I walk on woodsy paths more frequently than some of you, I suspect. Walking in the woods comes with the territory of living with a Labrador retriever who is ready at any moment to head out and find the next adventure.
Briar's experience on the walk in the woods is like mine in some ways. We cover some of the same ground and we start and end the walk at the same time. Yet anyone watching Briar, or knowing even a little about dogs, knows that Briar experiences something quite different from what I experience.
To authentically follow the inner, spiritual path, one must practice observing what one sees on the journey. This is problematic because we already have a way of seeing ourselves and what is inside us. If we consider moments in our lives, decisions we have made, principles on which we have settled, etc., we may find a well-defined series of monuments to our own righteousness, our woundedness, our shame, our pride, our accomplishments, our thought processes, our taste, etc. I use the word "monuments" to convey that they are frequently unchanging, "cast in stone." We see them in the way we've come to see them. Yet that fixed nature of what we expect and have prepared for will often prevent us from learning and growing. That fixed view of our lives makes our inner journey the same each time through. It can prevent what might have been a spiritually deepening experience from being anything more than a stroll down our memory lane of what we see as the facts. In other words, it is not much of a spiritual journey.
Most of us take these inner journeys alone. We think. We ponder. We decide. We walk the same paths again and again. This does build our character a certain way. This solitary journey can strengthen our opinions and cement our principles. Also, there is something appealing about doing it ourselves, independently. I confess that my mode of introspection has mostly been of this solitary sort.
Well, except for my example of walking with the dog. When Briar and I walk a path together, what she sees changes what I end up seeing. The path is a different experience when we walk it together.
So one way to improve the depth and breadth and ultimately the spirituality of your introspection is, at least some of the time, to take someone else along. One use of therapeutic counseling is to reconsider how we have come to regard the elements of our inner life. Note that I am naming how we can revisit our way of looking at people, moments, accomplishments, losses, loves, etc. The purpose of such conversations is not so much to excavate hidden facts as it is to push past the meaning we settled upon long ago into a new meaning, freshly meaningful to who we are now. This is also the domain of the spiritual director or guide. Those, then, are two kinds of people who will go with you along such journeys.
Which brings us to our religious tradition. Particularly at Grace Church, we invite people to walk the journey of life with us ("No matter who you are …") Our part of that is to invite one or more other people to walk the spiritual path with us. Our part of that is to allow our experience in worship to enter into our consideration of the path we're on right now. Also, our tradition is full of Bible study, book study, conversations, special services, prayer groups, pilgrimages, retreats, shared chores, cooking together, work in the Stearns Farm field, and shared stewardship for our church, our property, and the world beyond our parking lot. All of these are places of journey, places of spiritual encounter, and places where we share the path. I conclude that being part of a church can be a way to find companionship for your spiritual journey.
Which leaves you and me with the question of the day, "When is your next chance to share with someone else with the idea that you are, together, on the spiritual journey?"