Journey is a familiar motif for us. Life is a journey, as is high school, marriage, wilderness hiking, and so on. And the preeminent spiritual motif is the Paschal journey, Jesus’ journey in and through death to new life. Holy Week and the Easter season are when we re-enact this journey in ritual and prayer, though this journey is more than a historical remembering. It is an opportunity to re-enter the transformative thinking that we die and rise and live anew.
The Paschal journey is less about space and time then, as it is about consciousness and a way of thinking about who I am, where I am “going.” Paschal death is not physical death, rather it is transition to a new way of seeing that leads to a new way of living. One of the ways I have found helpful for translating this theological analogy is to think of my life as seeking the source, that is, the source of life, on a daily basis.
There is a small village through which flows a river from which all the inhabitants draw their sustenance. One day a child follows the river up and through the thickly wooded hillside. After many hours, alone and exhausted, he follows the river into the shadows of a solitary glen. And there is the Source. There, from a hidden, primary opening, silently surges forth the icy life-giving water from which he has drawn his life and refreshment all the days of his life. He lowers himself slowly and gently drinks—knowing the river fully for the first time, for he communes with it at its source (James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, p.105).
Even if I am that fortunate child who finds the life-giving source I’m going to have to return. Why? Because every day is a new one with new challenges and I don’t have, on my own, what I need.
On a daily basis in Lent—and at this writing we are at the mid-point of the 40 days—we go back to or head toward this Source. There’s a lot competing for our attention so one of the many Lenten ways we keep our minds and hearts focused on this search are expressed in actions that take the focus off us. We abstain, we fast, we give alms, in prayer we strengthen our relationship with the One who loved us into being. These Lenten practices represent a kind of “back door” to the Source in that they remind us that we are not the source! The purpose of “giving up” is only so that we can be giving.
The mystic Thomas Merton (d. 1968) expressed this journey to the source as one where we set aside the “false self,” the person I construct to “make it” in life and move toward the “true self” or the real me. He wrote, “If I find [God] I will find myself, and if I find my true self I will find [God].” I find this image to be compelling—it can be painful inner work to give up the self we’ve dedicated so much effort to maintain but there’s the invaluable reward of being true.
This all may sound like the life’s work of a monk like Merton. Well, it is, but it is ours too. The journey to the deepest part of our humanity is one of prayer, yes, but very much one of people. Our educational spirituality is one of moving toward the source through the deep care we bring to our word and work with young people. The things we say and write, the ways we mentor and accompany, can be infused with this search for the source of life, love and union.
We have a couple of touchstones to guide us. One is De La Salle’s insistence that we “Recognize Jesus beneath the poor rags of the children whom you have to instruct; adore him in them.” Another is the prayer, “Live Jesus in our hearts!” And let’s not forget we have one another. We have companions on this journey—our spouses, friends, colleagues, families, students, brothers and sisters. We are all on the way. Let’s keep encouraging one another as we go!
By Brother Timothy Coldwell, FSC
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Photo taken by Brother Tim