Doubts, dreams and the in-between space

The only cure for the modern angst of man.. is mystery

Thomas MertonMy fellow pilgrims, some thoughts on doubts, dreams and the in-between spaces…

When I first began to think of life’s journey as a Pilgrimage; an opportunity to express devotion and find oneself caught up in unexpected moments of wonder and joy, I felt an immediate sense of release. I realised so much of the way I had built my life was with an intense focus upon achieving. I had clear, (though sometimes quite subconscious), goals and agendas that penetrated my creativity, spirituality and relationships. I had a list of dreams that I had hoped to tick off on my terms and in timing, alas, that wasn’t to be. See, to live the way of Pilgrimage is to let go of where you’re going to full inhabit the now. That doesn’t mean our destination isn’t important, the very purpose of a pilgrimage is to journey towards a sacred space, it is simply to recognise that the destination won’t give you something you don’t already have. The walk awakes the soul to what it carries.

Moments before sitting down to write these thoughts, I checked my wife and I in for our flight to America tomorrow. I love checking in, it feels like the beginning of the trip and I love travelling, it gives me those excited little butterflies like I used to have as a child, as we’d load up the car before going on holiday. I also relish in having the opportunity to choose our seats, because (like most of you, I’m sure) I have a particular place on the plane I like to sit. Kara (my wife) likes the window (she’s an enneagram #4 so spends much of the flight gazing out) whilst I love having the aisle so I have the option of climbing out when I want to escape and see what other adventures might be happening on board (classic enneagram #7). Also, we usually find no one sits in between us, so we have the extra seat to our selves!

Anyway, having that little bit of control over where I sit is comforting but it also touches on something deeper. What happens when it doesn’t work out? When I have to sit in the middle, between two people fast asleep and my ability to have the flight on my terms is dissipated? Am I frustrated? Usually. Do I feel like a victim? For some reason, yes. Do I become someone I’d rather not own up to being? Most probably.

The way of pilgrimage teaches me that who I am on the plane is who I am going to be when I land.

Part of the reason I love to travel is rooted in the fantasy that when I get “over there” I’ll be someone other than who I am “right here”. It’s a haunting realisation but it’s incredibly liberating at the same time. Where we are going isn’t going to change us, it’s how we choose to get there that does. The way of pilgrimage teaches me that who I am on the plane is who I am going to be when I land.

The teaching of Jesus is rooted in death and rebirth, an invitation to die every day so we can taste more of heaven each morning (Matt 16:24). We die every time we surrender control and embrace the reality of what is. That looks like sitting in the middle seat, smiling. Not a passive smile to hide the internal rage, but the outward expression of a deep and fought for gratitude, because we’d rather be where we are, with all it’s imperfections, then suffering in being where we’re not.

We are pilgrims, we walk long, tortuous and tiresome journeys, facing our own limitations every day, coming to the end of ourselves and perfected facades. We’re looking for the good stuff. The kind of spirituality that keeps you up all night, wrestling with the God who made you. If it was easy, we’d bottle and sell it (and we’ve tried) but nothing is more satisfying then that which has been fought for. A relationship that takes work, brave conversations and risk and risk and risk again. A job that rejected you, but after night college and volunteering, you now start on Monday. A health scare that taught you to love yourself and treat your body with the respect it deserves.

The pilgrim asks questions and isn’t satisfied with shallow answers. We know that to sit in the middle seat, time and time again, we need more than twitter feeds to nourish our souls. We need holy ground, hear and now. We came to make the cursed spaces sacred places and that requires a joy that sees everything, yes everything. The hardship and brutality, the hope and the beauty and with outstretched arms says boldly “we’ll take it all”.

It’s okay to have questions. It’s okay to have doubts about ideas and structures you were once certain of. Faith isn’t built upon pillars of certainty but mystery. What keeps us devoted to a person or idea is the adventure. It’s in the invitation that’s more to search out, discover and explore. The danger is remaining static. So often in faith traditions, the “doubter” is vilified, yet to become truly enlightened is to become like a child (Matt 18). The average four year old asked 450 questions a day, why? Because they are curious. They see still wonder in small things. Asking questions reveals you’re alive, you’re still in the game, interested and not ready to settle.

It’s also okay to have conviction, red hot faith and absolute, unwavering hope. It’s okay to choose to trust and risk it all because you believe it’s worth it. It’s okay decide to follow something you’re willing to be wrong about because you know it empowers, challenges and encourages you to love yourself and those around you in a way you never would have.

I want to grow older in wonder, not cynicism and I know the only way I can do that is creating healthy space for my faith and doubt to coexist. They are not enemies, they are dance partners. To be able to ask questions when I’m not satisfied with answers that used to soothe and ALSO learn to remain silent when it’s time to let go, trust and allow what is loftier then I am, to have the last word.

So, wherever you find yourself, whether it is the place you had hoped for, or the awkward in between, take joy in knowing, it is the same you who fills each moment. With that being so, you have everything you need. Lean in, smile, let go, ask the person next to you, (who’s shoulder is rubbing yours), where they're going, for they, whether they know it or not, may just be a pilgrim too.

Joshua Luke Smith