'In one sense we are always travelling, and travelling as if we did not know where we are going.
In another sense we have already arrived.
We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life, and that is why we are travelling and in darkness.
But we already possess Him by grace, and therefore, in that sense, we have arrived and are dwelling in light.
But oh! How far have I to go to find You in Whom I have already arrived!'
Here, the insightful words of Thomas Merton give voice to a paradox at the heart of spiritual life. We understand ourselves as in some way to be following a spiritual path - 'followers of The Way' as the early Christians were called. We understand in Christianity, particularly from St. Paul, that we are to be transformed in Christ - to become more Christ-like - and we embark on this journey wrought by the Holy Spirit within us.
However, what we find, as we travel, is that the crux of the Christian path of transformation is the ever-deepening lived experience of the loving acceptance of God: we are known and loved unconditionally as we are. If we simply see ourselves as an improvement project then we fail to grasp this deepest reality.
The spiritual journey is not an act of struggling self-improvement towards the divine, but a movement of ever deeper surrender into that which already encompasses us. As Chögyam Trungpa, a Buddhist teacher, said of his spiritual path, 'We go round and round trying to improve ourselves by struggle, until we realise that the ambition to improve ourselves is itself the problem.'
Maybe, the journey we travel, and struggle we feel, is more about our deepening in letting go of our egoic selves into this transforming, already present, Reality of love within us, than it is about journeying toward God as separate or far away from us...
Fr Anthony de Mello illustrates this powerfully in his teaching story from 'The Song of the Bird':
I was neurotic for years. I was anxious and depressed and selfish. Everyone kept telling me to change.
I resented them, and I agreed with them, and I wanted to change, but simply couldn't, no matter how hard I tried.
What hurt the most was that, like the others, my best friend kept insisting that I change. So I felt powerless and trapped.
Then, one day, he said to me, 'Don't change. I love you just as you are.'
Those words were music to my ears: 'Don't change. Don't change. Don't change... I love you as you are.'
I relaxed. I came alive. And suddenly I changed!
Now I know that I couldn't really change until I found someone who would love me whether I changed or not.'
So is there a journey? Well perhaps as T.S. Eliot says, 'We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.' St Augustine knew that 'God is closer to me then I am to myself.' Perhaps we just 'travel' to uncover the truth of that Reality, which is already with and in us at our depths.
This stunning image 'Reflections on the Self' is by H. Kopp-Delaney & used under Creative Commons license.