Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Journey of the Spirit

This is a reflection of mine from a few years ago

Every one of us is on a journey. We are all walking on this pilgrimage of life; walking and exploring, and maybe seeking a better path. There are so many seekers in this world, searching, yearning for more love, more community, more meaning, more joy, more purpose in their lives: seeking a better path.

Every year thousands of people go on pilgrimages. Not just orthodox believers either, but quite often spiritual seekers, searchers, explorers going on pilgrimage to look for something. One of the most popular pilgrimages is the one to the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Thousands of pilgrims every year walk for hundreds of miles across the Pyrenees and northern Spain to reach either the cathedral, or the coast. It takes about 40 days, walking all day, mainly alone, sometimes accompanied by other pilgrims, then staying at a hostel at the end of the day.

This is a tough physical and mental challenge. A friend of mine has walked the pilgrimage and she said that the mental side was much tougher than the physical. The physical journey was tough, but the mental journey involved being all alone with your own thoughts day after day, walking through that barren landscape. And yet every year the number of people making this pilgrimage rises. In 1985 there were 690 pilgrims. Do you know how many there were in 2010? 270,000 pilgrims (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Way_of_St._James).

Each of those pilgrims was searching for something more, searching for something worthwhile, searching for a destination worth heading for, searching for a journey worth undertaking: the inner journey of the spirit.

There is a great story about Nasrudin searching for the lost jewel. The story is that Nasrudin was on his hands and knees in the street outside his house carefully searching the ground. A friend of Nasrudin approached and asked him what he was up to, and Nasrudin said, “I’m looking for the diamond that fell out of my ring.” His friend began to help, until a neighbour approached and asked them what they were looking for. Nasrudin’s friend explained the situation, so the neighbour began to search too. Then a few more people arrived, then a few more, until there were a dozen people, all on their hands and knees, carefully searching for that glint of light in the dirt that could be a diamond.

Eventually one of the searchers said to Nasrudin, “Tell us, exactly where were you when the diamond fell out?” Nasrudin replied, “I was in the kitchen of my house.”
“What?” replied the helpful neighbour, indignant, “If you lost the diamond in your kitchen, what are we all doing out here in the street searching?”
“Ah,” said Nasrudin, “Because there’s more light out here.”

We are all searching, but we’re not always searching in right places. As liberals we can come out with things like, “All paths are valid,” “Whatever journey you’re on, that’s fine,” “It’s all just different paths up the same mountain.” Well maybe, but does that mean that there are no paths that lead down the mountain? Does that mean that there are no paths that lead in the wrong direction? That there are no ways to live your life that are at best unfulfilling or at worst dangerous? Does that mean it’s OK to search for the lost jewel in the street when you lost it in the kitchen?

We search in the street because there’s more light, because it seems easier to us, it seems like the best place to search. But you’re never going to find the diamond in the street if you lost it in the kitchen. And there are plenty of places you’re not going to find that deeper meaning and purpose to life. I used to think that there are many paths to the Divine, but increasingly now I think there is only one; it’s just called by many different names. But there are many paths away from the Divine. There are many paths that will get us nowhere.

You see, everyone has a path, everyone has faith. Everyone has a direction in which they point their lives, and we could call that their faith. If you don’t like the word “faith,” try the word “trust.” Everyone has something that they put their ultimate trust in. It might be what they claim it is, or it might not be. It might be money, family, alcohol, fame, nation, career, romance, religion or political ideology.

Everyone has faith in something. The question is: is this a good thing to put my faith in? Will this lead my life in a good direction? Am I on the right journey? Some of those things may not be bad per se, but if they are the things you put your ultimate faith in, then you may end up disappointed.

Ralph Waldo Emerson put it well, “A person will worship something – have no doubt about that... That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”

What we are worshipping, we are becoming. We become the journey that we’re travelling. We all worship something, we are all journeying on a particular path, but we need to ask the question: is this a path that is going to get me somewhere worthwhile?

Lots of people ask this question: is there more to life than getting a job, paying your taxes, and watching telly? Is there something more trustworthy? Is there something more meaningful? Is there a deeper joy? Is there a better path? Is there something worth searching for? Is there a journey worth undertaking?

I believe there is. It is the journey of the spirit. That path of the spirit is not a doctrine, not a belief; it’s a way of being, it’s a way of life. It means an intimate relationship with the Holy. It means slowing down and making time for prayer. It means opening your heart to love. It means connecting, not being cut off from the world in a shell but really connecting with people, with the planet, with your God. It means living a life of compassion, joy, generosity, and service to the world.

Now you might want a more detailed description, but the fact is the spiritual path resists any tight description placed upon it, because if you define it too tightly it becomes a kind of idol. Even in religion and spirituality that are many misleading paths. One of the worst is to think you’re already at the destination. You can think you’ve got it all: all the truth, all of the Divine. But if you think you’ve arrived, then you’re definitely lost.

The spiritual journey is a journey. And while we’re still breathing we’re still on the journey. Every single one of us, whoever we are, whatever age we are, we’re all still on that journey.

I'm interested in developing a place where we can deepen our spiritual journeys through worship, prayer, and service; and to share our spiritual journeys with one another, because the pilgrimage is much more fun in a group of fellow pilgrims. My purpose is to invite others onto the spiritual journey. My purpose is to inspire others to undertake their own journeys.

We can’t force people onto their spiritual journeys. Every person has to find their own spiritual journey. As Kahlil Gibran says in his wonderful book The Prophet: the Teacher cannot give you their wisdom, but can only give you their love, and lead you to your own wisdom. You cannot offer the spirit to anyone. You can only love them, and inspire them to find the spirit themselves; inspiring people to look within themselves, and start their own journey.

And I’m not saying my way is the only way to live out that spiritual journey. If people can find that life-giving spiritual sustenance elsewhere, good luck to them. But there are plenty that can’t. I tried for years to be an Anglican, I couldn’t do it. The words stuck in my throat and got in the way of my spiritual journey. I believe there are plenty of people like that out there - people who long for deep and life-giving religion, but find the form of religion generally on offer too restrictive. I dream of a church that offers an open-hearted, open-minded spiritual community that welcomes people with their individual gifts, their doubts, beliefs, their bodies, and their loves. That is the journey of the spirit.

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