“When thou dost purpose aught, within thy power,
Be sure to do it, though it be but small:
Constancy knits the bones, and makes us stour
When wanton pleasures beckon us to thrall.”
~ George Herbert, Conduct
Routines, habits, and their observation have had their places in these pages. During this season, I'm reminded of distinctions between perfunctory and passion. As children, many of us recall fretting about what I call the haftas and the wannas. This is to say when what has to be accomplished obstructs what is so much more desirable. By adolescence, I'd begun to learn the discipline of attacking the haftas with gusto, looking forward to enjoying the wannas, once I’d successfully reach those hospitable shores. When certain obligations tend to require dragging my will and tail, they may be done according to the usual high standards, notwithstanding a few wreckingball swings through opaque reluctance. Then there are other matters, often more demanding than quotidian obligations, that I regularly seem to find the requisite energy to pursue. Seeking out new ideas and inspiration is essentially congruent to my pilgrimage travels. A search is in progress, and there isn’t a moment to be lost.
When we cannot choose enough details in our adventures, we may at least convert conditions into enlightening experiences. It is exceedingly worthwhile to continue discovering meaning and expression amidst the ephemeral. Intrinsic to the spiritual life is an insistence upon finding what is good in unconducive times. Search for pearls in the desert, and for the worthy in the wastelands. And day after day, the energy to persevere must be found. Recently, I was reminded once more of the benefits found in good company. Early one Saturday morning was a breakfast with one group of friends, and dinner that evening was still another meal with yet another group of friends. Exchanging stories amounted to discoveries of goodness I might not have otherwise noticed. Granted, much of the talk referred to these difficult times and how no end is in sight. Yet we continue and we carry on with cheer. Walking home, I wondered if the cheer is necessarily contingent upon any conditions. The quest for one’s passions may indeed be intensified by adversities. With this in mind, the Lenten journey implies an insistence upon discerning goodness and not permitting the negatory to implant lasting impressions.
The call of the Spirit to the soul is surely not aimless. Inquiry implies discovery. We continue to search because we continue to find, and thus driven onward. Even in my lesser moments, there is nothing more appealing than to aspire and continue. Now I’m remembering the portion of John’s gospel in which many perplexed disciples have drawn back from Christ, unwilling to risk another ounce of trust. Too much looks too frighteningly out of control. At this crossroads, Simon Peter spoke the immortal “to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” As I can only choose to journey onward, in a sense I haven’t a choice. What else could I do, having absorbed the words and the Spirit that speak directly to my condition, even the evidence of things unseen. We search because we’ve discovered, and we find because we’ve been recognized. It is as though one must hope and strive; beyond the precipice there is no choice- turning back has lost its lure. It may appear that we are driving our explorations, but indeed the source is as palpable as it is covert. Perhaps that explains an individual’s relentless quest for their creation, their origins, their purposes.
Though driven forward, the spiritual voyager is somehow both navigator and passenger. And the journey is not reluctantly pursued: surely more wanna than hafta- if anything, a vital gotta. The pursuit of holiness and knowledge ironically evolves into something less self-centered and more outward-looking. The grand voyage becomes a great travel with waystations for appreciation of detailed instances and sweeping landscapes alike. My work as an archivist reminds me that understanding must rely upon context, and that events and observations take shape in a developing succession. Like the search to discover, questions and answers evolve in an organic rotation such that a stumbling soul derives just enough reinforced direction to be able to advance. The desire to proceed and learn might be considered a grace, a gift recognized through an enjoyment of the cultivating continuum. What else could I do, but be grateful for the persistence to discover and the appetite for the light of the Spirit.
Last week, I participated in a pilgrimage gathering in Montréal, as a musician, for the twelfth consecutive year. Between there, here, and many points farther afield, I’ve made countless similar travels over tens of thousands of miles- often in challenging driving conditions, always at my own expenses, and each single time an invigorating joy. The adventures are golden occasions, replete with conviviality and insight. In a discussion, Brother Emile of Taizé spoke about daring to live by a trusting faith, instead of being driven by fearfulness. “Plus profond du mal, il y a la bonté,” he added- meaning that far deeper and more powerful than hardship, there is goodness. He put forth an open sentence that his prior liked to ask: “When we set forth with a trusting heart...” It is a statement for the listener to complete. I pencilled these notes at my music stand, sometimes using the top of my classical guitar as a support. The road home included a visibility-blocking snowstorm. It was not surprising, and I had no regrets- even as I had to slowly drive through the adverse conditions. Perhaps a heart that trusts can become capable of sculpting circumstances into worthwhile adventures. The great challenge is to do so consistently and meaningfully.
The image below is the song list for the Taizé Pilgrimage of Trust, held in Montreal in 2007 (I always write down the music lists in my journal!). This unusally large gathering was broadcast on the radio. The prior, Brother Aloïs of Taizé (France) spoke to all in attendance, as well as Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte (Montréal).