem like they are ever so precious to who we thought we were.

It gets complicated. But, it’s the way of wholeness, stillness, and peace.

More later.

Back to it

For a while I had a blog called Morning and Evening. This was more about my personal inner life, a place where for a little while at least I posted in the morning and in the evening, journaling my thoughts on the spiritual life. That regularity fell off a good time ago. Still, I kept going sporadically, moving to doing more of a pictorial interpretation last year. Pictures, I thought, were an interesting way of looking in when my mind seemed unable to wrap around the right words.

Well, I moved webhosts earlier this year. Part of the reason for that was the servers at my last host were a mess. Constant problems. My databases were affected again and again, so I moved to a new host, siteground. Love it in the new habitat. However, even though I somehow managed to get all the information moved over, something happened with my morning and evening blog. I couldn’t log into it. All the admin stuff was totally lost. I could keep it up but I couldn’t add to it. When it started to get spammed a lot I couldn’t do anything so I took down the blog.

Now, however, I’m getting a bit of a drive to get back to this online journaling. I’m also thinking I need a place to gather assorted writings and thoughts on the spiritual life that make it to various other forums or sites. So, Learning to Dance is born. No commitment other than to be a renewed spot of my thoughts.

And, I’ve saved the posts of Morning and Evening, adding them to this page. Now it’s a lot more complete, updated, and more fitting to my purposes.

What got me thinking about doing this again? It was the fact that the online journaling I did over at Barclay Press was so helpful.

I’m going to also get my old morning and evening posts up, from the first full year I did them, which weren’t in a blog format, but just updated separate pages. Those were the beginning of the dance for me, in a way.

If you want to skip to my earlier writings, that went up to about September 2005. Wow, it has been a while since I mused properly.

Enjoy.

the worth of words

Most of the stuff for the last year before this has been my attempts to understand myself through the all too occasional artistic attempt. If you’re interested in tracking the words I’ve written about such stuff, you’ll pretty much have to wander back to September 2005 and everything before that.

hope

hope

morning

mourning

evening

show

morning

thoughts

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