Ever since the beginning of Lent back in March, I have been studying the writings of spiritual teachers and mystics, contemporary to ancient. I have been accompanied by other pilgrims through an internet forum and through email. Since Easter, most of the original group has lost interest, leaving about 5 or 6 of us. The conversations have deepened and become more personal as we get to know each other.
This small group of us bring together varied spiritual backgrounds and life experiences and have shared where our understandings come from…books, doctrine, speakers, ancient texts, holy scripture,… As I learn from my friends, I naturally expand my interest to include their suggested ‘teachers.’ Then, as one writer recommends another, I have expanded the margins of my interest beyond my own spiritual heritage. I now find myself walking my spiritual path carrying about 12 books and as many websites.
I am a follower of Jesus, a true Christian. I am a constant seeker of Christ in life and believe Christ is what is sought, the ‘wisdom,’ in all spiritual practice. Christ guides me so I am able to find guidance in all areas of life. Each morning, I gather my ‘library’ about me and pick which ‘speaker’ will speak to me today … which teacher will tell me what to do. Well, that’s what I did, until today.
Lately, I have been struggling with insecurity in discerning my personal path. The varied sources describe the same journey but with different sign posts, markers, and itineraries. In truth, for most of my life I have not followed any prescribed path but some of my fellow pilgrims have, and I have wanted to know, “Where am I on the map? How am I doing?” In fact, for the past 12 days I have felt I have lost my way, lost sight of the trail, and may have lost my right to be on the path because I had lost faith. One of my online friends sent me several passages from a teacher he highly regards and between the passages he included simply, “Ask Jesus.”
This morning, I picked up The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo and before reaching today’s meditation (October 7), my finger stuck in the page for September 9. Making a quick promise to myself to go back to September 9 next, I moved on to October 7,
It is so tempting to want the answers before we begin the journey. We like to know the way. We like to have maps. We like to have guides. But we are more like a breathing puzzle, a living bag of pieces, and each day shows us what a piece or two is for, where it might go, how it might fit.
So many of my questions were answered by that alone, yet because a promise is a promise, I returned, smiling, to September 9:
If at times you feel numb or distanced from the essence of what you know, perhaps your mind, like the sage’s teacup, is too full.
Information is not wisdom. If you cannot speak when your mouth is stuffed with unchewed food, how can you think clearly if your mind is stuffed with undigested information.
Then, without even thinking about it, I took up Thomas Merton:
The purpose of a book of meditations is to teach you to think and not to do your thinking for you. Consequently, if you pick up such a book and simply read it through, you are wasting your time. As soon as any thought stimulates your mind or your heart you can put the book down because your meditation has begun. To think that you are somehow obliged to follow the author of the book to his own particular conclusion would be a great mistake. It may happen that his conclusion does not apply to you. God may want you to end up somewhere else. He may have planned to give you quite a different grace than the one the author suggests you might be needing. (emphasis mine.)
So, my two dozen references are just that….references. Seeds. Bread crumbs…suggesting the path…not a loaf to be my whole meal. I will trust. The lesson is in the living of life. The next stepping stone will appear beneath my reaching foot and I will know where I am going…when I get there.
And so, as my friend suggested that I ask Jesus, I now do…