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The Sacred Journey

August 6, 2018

As far as I know, only humans tell stories. I suppose we tell stories to create order, to make sense of a world that is a stream of random experiences, to find meaning in a life that is otherwise without meaning.

Our stories follow fairly predictable patterns that I assume must lie deep in our psyches. Each pattern is an archetypal story. One of those patterns or archetypal stories is The Journey. It must be one of our most important stories because it has been there from the beginning and can be found everywhere and at all times. The earliest surviving great work of literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh, is a journey. The ancient Greeks also had a favorite journey story: The Odyssey.

Why are journey stories so important? Because the journey is a metaphor for each of our lives. We are not static beings who stay the same; we are always changing, developing, learning, growing–or devolving and dying. Even if our daily lives seem to be routine and repetitious, something is always going on within us. We are either withering or putting out new buds, but we are never simply staying unchanged.

So our lives can be compared to going on a journey. But where are we going? What will we learn and do on the way?

At the beginning of our journey we seek such things as security, belonging, building a reputation, and having “experiences.” These experiences make us more cosmopolitan (part of our reputation), but experiences for the sake of experiences do not make us wiser. It is popular in our culture to talk about having a bucket list: a list of things to see or do before one dies. As a result of such lists, the travel industry has taken off. But I question whether we’re actually getting anywhere on our journey by pursuing travel or experiences for their own sake.

The real journey, it seems to me, is within. It is coming to terms with our fears and our faults. It is a journey that surprises us with the unexpected, and often requires a response opposite of what we had been doing before. Joseph Campbell, the famous expositor of world mythology, says: “We have only to follow the thread of the hero path. Where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outwards, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”

It is not coincidental that the Bible is a journey story. The main plot starts with God calling Abraham, in his old age, to leave everything behind and make a journey into the unknown. That journey takes on additional urgency and pathos when God calls Moses to lead the Hebrews out of slavery, through the wilderness, to a promised land. In a sense, that journey has never ended; we are still making our way through the wilderness. In the Gospel of Mark the journey intensifies. Jesus’ first words to individuals are, “Follow me.” No one who wishes to hold on to possessions or the past is fit to join his journey.

But where is this journey going? To the greatest discovery and destination of all: Those who seek to gain their lives will lose their lives, but those who willingly lose their lives will find their lives.

The journey is not ultimately about safety or reputation or entertainment or trying to gain immortality; it is about laying down one’s life, living in self-giving love and trusting the One who stands behind it all.

Whether you realize it or not, you are on a journey, a sacred journey. You can be a tourist or a pilgrim. You can be observing, snapping photos, or you can be engaging, taking off your sandals on this sacred ground and beginning a process of self-denial. Grow beyond your fears and your faults (without necessarily losing them; perhaps even embracing them).

Because you are human, you cannot help but seek meaning and make meaning. That is your purpose.

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