Jesus frequently spoke of a the life of faith as a journey
In doing this he takes on the tradition the great Old Testament traveller, Abraham
Whose constant word is the word Halack, which in Hebrew meant to go, or to walk.
So Jesus spoke of life as a journey upon which we had the choice of a narrow path which lead to life, or a broad path which lead to destruction.
When the disciples asked to go where Jesus was going, he replied “I am the way”
And Jesus was a man who travelled in different villages
And who sent his disciples out on travels of their own
One of the most important New Testament stories is the story of Emmaus which is about a disciples meeting jesus on the Way
And journey is a critical feature of two of Jesus most famous stories, the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.
But Jesus never subscribed it would seem, that journey was about going to a spiritual pilgrimage place where you got drugged up on God, before returning to the dreariness of home.
The great pilgrimage centre in Jesus’ day was Jerusalem
And when Jesus talks about Jerusalem towards the end of his life
It is not as the home of the Great Spiritual Drugstore, God’s Pharmacy of Discipleship Pills
No, Jerusalem is the place of martyrdom.
Pilgrimage On The Way
For the Celts, God was not discovered in any one place
But there was a special experience to be had in getting there.
With it vulnerability
With it’s painful dislocation from what is comfortable and easy
In that empty place, there were altogether richer treasures to be discovered.
It is akin to the difference between going to Fort William for your holidays
And walking the West Highland Way
One is about destination
The other is about getting there.
That is perhaps a bad analogy
Because the Celts did also believe in the destination but it was a destination in the next life
And Fort William is perhaps not the Scottish town most readily comparable to heaven.
One of the old Celtic poems is
Who to Rome goes
Much labour, little profit knows
For God on earth, though long you have sought him
You’ll miss at Rome unless you’ve brought him
For the Celts the emptiness of this world
The pain of it, the suffering of it
Was somehow a gift, because that seeming emptiness
The treasure of getting read for the next life was to be found.
But in these journeys of seeming difficulty
And there was no greater joy to the Celts than finding a desert – it made them like their great hero, Anthony of the Desert, and many place names like Dysart and Dissert and ancient versions of the word for Desert.
So you had the great story of St. Brendan, the Celtic Saint whom according to the epic of his journey, took a seven year journey, which entailed amongst other things the island of women, the island of ice (provoking discussion if he had actually discovered Greenland).
And Columba wrote of a friend of his Cormac, would go out eagerly seeking desert.
Both Columba and Cuthbert had their own islands where they would go to retreat, often for months at a time.
One of the interesting things about the stories that Leslie and Hilary both told was the presence of nothing-ness
For Leslie, it was the experience of looking to buy fish in a place where these had all run out
For Hilary it was going for two weeks to a place where there is nothing to do.
This contrasts with the experience of someone I was speaking to recently whose life is a disaster because life is constantly about finding another high – whether that be on a motorbike, out windsurfing, or in relationships which are high-energy but ultimately destructive.
Indeed it is something I have noticed frequently in young guys, these twitchiness when there is nothing to do, and the seeking of excitement, even when that is destructive excitement.
Life is not life
Life is the way to life
For the Celts there were three kinds of traveller
The first, destructive, was to travel and not be changed by journey
To be brittle and unyielding and unmoved.
I met people like this often in India, and there are Westerners all over the Costa Blanca, and in Embassies in the Old Empire who are like this.
The second was to travel, and to be changed and to meet with the people of the world
And to meet with God
And the final way is for those who cannot travel, because circumstance does not allow
But whose minds are the places of a thousands pilgrimages
Whose generosity is broader than their own narrow concerns
Whose vision is broad
And their insight deep
These words are from St. Columbanus
What then are you, human life?
You are the roadway of mortals, not their life
Beginning from sin
Enduring up til death
So you are the way to life, not life
For you are a real way
But not an open one
Long for some, short for others
Broad for some, narrow for others
Joyful for some, sad for others
For all alike hasting and irrevocable
A way is what you are but you are not manifest to all
For many see you and few understand you to be a way
For on a roadway none dwells but walks that those who walk upon the way dwell in their homeland.
So what is our way?
And where is Christ
Especially where is Christ in the boredom, the desert, the emptiness the monotony
And where does this way lead
When Jesus says to us “I am the way”
How is our faith?
Lead us spend some time in silence
And then we will sing an old journey prayer…