Different Paths, Same Destination
The Orthodox blogging community, at large, is both a blessed gift and a stumbling block for so many of us. It’s a two-sided coin. On the one hand, we can find inspiration through the words of a myriad of Orthodox writers with a few, simple clicks of our mouse. This is an opportunity of a magnitude never before seen throughout history. We can connect with other Orthodox individuals and families across the United States or even on the other side of the world within seconds. We can support one another, share resources, and even ask questions. This is especially a blessing to those living in rural areas or in a sparsely populated Orthodox community.
On the other hand, we tend to compare ourselves with our favorite Orthodox bloggers. We measure how far along we are on our own spiritual journey compared to the person whose words absorb us into their world. We long to begin our journey at the same geographical point the writer is traveling when we may still only be at the point of preparing for the trip. We may even get the impression that some items are of equal importance to pack as others when, in fact, very little is actually needed to sustain us on this trip. Some of us may even find ourselves running out the door without fully packing in all our eagerness to begin the journey. We’re not all beginning at the same point nor necessarily traveling along side each other on the same road, even though we are all striving to arrive at the same destination. Each person has their own story of where they began their journey and the unique obstacles they have along the way.
Allow me to elaborate through a story…
Four families have set out on a pilgrimage. These four families share little in common other than their mutual longing to reach the holy land. Some of them have been traveling on this journey their entire lives while others are just learning about this pilgrimage and finding themselves longing to prepare and begin the trek also.
The first couple began the pilgrimage together on the day they were married. The husband had told his wife extensive details about this journey before they were wed and learned that his new wife had yearned all her life to reach this holy land but kept getting lost despite all her best efforts to find it. She was thrilled to not only find someone who could take her there but also that she found someone who valued finding the holy land as much as she did. Her husband had grown up being taught by his parents how to read the map and written directions on it which would guide them on the most direct path to their destination. His parents had prepared him for many, many years on how to lead his own family, and he was eager to continue the journey with his new wife by his side. As they walked, the man explained to his wife the meanings of the symbols on the map and showed her the direction they must follow. Along the way, the couple welcomed the births of their two children. These were happy times for them, and the trip seemed to flow with ease. Unfortunately, soon afterwards, the four of them became very ill. They found a community nearby where they were greeted with kindness and were cared for by those in the local villages. The family was given medicine and rested as much as possible until they longed for nothing more than to continue their journey despite their weakness. The elder in the village counseled them and gave them instructions on how to find medicinal plants along the path in order to help them keep going. His counsel was invaluable and enabled them to continue their quest and heal along the way.
The second family heard about this pilgrimage from other families nearby who were preparing to leave for the holy land themselves. The husband and wife were filled with vigor to learn as much as they could before setting out on this journey with their children. The husband sought out the elder who was leading the pilgrimage and asked him to teach him all he knew about the holy land and how to get there. He listened carefully and studied the map hard. The elder knew this man had become very knowledgeable about the map, terrain, and difficulties they would face along the way. Additionally, the elder had recently learned that a new group of pilgrims were on their way to this village from a neighboring one. They would need a brief time to rest and renew their supplies. This would be a perfect opportunity for the elder’s apprentice to help his family pack and then lead this new group of pilgrims. Upon the group’s arrival, the elder introduced his apprentice to the people and encouraged them to listen to this man carefully. The elder informed the people that he had taught their guide all he knew and was confident the people were in good hands. The man eagerly agreed and kept his promise to lead these people to the best of his ability. He was overcome with joy and simultaneously weighed down heavily with the responsibility he just accepted. This encouraged the man to continue studying the map every evening, and he even taught his family more about it because he knew how important it was for everyone to stay on course. The new guide found the pace of the group a bit slow at times, especially when some of his flock decided to try their own route. At one point, the guide informed his group that they would need to travel through a narrow, steep path over a towering mountain because it was the only way to successfully get to the other side. Part of the group decided to take a seemingly easier path around the mountain, but after separating from their guide, they found they were met by an insurmountable cliff instead of a different, easier route. Just as they began to lose all hope, they heard the soothing voice of their guide behind them, asking them to follow him once more where he would lead them successfully over the mountain and then continue on their journey together again.
The third family had their own difficulties. The wife yearned with all her heart to follow the other families leaving on the pilgrimage. Her husband, however, did not share in her desire to go. In fact, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to go at all. She spent a long time telling him all the reasons why she believed it was the right choice to go and how wonderful it would be when they got to the holy land. The husband was a bit hesitant because he didn’t know if such a place actually existed, but he finally agreed to help her pack and leave the following day with their children. However, he was a bit pessimistic at times and not always entirely helpful when his wife wasn’t exactly sure which path to take next. One day, they caught up with a group of pilgrims traveling to the holy land as well. The couple found the elder of the group and asked if they could join them since they were not completely sure the best route to get there. The elder joyfully welcomed them and shared with them all he knew about the map and how they would get around the obstacles they were sure to encounter along the way. The husband found comfort and peace within this group of pilgrims and soon, he too, was filled with vigor to reach the holy land and help lead his family there alongside his wife and the fellow pilgrims.
The husband and wife in the fourth family both grew up with parents who taught them about the holy land and how to find it. The ebb and flow of the journey was a natural part of each waking day for them. They both shared the same goal and worked together to achieve it from the beginning. The wife had a kind heart and often found herself unable to walk away from someone in need. Without a second thought, she would reach out her hand to anyone who had fallen and help them back up again. Her husband recognized her passion and desire to assist others and joyfully aided her in reaching out to anyone who needed help. A day came when the couple noticed a child peeking from behind a tree just slightly off the path. The wife and husband carefully walked over to the malnourished and frightened child and brought him to the elder. The elder first advised them to look for the child’s parents, and when the couple returned unable to find them, the elder further advised them about the struggles and joy they would find in welcoming this child as their own for he had adopted a young child in similar circumstances many years ago.
In the story above, all the families had one goal – to reach the holy land. But not a single one of them had the same experience on their journey. When we read our favorite Orthodox blogger’s latest post and long for their inspirational moment in our own home, we are also longing for the cross they carried in order to have reached that point in their spiritual journey. Sometimes, we really don’t know what we’re actually asking for when we long for the moments in someone else’s life. This is not to say we shouldn’t aspire to these moments but instead realize that our moments may look slightly different from our neighbor. For example, each family’s home prayer life does not need to be identical to the family standing next to them in church. Sincere, thoughtful prayer is the crucial goal – not sharing in the exact same method. It’s also important to seek out our spiritual father’s guidance to help us when we need personal instruction. We can even bring ideas to him that we read about from Orthodox writers. He will be able to tailor it to our unique circumstances and help us achieve our goals when success on our own seems to be slipping through our fingers.
In our Orthodox blogosphere, we come together as a group with differing backgrounds and varying talents. There are bloggers who openly share aspects of their spiritual journey in their posts…and some do not. I’m not elevating one higher than the other. Not at all. I only want to draw your attention to the inner gem found in these personal blogs. There is a beauty and respect one gains for a writer who can share their inner musings and thoughts. It takes a great deal of strength and vulnerability to share with others an intimate part of themselves such as their own spiritual journey. Far more important is how we reflect on these posts gifted to us and the discernment we use as we read them to help inspire ourselves.
Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.