The Christmas story is all about journeys. The journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. The journey of the shepherds from the fields to the stable. The journey of the wise men from the East. The journey of the Holy Family as they flee from Herod into Egypt. Their journey back to Nazareth once the coast is clear. These are the obvious journeys associated with these stories. There are others.
The word ‘spirituality’ is all the rage today. It has become one of those commonplace ideas that gets used by all sorts of people in all sorts of contexts. Today you can scarcely watch an interview with a celebrity without them humbly noting that, while they may not be religious, they are ‘spiritual’. And let’s face it, it sounds fair enough. Being religious – that is to say – identifying yourself as belonging to a particular religion, is not something that sits easily in the world in which we live. It sounds like you’re limiting your options and unnecessarily restricting yourself.
Have you ever been to a funeral that seems to be more an upbeat celebration than an acknowledgment of the sadness of death? Or have you noticed how many people today refer to somebody as having ‘passed’ rather than simply saying they have ‘died’?
As a culture, death and dying are increasingly realities we find difficult to even contemplate. Ironically, we’ll spend inordinate amounts of money and energy on prolonging our lives and yet, as soon as death is on the horizon, we’ll argue the case for being able to pull the plug prematurely. Our relationship with death is, as a culture, one of either ‘let’s avoid it at all costs’ or ‘let’s get it over with’.
There are times when the spiritual journey we are on takes us into the darkness. As a metaphor, ‘darkness’ expresses those experiences where the way forward is unclear, and the real meaning of what we are (or are not) experiencing isn’t immediately apparent to us.
We can resist these moments and imagine that they are a sign that things aren’t as they should be. As someone said to me once: ‘I made a deal with God: I believe in him and he makes sure I have a nice life’. So when his ‘nice life’ began to evaporate, my friend thought it only fair that he should stop believing in God…
There are certain moments in your life when you are confronted with a choice: do you continue on the path you are currently following, or do you take a turn to the left or the right? You weigh up all the options and you attempt to take into account all the information you have at your disposal…and then you decide.
That works for many of the decisions we need to make. However, it doesn’t work in the journey of faith. That’s because we need to consider more than ourselves, or simply those factors that we believe need to be taken into account.
Belonging is part of being human. Right from the start we are nurtured in the womb of our mothers, and placed into their arms for nourishment, comfort and security. Things get a bit complicated after that, of course, as we seek to establish ourselves and assert our autonomy, but the pattern is set: human beings primarily discover who they are in relationship.
Have you ever thought of yourself as ‘holy’? Holiness is a tricky word for most of us. In my experience we don't tend to associate it with ourselves or even with the people we love. If we think of it at all, we think of holy people as being the saints, men and women before our time who don't live the sort of lives we live.
"Rejoice and be Glad". With these words Pope Francis begins his latest offering to all members of the Body of Christ, and to all people of good will. I encourage you to read it yourself. In the meantime, here are some thoughts…
In number one we read: "The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence..."
Have you heard of the Bundian way? It’s an ancient walking track linking continental Australia’s highest point with the east coast. It is considered be the world’s oldest walking track, predating by centuries the fabled spice route of the east.
At a gathering two or three years ago I listened to the Aboriginal elder, Uncle Ossie Cruse, recount the rediscovery of the track and its significance for his people. I was struck once again by the instinctive connection to the land that the Aboriginal people possess. So deep does the connection go, that when it is broken they become a people adrift…unsure of themselves…lost.
I am in the Star Wars generation. That is to say, I was a boy of 13 when the first Star Wars movie came out, and the larger than life characters and good vs evil storyline burst on to our screens. I was old enough to appreciate what I was watching, and young enough to half hope that it was all real. With the latest instalment of the franchise due to hit our theatres soon, it is on my mind.
So much has been written about this movie, and its connection to a number of the central elements of the human spiritual quest, for it to be impossible for me to do it justice here. I focus instead on one concept that has made its way into the contemporary zeitgeist: ‘may the Force be with you’.