Pete Askew writes :
Wendell Berry once said, “It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work…and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey”. It seems to me that this is at the heart of spiritual growth. A place where we discover that we are not self-sufficient, no matter how much we want to believe that, and that we need companions for the journey and a trust that God is already ahead of us. This is the story of Brendan the Voyager, a sixth century Irish monk, who, with friends, pushed a boat out on the water with no planned destination other than where God wanted to take him, and a prayer that said, “Christ of the mysteries, can I trust you on the sea?” A story of discovery, trust and companionship; a story of venturing out beyond the known, with no great strategies or defined outcomes, just the call to venture out, wherever the Father leads.
This is the story of our Community, with all of its fragility, beauty, brokenness, and hope. Alone, with Companions for the journey, we are called to go beyond the story formed by our own expectations, or by the expectations of others, often defined by tasks and status, money and possessions, power and influence, or the lack of these things….. And be ourselves, guided by a Rule of Life, as followers of Jesus. This journey will take us to the wilderness place, the vast and seemingly fathomless seascape of the heart, partially or rarely explored, where we come face to face with who we really are, often with nothing more than some understanding of being loved and called, and with empty hands. This is the place where God meets us in a new way; a place where we are offered something beautiful, a different story.
This call to a different story is at the heart of the Christian faith, and is the essence of the Easter journey from the Cross to Resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead. In doing so he not only defeated the power of the Empire, and death itself, but also established a radical new freedom in the hearts of his followers, and a new relationship between humanity and God. My experience, and in listening to many others I know I’m not alone in this, is that it’s not always easy to live this freedom for ourselves, or to really enter more fully into what this new relationship offers. We can readily agree with the idea of it, or strive to prove our intellectual understanding of it, but the journey of the heart is a much more difficult thing because it takes us to the deep and secret places, without the familiar maps we use in the external world, where we no longer know what to do and we no longer know which way to go.
Perhaps then, this is why God calls us into Community, to give us Companions on the choppy seas of ‘the changeful way.’ But in the wonderful gift of this, we also discover the paradoxical reality that Community isn’t always an easy place to be. It rarely meets idealistic expectations, and it can often amplify inner loneliness or insecurities. As Jean Vanier said, in his book ‘Community and Growth’, “Community is a terrible place. It is the place where our limitations and our egoism are revealed to us… we discover our poverty and our weakness, our inability to get on with people, our mental and emotional blocks . . . our seemingly insatiable desires, our frustrations and jealousies, our hatred and our wish to destroy.” In the journey of growth we encounter many internal deaths and abandonments as we stop feeding the inner demons of our ego, but there are also moments of wondrous transformative resurrection as we take the risky steps of love.
It’s here, in the midst of all of this, that we come to some real work and a real journey. It’s here that we ask the big question, the question on the lips of Brendan, and all the followers of Jesus throughout the ages, “Christ of the mysteries, can I trust you?” This is a profoundly lonely question in the wilderness place, as no one else can ask it for us. But it’s a question that can be voiced, through the gift of community and grace of God, in the companionship of others and with the promises of Easter…. And the thing is, if we don’t take the risk we never find out.