A Soul’s Pilgrimage

“Pilgrims are persons in motion passing through territories not their own, seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do as well, a goal to which only the spirit’s compass points the way.” ~H. Reinhold Niebuhr

Each of us is born with our story already written for us, etched on our skin by our ancestors. The hopes and dreams of our future—whispered like incantations in the quiet of night by our mothers, spoken each day as expectation by our fathers, chanted like mantra by our families and communities.

As we grow older, we begin our pilgrimage towards our tattooed destinies. How we should look and who we should love and what we should do and where we should go in order to arrive at others’ expected outcomes. These were handed to us as a roadmap with our path already laid out, predestined not by God but by family and culture. We embark with curiosity or disinterest, innocence or experience, valor or hesitation, urgency or trepidation. 

Ready or not, the journey has begun with our first breath and continues until our final exhalation.

Along the way the veil begins to lift: Some part of us begins to separate from this predetermination, as an ancient part of us—our wildness—begins to wake up. Before it can go back to sleep, our spirit catches sight of it—is drawn to it, moved by it, compelled toward it. Our lives now want to tell a new story—to author our own story—as we begin to unfurl ourselves in ways that don’t always feel familiar or allowed but feel necessary and new. And so we find our paths diverging from the comfortable and known, an urge to take a road less traveled begins to call quietly, shining like a lantern in the dark of night. A light that is sure and steady even if the way forward is yet unknown.

Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me—shapes and ideas so near to me—so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me to put them down. I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.”

Yes. This is the new way forward. The stripping away of what we’ve been taught. 

What was once written is now unwritten. What was once certain is now uncertain. The path that was once laid out for us with confidence begins to lose its familiar shape and a new shape, our new shape—both scary and enlivening—emerges.

Each of us was born with answers already given for our lives, handed to us like edict not invitation. 

As curious children, the tattoo of our every “why, why, why” is met with the reassuring certainty of authority. Until one day—maybe when we’re older, sometimes when we’re not—we lose someone or something and now our “Why” is met with a different kind of authority—one that feels more nebulous and less reassuring—the authority of a God we have likely never met and maybe never understood. And now we find ourselves unsatisfied by an answer and begin to wonder if anyone ever actually understood the question in the first place let alone ever knew why.

Suddenly, a world of possibilities opens, even while some doors close. The time of living the answer is over. The time of living the question has begun.

Author Gregg Levoy has said that “Spiritual journeys, like stories, have at the core a central question—as do our lives—and if we understand not even the answers but merely the questions that animate our own journeys, we’ve understood a lot.”

We are spiritual beings on a spiritual journey. We are pilgrims in this life—prayers in motion—moving through unfamiliar territories towards a destiny we can’t quite speak but that is speaking to us. Our lives are compelled forward by a deep hunger that is too urgent to arise from certainty and too numinous to arise from our intellect. Our lives have been calling to us—not in the whispered words of our mothers at predawn— but in some foreign tongue of our impulses and inklings for which we have been given no dictionary. To begin to understand the voice of what is calling, we must first understand the questions that animate our own journey. 

We must forgo certainty for curiosity. We must forgo knowing for wonder. We must forgo the answer for the question.

We once navigated by the stars. Lived in communion with the cosmos. We looked upward towards the softness of the heavens for guidance instead of down at the hardness of the earth for answers. We once listened to our Great Mother and took only what we needed from her. We once allowed ourselves to be uncertain and sat in silence until we knew which way to go. We once knew nothing except the question and learned to live in the liminality of not knowing.

But now we know everything before we even need to know it. 

Every answer to every question imaginable is at our fingertips. The difference between knowing and not knowing, just a few clicks away. The information superhighway is alive, flowing through the centers of our lives, separating us from the slow river of Spirit. We no longer sit in uncertainty and wait for an answer to arise in communion with the cosmos. Instead we are certain of everything and wait for nothing. Because we think knowing will bring us comfort and yet it is this certainty of life that has worn us down, left our spirits huddled and gasping for breath when our expectations become disappointment. The false freedom of knowing has left us hungry and gaunt for the comfort of the Unknowable. We are exhausted, online 24/7, overwrought and underpaid, cynical and stubborn, seeking sanctuary from our own lives.

And so we are asked now to listen. Listen. Listen. 

To get quiet again and to listen. Listen to our lives speaking to us—to spirit speaking through us. 

Our paths are calling us home—back to the Great Mystery because the memory in our bones reminds us it was the Mystery that once left us slack-jawed and wordless in wonder. Our paths are calling us home—back to the bosom of the Great Mother herself, to be comforted once again by her ineffable and unnameable beauty. 

We are being called back from the hubris and close-mindedness of our certainty, back to the Beginner’s Mind. We are being called back from living at the fringes of our lives, back to living from our centers—back to the caves of our hearts. 

We are being called to listen, listen, listen not for the answers we’ve been given our whole lives but rather for the questions that beat at the heart of our pilgrimage. 

We are being asked to listen and let our lives speak their living vow of love and devotion once more.

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” ~Parker Palmer

This Sermon on the Couch was delivered as part of special New Year’s community event on January 8, 2023 in our free kindness community—The House of Belonging.