Monday, 21 September 2009

Spiritual Journey - where to?

Yesterday (Sunday 20th September) we did the first session of set 2 of the "Creating Community" workpack on this year's Yearly Meeting Gathering theme. This is called "Spiritual Journeying" (Session 8).

I felt quite a bit of unease when thinking through this, and realised that I have now more or less abandoned the metaphor of 'Journey' for talking about my spirituality and experiences. This is because I find that the metaphor is not only no longer useful, but detrimental. It encourages linear thinking and the idea of some sort of progress to some goal - the end of the journey. This in turns leads to an over emphasis on self at the expense of community and belonging - so given the context of 'Creating Community' I was doubly uneasy.

However, I was not about to stand apart from the group using the materials, since being in community is more important than personal foibles, so I went through the exercise. My first remembered spiritual experience remains central - I have not journeyed from it but rather allowed that experience to continue to speak to me. At the time, surrounded by evangelical Christians, and my understanding of Christianity shaped by such thinking, I thought of what happened as a 'conversion' from which I would grow into maturity on some sort of journey. I now see this interpretation as inadequate - what I experienced was community or fellowship, and I have experienced it many times since. But I am no longer a disassociated self looking at life objectively, but I am in community and in fellowship – I love and I am loved.

Rather than being on a journey, it feels to me that a better metaphor is being rooted in community, and feeling those roots get deeper and stronger. The metaphor could not be more different – trees only move in fairy stories. In a culture utterly obsessed with the self and individualism, to the extent that we become completely disconnected from not only the world and those around us, but even from our own bodies, it is too dangerous to use metaphors that surreptitiously encourage such thinking.

As for my own life in time, necessarily linear, the need is to get out of time, to experience the “timeless moment. Is England and nowhere. Never and always.” (TS Eliot Little Gidding)

There, where there is no 'there', is and not is “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE”.


Peter Lawless said...

Gordon thank you I can see that the notion of journey could also be at odds with the notion of 'living adventurously'. I also feel a strong tie here with the experience of Meeting in that - to quote the Beatles 'Turn off your mind surrender to the void' - I feel that in Meeting we need to loose the mind and chatter of the ego in order to be open to what is there rather than go to the place where you expect to be. This ties in, for me, with heart and mind prepared because I feel that part of that preparation should be the willingness to open oneslf to become part of the community which is the Meeting.
We, as Friends, value the words which record experiences of Friends past and present but these words can killeth awareness also in that though we engage in similar practices of Friends past we have to be open and aware and to speak to our own experiences.
To journey contains a sense of moving away and we have often spoke together about community which is a coming together. This is one of the paradoxes by which we live because we need to be both individuals and community members. Life is full of paradox but thank's again for the food for thought upon our adventure

Bill Samuel said...

Isn't being part of a community being part of a journey, a shared journey? It's not the straight linear, physical journey type thing where you are getting to Point B from Point A and trying to do so in the fastest or most direct way. But it is a journey.

This kind of journey is an adventure. You don't know quite where you're going to go.

There are narrow and broad conceptions of journey. In the faith community in which I find myself, journey is generally used in a very dynamic sense not the sense which you are criticizing. Living adventurously is very definitely seen as part of the journey - in fact, an essential part of the journey.

Christopher Parker said...

The idea of "progress" is from a particular cultural time, born of the enlightenment. It's an idea with a lot of problems.

I've noticed that people in their twenties do a lot of traveling. Maybe they take spiritual journeys, but then settle down. That's how it's felt for me.

"Community" is an idea from a particular cultural perspective too, and it too has problems. One thing I've noticed is that community is often used to describe a group of people with something in common, removed from the population in general. So there's an illusion that we have "community" but really we have fellowship of the in crowd. That's all right, because we seem to be made to find like-minded people, but it's more honest to acknowledge that because there is usually some exclusion and trying hard going on. We remain human.

Diane said...

While I see the value in the metaphor or journey, I also like the idea of putting down roots as a metaphor for spiritual growth. I like this for several reasons:

I think in the past, journeys implied real risk, real danger, and we have lost that connotation.

There is too much emphasis in our culture on journey as escape, most notoriously in the "I'll be gone" theory that justifies wrecking a company or whatever for personal gain.

We also tend to see journeys as "sight seeing" and can become voyeuristic about religion.

"Roots" are less comfortable for us and we need to wrestle with that.

Bill said...

The heart of the Christian metaphor is "in Christ." "If you remain in me," as Jesus says. One of Paul's favorite phrases is "in Christ." We are on a journey, but it is Christ's journey within us, which shows itself in our outward movement.

Anonymous said...

As fan of polarity/paradox, I love the idea of holding both metaphors at the same time. The beauty of roots, of being rooted, of being centered and connected solidly to the earth - while also holding the metaphor of the journey - both the journey inwards and outwards - the journey represents to me the adventure - the never-ending adventure of the spirtual journey where you never know what is around the corner.

When we can hold both - the adventure of the journey with the solidity of the roots - wow - what a beautiful energy we will dance in!

Peter Lawless said...

A question which has been recurring to me since reading Gordon's original posting is if we consider the metaphor of journey where are we journeying to? The destination, or end, has been the subject of much study and I believe can be covered, in part, by the term eschatlogy.
As a matter of curiosity I would be interested in how other Friends view these matters. For me I don't feel a concern with heaven and hell or how the world will end - speaking in religious terms - as I consider our actions in the here and now to be more important though I am aware that we do responsibilities as caretakers of the planet and not to shorten its being, if only to allow Friends to spend more time musing upon such matters!
As a Friend I have been condemned, and I use that word after thought and believe it to be appropriate, by members of a particular church in Sheffield for putting my eternal soul at risk by being a Quaker. I am aware of others who are acting in their lives not out of altruism but as a way of preparing their coming reward in heaven. I, it appears, am destined for hell unless I renounce my life as a Quaker and accept their version of Jesus Christ in my life. Needless to say I did not want to join their club because I feel that through my existence and experience I am part of the eternal as we all are whether we accept it or not.
As for my end it will come but I hope that until that time I will still be seeking to learn more about the mystery which lies at the heart of our silence and is the source of the Light.