The art of staying awake...

We must never stop dreaming. Dreams provide nourishment for the soul, just as a meal does for the body.
— Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage

Fellow pilgrims, here we are again. I’m intrigued, what roads have you walked since I last wrote to you? What beauty have you seen? What has moved and stirred your soul?

I recently came home from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, it was a deeply moving experience for a number of reasons. The spiritual significance of those dusty roads, those ancient walls and the expansive horizons served as a constant reminder that we are all part of a much bigger human story. Countless men and woman have gone before us (Hebrews 12:1), pioneering new ways of seeing the world and the divine mystery, hiding in plain sight. Many have suffered and served with their lives for the sake of a spiritual heritage, a mystical inheritance that we so often take for granted. Throughout the pilgrimage I found myself asking the same question, over and over again.

“How does my life seek to serve the generations to come”?

I suppose there is a humming in my heart to be involved in a work that inspires future generations to keep on seeking. So much of what we have today is the result of lives that chose to live with intentionality and conviction, isn’t it possible that we could do the same for our chikdren’s children?

In these days, faced with the endless distractions and idle infatuations, we must discover the disciplines that keep us awake to the beauty, the truth and the stories, buried deeper than the shallow waters in which we so often wade.I’m convinced this begins with waking up. It’s so easy to fall asleep, to lose interest in the moment and appetite for the significant. When I arrived in Jerusalem, I was aware of the “great dullness” in my soul. I know it’s there when I feel numb and indifferent towards people, places and possibilities that would have once lead me to rejoice and relish in the moment. I have various practices that I engage to help move me from this place (all of which I’m happy to share sometime) but I’ve never been so awakened as I was during my first afternoon in the Holy Land. A dear friend of mine, Yosef, kindly invited me to share in a weekly rhythm to mark the end of the week and the beginning of Sabbath.

We hiked along the dusty mountain trails, overlooking the golden city, underneath the scorching middle eastern sun until we came across a cave, naturally carved in the rock face. There, Yosef explained to me the Jewish practice of The Mikveh (Hebrew: מִקְוֶה). For thousands of years, men and woman have submerged themselves in a natural spring (or a well of naturally occurring water), fully submitting their bodies beneath the water, dipping seven times as a ritual of cleansing and purification. So we did it. We stripped off, scrambled into the pool at the base of the cave, (made up of collected rain water), we prayed and then submerged our selves in an ancient practice. It was transformative. Now this isn’t the first time I’ve jumped into a body of water but the intentionality, along with the refreshment, felt like a replenishing for both my soul and skin. I felt alive again, awake again.

Perhaps this is an image we can use. Are we not all Pilgrims walking dusty roads? Doesn’t it so often seem that each path is the same as the one before? Do not our days merge into one and our expectation for wonder slowly numb? My hope is that as we travel, we might infuse into our rhythms, practices that wake our bodies and souls, reminding us that we are not simply walking tiresome terrain but in fact, we are carving out the pathways for generations to come.

Since arriving home I have committed to two daily disciplines, helping to evoke the essence of Mikveh each morning:

  1. I do not look at my phone before the working day begins (9am). The reason is that I believe we should first discover our original thoughts, feelings and responses towards the new day, before simply scrolling through the experiences of others.

  2. I have been taking a cold shower each morning. When I say cold, I mean cold. This has been an amazing and terrifying experience. I wanted to capture what I felt being submerged in the cold water and in doing so have discovered the numerous health benefits (read more) in doing so. The feeling of victory, of facing something uncomfortable and overcoming, is a powerful tool for staying awake and expectant

My prayer for you, fellow Pilgrims is that you may walk off the beaten paths this week and find the setting that might stir your soul to seek for more

Joshua Luke SmithComment