Friday, January 25, 2008


"You want to follow Christ, and not look back:
remember that as you walk in his footsteps,
you will be irresistibly drawn to share,
and to a great simplicity of life."

~ Brother Roger of Taizé, No Greater Love

Whether we may be consciously aware, or only subtly, we may surely witness one another’s progress along the great voyage we are presently traveling. As with the writing process, the active life is interspersed with gathering times of recollection. The passage of time provides landmarks for our observances, and reflection may be prompted along our own lives’ calendars, or when transitions of seasons surprise us in our steps. Of course we all want to know we are making progress, and naturally thirst to be acknowledged. Just the other day at work we were talking about cherished old friends, and I heard myself say that my longest-standing friends and I can talk from the context of having seen many years of life on shared ground. The pilgrimage of friendship is not quite as linear as it may appear: we move toward our kindred souls while moving together in a much larger and subtler continuum. Some of this progress is apparent to me, in retrospect. But rather than to appropriate too much abstraction, consider what we mean when we say we are advancing on our way. For me, it is to say that I have learned and applied new themes, based upon my life’s diverse experiences. In that sense, my adventures- the major and unspectacular ones alike- have been converted into a type of currency that brings me further along in my comprehension of living the vocation that combines friendship, community, creativity, and trust. These and other related means will vary, but they each have in common an aspiration for holiness. Grand and lofty goals often embarked upon by the humblest steps. Noticing the passing of time and even of physical distance provides the opportunity to acknowledge how far I’ve advanced on this grand voyage. Indeed, I had long ago left the schoolyard, figuratively and physically, but was not fully cognizant of that difference until years later. Defeats and setbacks can clear away and become realizations. Perhaps I had been aware of the distance traveled, at the point in which I had clearly grown tired and burdened with the prospect of repeating exhausted old patterns and long-expired perspectives and indignations.

Moving forward is essential, especially as we aspire to learn and grow our perceptive abilities with our days. There is no standing still; no stagnating. Paradoxically, that would also mean there must not be fear of stagnation, either- in small steps and large strides alike. As well, the way forward is impatient, but demands all our forbearance. And the rate of travel is unpredictable. Those sparing increments may be all we are capable of spanning, in especially trying times. Then there are brave jumps to new levels which we can somehow providentially make. And, just as with any creative pursuit, those leaps and courageous changes are made because they are both necessary and possible. Moving to a new place, or to a different employment, or finding new social circles, or a newly found perspective, or even the discovery of a rarified hope that calls for the entirety of ones being. Slow and wintry processions break into sprints of springtime. In marvelously unspoken and intuitive calculations, we make our bold jumps into the charged air before us, when we recognize enough to justify the leap. Our activated hopes launch us into new spheres of our journey, even into deeper expressions of trust. For our careful and preparatory steps to come to fruition, we must invariably carry out the sort of movement which commits the entirety of our selves. Would we settle for only a fourth of our dreams fulfilled? Whether our circumstances corner us into making changes, or that we arrive at critical crossroads through our own steady progress, the desire to move onward is stronger than any hesitation about consequence.

Pressing onward also means departure from what is past. Amidst the healthy upheaval of forward-motion and transcending the past, comes the determination not to look back. When I have set forth in faith, it’s also occurred to me as to how much stock I’d put into seeking security in routines. But with the ground set into motion, my sense of God’s Spirit reaching from within resumes as the stabilizing beacon through clouds of unknowing. And if the closest thing to a rite-of-passage is a passing reference of written thoughts, at least there are reinforcing confirmations to say the setting-forth in faith was worthwhile. The fluidity of renewal outweighs inertia. Often this is realized in retrospect. With more of these bold and conscientious steps, we can see how what had appeared impossible, becomes attainable. Referring back to our own chronicled stories can remind us of the distances we’ve already covered- and that we are reaching ahead, with hope, to still more meaningful things. In similar spirit, the everyday ancient Hebrew devotion of giving thanks for the exodus from Egypt came to mind when, on a sojourn in Taizé, I heard Brother Roger say, "take what little portions you can understand of the gospel, and apply them." Our adventures help provide perspective, but staring back at the past demands too much of the present, and can derail what can guide us onward. So many remembrances are indeed dear and attest to faithfulness, but memory’s powerful pull presents a challenge to be tempered. A two-edged sword; is it good to remember so strongly? Of course, it is for each of us to determine what we leave behind, and what goes with us, when we move forward in the pilgrimage of trust. We can hold on to a few treasures as we jump, however more material only weighs us down. There are metaphorical artifacts that come with us, without our realizing it, reminiscent of the ways I have to bail my backpack during a long trip. But conversely, there are experiences and anecdotes which are very deliberately committed to memory and carefully preserved.

Pressing onward, with hopes that transcend fears, navigates through the mysteries of living an open-ended pilgrimage. As we set forth, the details are not always known to us- yet we go. At times, our closest accompaniment is our own voice. Leaping forward is a dedication. It’s fully placing oneself into a movement in a specific and committed direction. We are investing our energies and focus, and as we make the jumps, our confidence exceeds our comprehension of any subsequent setbacks. But, truly, the very nature of faith rests in the prospect that we needn’t know all the details- and thankfully cannot know- but are able to propel ourselves with just enough of a glimpse of promise. With the ancient expression, "seeing momentarily through a glass, darkly," there is a reminder that we are only now learning to perceive. And with the Apostle Paul’s "but later we shall know even as we are known," I will fully recognize even as I am completely recognized. When we are our truest selves, we can best recognize God- and be recognized and reconciled by God. In an observation of his own book "Til We Have Faces," C.S. Lewis asserted that we cannot meet the Divine face-to-face, until we can reveal our own face:

"A human being must become real before it can expect to receive any message from the superhuman; that is, it must be speaking with its own voice (not one of its borrowed voices), expressing its actual desires (not what it imagines it desires),
being for good or ill itself, not any mask, veil, or persona."

And perhaps, a corollary, in the advance onward to an unfolding faith, is the hope to better recognize the better portions of past and present, through experience and understanding.

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