I’m going on a journey. I’m leaving tomorrow. It will be an extended trek that will last several weeks. It will be an adventure, and I love adventures.
But I will not actually be leaving home. I will not be booking ﬂights or packing suitcases. I will not have to have a passport or boarding passes. This journey is of a diﬀerent kind. It will be an inner journey.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. For followers of Christ this has traditionally been a time when more focus is given to spiritual disciplines. The most common practices for the season are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. For forty days, disciples will often ‘give up something for Lent’ like chocolate or a particular food or television. We sacriﬁce to remind ourselves of the upcoming sacriﬁce which Jesus Christ made for us. The practices are to remind us of that to an intense degree.
Lent is often referred to as a ‘journey’ because we are following Jesus as he makes his way towards Holy Week, the Triumphal Entry, the Upper Room, the Garden, the Trial, and the Cruciﬁxion. There is a real sense of movement in the readings and a growing sense of dramatic tension in the story. Something big is going to happen. Something that matters. We hear the story and it comes alive again.
There will be dramas and Passion Plays and musicals put on during this time. There will be movies and more made of Jesus and who he was and what he has done. There will be critiques of Christians and how they do not seem to live like the one they say they follow. There will be special services and ecumenical gatherings. In other words, there are lots of external events that beg for our time and attention. It can be a big production.
But for me the journey is more about where I may be going internally. There is an inner journey, a sense of movement, an embodiment of the events that will be more telling. If nothing moves within me, then the outer displays are inconsequential. If I do not move at least one step closer to being more like Jesus, then it matters little if I take the trip at all.
This is the real challenge; this is the call at this moment. The summons of the season is to look within myself and see where I’m heading and how I’m getting there. Am I further along the path than I was at this time last year? Am I progressing with conﬁdence and courage? Am I more like Jesus and less like Les?
A pilgrimage is not a pleasure cruise. This journey requires that I leave things behind. I am entering into the wilderness where I will not be able to rely on the resources that are so easily at hand. I am entering into a strange place where I may be surprised at what appears. I am entering into a place where all the acquired external items are of little value. Indeed, going deeper is hindered by a large collection of ‘necessary items.’ Like a huge pack that prevents the hiker from getting through, under or around obstacles along the way, this journey is best made with a sense of lightness and detachment. I will not need all the things that I may think and I certainly do not need all the things that others would insist on.
This journey requires that I take special note of what I encounter along the way. I need to touch the signpost at the trailhead, and gather my bearings. I need to keep my eyes open to see what I usually hide from my own sight. I need to listen for messages that are often drowned in the din of distractions. I need to be quiet and walk softly. I need not rush or worry about ‘making time’ (as if we could do such a thing!). I need to be observant of my surroundings and when the way be clear for movement. I need to remember that the journey itself is more important than my imagined destinations.
We live in a time when it is possible to travel the world as never before. We live in a time in which people are booking actual ﬂights into space. We can be almost anywhere relatively quickly. But what a tragedy to travel far and wide and miss the mysteries that are closest at hand. What a tragedy to have seen the world but never have journeyed to the depths of one’s own soul. We can get up and go, and usually do! But I encourage you to also stop and turn and take a few steps inward. Turn long enough to marvel at the depths that long to be plumbed and explored. Consider well the inﬁnite path that lies within. Take the step that is available only to you. Dare the journey that only you can make.
If I seem a bit distant in the days ahead, if it appears that my gaze is going elsewhere, then you’ll know that I’m taking steps on a path that is not always open for all to see. Please pray for me on my journey as I pray for you on yours.