Image: Lili Popper on Unsplash
I have found the metaphor of journeying really helpful. I like the journey of my life. I love the fact that I am on a journey with God and even if things go up and down and are sometimes beautiful and sometimes a hard slog, in the end, everything has meaning.
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40 (the verses at the end of the chapter
In my twenties, I walked the Pennine Way - which is pretty long - carrying everything needed for camping and walking. Psychologically, I pretty much grounded myself in these verses and trusted God literally to keep renewing my strength when my feet were hurting and I felt that carrying on was asking rather a lot. Since then, the journey metaphor has continued to be very meaningful. I often think back to that time.
By contrast, earlier in my Christian life, most stories were about becoming something different. Either a previous becoming or one that needed to happen. People told stories about how their life was a mess and then they met Jesus and now it wasn't. Sermons often consisted of telling us how we weren't what we should be, but if we followed the instructions provided (about sharing our faith or praying properly or not being trapped by some sin or other) or if we repented and came to the front and decided to be different and let someone pray for us, we could be changed. Christians told stories about moments when they had changed for the better.
The things about these stories is that they tend to negate the journey that has occurred so far. They move us towards a view of the world which is black and white. When in fact, it's a bit more nuanced than that.
The great thing about the idea of the journey is that it brings us back to now. Pilgrimage is far less about the destination than the travelling. Though you sort of need a destination in mind in order to do some travelling. When you're on a long walk, you can't avoid the hill that's in front of you. You can think about where you're going. You can reflect on where you've been. Both of those things are good and helpful. But you still have to walk the bit you're on at the moment.
There is a temptation, on a journey, to forget to look at the scenery now, because you're so focused on the end destination. A bit like when you embark on reading the Bible in a year and end up not really focusing on it properly, because you're so determined to read as much as you said you would. So you still need to choose to focus on the present moment. But it's pretty unavoidable.
When we were reflecting together about journeying, we discussed the fact that the journeying doesn't always need to adhere to the destination we intended in order for it to be valuable. Sometimes you need the journey, the stepping away from where you are now, for example, in order to grow or to learn something. The conversation that wouldn't happen if you stayed put. Sometimes you don't need to go far. You just need to step away from where you are. Perhaps that's where the idea of the quiet time comes from. Sometimes you do need a longer journey. The journey of the prodigal son who needed to go away in order to come home. You could say that his journey was pointless, that he need never have gone. But he was searching for something and needed to leave in order to understand that he already had it. The prodigal son who found what he sought back at home will have been a different man to the one who left.
We noticed that the characters in the story of the Good Samaritan had a destination and an intention so strongly in mind that they failed to do the important thing of caring for someone who needed it now. We need to have the freedom to change our minds about where we're heading.
We also spoke about the courage needed often to take the next step in the journey. There are some poems about this below. Taking the courageous step (or even just the steady journeying) enables us to grow. Maybe it's the growing that we do as we journey that's the main point.
I have frequently sat in sermons where everyone is being berated for having relaxed and become comfortable. But I would like to take a moment to celebrate the comfort zone. Because often our current comfort zone is only there because we've grown. Because at some point in the past we have taken risks, stepped outside of ourselves and grown. The reason we are comfortable now is because we've been courageous. Our current comfort is the legacy of past courage and adventure. So while we don't want to be complacent and stop growing, let's not berate ourselves for being comfortable now. Let's celebrate what brought us here. And we can choose to adventure in new ways if we want. Building on our past bravery. And taking the brave step is far easier if we have a destination in mind. A reason for doing it.
Some poems and a song:
There is freedom
waiting for you,
on the breezes
of the sky
and you ask
“What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling
what if you fly?
The Journey by Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.
At the edge
Its scary and breathtaking at the edge of your life
Just you, the edge and the vast unknown
The echoing down the valley of your heart
the constant call to trust
Yet how quickly that edge becomes a settled place without an echo,
a niche to line and re-align till you feel satisfied,
lulled into complacency by the now safe edge
till your peace is undermined by a new awareness
out beyond the edge of who you have become
by Noel Powis
And finally - a song