Here is something that you will never hear said from the pulpit of a church: “Anyone who can find a better way than Jesus, he would be the first to tell you to take it.” So says the late philosopher Dallas Willard.
Jesus was not about telling people bullshit. He is about truth and reality. The kind of truth that he talked about is the kind that you can test and find to be true in reality. It’s lived truth more than abstract truth.
Certainly, not everyone is willing to start with Jesus. There is a lot of dust raised around the church in history and on our evening news. Hypocrites, scandals, and judgmental charlatans abound in the religious scene. Hesitancy is wise. Some seekers approach the Christian church warily, if at all, with a sense of “been-there-done-that.” The church seems to be so last year, so our searches tend to take us in other fresher directions, usually toward the East. Have at it; for reality will eventually lead you home. The Soul of the World promises you this: all seekers find.
Those who have gone before us leave this advice: listen to your intuition and thereby develop a sense of awareness. Some may call awareness mindfulness. Awareness is about participatory dynamic knowledge that engages the whole person. It is something very different from static objective abstract knowledge. It is knowledge that comes from a posture of openness that is willing to fuse the head and the heart, the left and right brains, the prosaic and the poetic. Awareness is personal knowledge and is a necessary precursor to spiritual pilgrimage.
This openness will position one to be able to learn from your experiences, from nature, and from others. It means that you will have to give up on thinking that you have already arrived and have a corner on truth. It means being willing to learn from everyone and holding one’s own convictions with an open hand rather than a closed fist.
From this posture one begins on a genuine spiritual exploration. It may be framed in terms of finding your purpose in life, making the world a better place, connecting with the rhythms of nature, expanding the boundaries of beauty, encountering the messiness of relationships, or the search for God’s voice. It is an exploration that involves listening and walking, contemplation and action.
Ideally, it is an exploration done in the company of others. One of the most important decisions you can make is surrounding yourself with friends and pilgrims who will help you level up—people deeper, wiser, more passionate, compassionate, and spiritual. These companions will shape the conversations and direction of your pilgrimage. Passion and seriousness is here far more important that direction. At this point is less important that one is heading toward Jesus or the Dalai Lama, Zen or Christianity. The pilgrimage is the thing. The school is the journey. There is no substitute for lived experience.
There will be inevitable pain and set backs on this pilgrimage. These are expected. They will keep you on your toes and test your resolve. Avoid the temptation of distraction and medicated numbness in the face of challenges. The distractions or drugs will lessen the pain but create a dead end to the pilgrimage. One needs a breakthrough not a breakdown.
While there are no maps for your journey, besides listening to your heart, wise pilgrims counsel us against fritting from one thing to the next. This kind of consumerist approach to spiritual pilgrimage belies the discipline needed to dig deep.
Benjamin Wallace describes a cautionary tale in New York magazine in his article, “American Culthoppers.” He tells the story of two digital nomads, Aaron and Travis Atlas, who morph seemlessly from evangelical legalists and Tea-Party activists to Eastern pantheist hedonistic players and Chiang Mai digital entrepeneurs. Their life resembles a shell game of faddish hipness. It finally caught up with them and their friends abandoned them as posers. It is far better to settle into the disciplines of some tradition whether yoga or Celtic spirituality.
It’s here along the road to spiritual enlightenment when the awareness, openness, exploration, and tradition align, that one may experience an encounter that personalizes the Soul of the World from an impersonal force to a loving person. Seekers will be found. An encounter will happen to those who seek with all their heart and stay on the path of pilgrimage.
This encounter will change you, rearrange your priorities, reframe your relationships, create a deeper dependence, and connect you to spiritual resources that are beyond yourself. If everything living drives its life from an environment that is other than and larger then itself, you will then be aligned with the spiritual environment for which you were designed to thrive. You will know from experience that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand,” right here, right now. The fruit of this, as seen in all spiritual mystics, is that you will become more accepting of others, gentler in your demeanor, and a portal of love for the Soul of the World to others.
There are many paths and many kinds of pilgrimage. All lead to aligning with one reality. Most churches are not confident enough in their message to say, “Follow Jesus, and if you can find a better way than him, he would be the first to tell you to take it.” Seeking is the thing; the Soul of the World and reality will do the rest.