Reflection: pathways to the spiritual life
By Father Richard Browning
Living offers two journeys, one is from life to death. This we did not choose and all of us take, like it or not. The other, from death to life, is a spiritual journey, a pathway not all are given to undergo.
(A paraphrase from Rev. Dr Wayne Brighton’s first sermon as Rector at Holy Covenant, Jamison 25 Feb 18.)
The key to understanding this spiritual journey is easy to say. It’s not so easy to practise. It is easy to say ‘if you want to have, then let go’. Or as Jesus put it in Matthew 16:25, save your own life and you will lose it, ‘but lose your life for Christ’s sake and you shall find it’. Without any hint of smugness or pride, the key that unlocks the spiritual journey of death to life is pragmatic. Holding and keeping is the dance of the endless death throe. Loosening and letting go – at first an act of seeming self-harm – are the early steps of lightness that lead to life.
The earliest proclamation was very simple: Jesus is the crucified Messiah. But more than a banner, the crucified one is the way. Following Jesus is a practice of letting go of the thrall of death and finding service, forgiveness, openness, hospitality, generosity, self-donation, sacrifice and giving to be the footfalls of the spiritual journey that draws our animal flesh towards soul-full abundance. Not in some heavenly afterlife, by the way, but in this visceral present reality. Jesus unlocks the eyes of our hearts to welcome and embrace this way.
A reader questioned me after last week’s post. ‘You paint a picture of faith as a thread to hang on to in the last days of life. What is the point of the Christian life then, if you can just pop a parachute at the end and hang onto God’s grace?’
Hmm. Firstly, the spiritual life is not concerned with a reward at journey’s end. The spiritual life IS the reward, found here in the midst of embodied living. If there was any envy behind the question – ‘the blighter got the best of both worlds’ – then there is a false grasp of the life of faith.
But I didn’t hear envy. The reader was asking about something deeper. Beyond a lived life of abundance ‘acquired’ by foregoing self (yes that still sounds bizarre), what is faith’s mission? This is my answer. The work of the followers in the Way (the learners of Jesus) is to be in the world for the rising and healing of the whole. Jesus paints this picture, it is like leaven in the dough that makes the loaf rise. So as yeast is in the dough, so the people of God are in the world. Our being in the world is for the rising of the whole.
The Christian vocation is for the good of all and the raising of the whole. That God chooses to work with the small, the tiny, the vulnerable, those who have acquired ‘lightness’ in order to lift the whole dang lot is mystifying. But this is faith’s vocation. It is not because the whole dang lot is judged to be expendable. It is because the whole dang lot is loved and worthy of being made whole, and this is how the crucified One chooses to be in the world.
I welcome more questions.
Dear God. Syria. Myanmar. Sudan. Refugees.
Dear God. Refugees and all who flee in search of sanctuary.
Image credit: Daniel Bonnell, The Baptism of the Christ