Three days prior to reaching Santiago de Compostela, I received an email from a friend of The Way of St. James. We had walked together for a day early in my journey, and shared quite a bit of conversation on matters of meaningful existence. I’ll let you read his email, as I’m sure he will not mind.
One thought: Could you think of a final post after your arrival in Santiago, stating your “main lessons learned“?
I believe there are so many key thoughts within all these quiet, long posts, and therefore it’s difficult to catch them all.
There is no doubt in my mind that my blog on “The Way” is literally the shipyard and graveyard of a thousand essays on the meaning and purpose of life. I see all kinds of boats and ships of various class; under construction, set to be launched, secured to the dock or resting in the harbor, and many set out to sea. Some are simply a speck on the horizon. And some others are wrecked on reefs of errant thinking, or at the bottom of the sea; sunk by ships faster and more deadly.
I have to believe that my writings are uncomposed; not fully thought through, redacted for clarity and accuracy, nor refined with the most expressive of words and phrases. But, what can I say to that, other than this blog is my first attempt at writing for others to read, and that this blog has been more of a newspaper than an in-depth monograph; barely a journal, perhaps. Its composition structure is based upon the simple reality, and therefore confinement, of schedule. I walk, therefore I write. If I get behind, I cannot keep the devil behind me. It is what it is.
And with many thoughts can come confusion. I know what my friend is asking for, and such a request can never be satisfied with an encyclopedia of research and apologetics. It’s like pumping water into the hold of one of those ships I’ve constructed and launched. At some point, the ship’s going to sink, and all passengers will be lost to the world’s great dissolution. What my friend is asking for is a reasonable answer to a metaphysical question:
“What should I believe in?”
I put this question into a script font to reflect the personal nature of the question. Hopefully, the question comes with the caveat that to receive an answer is to apply the answer into one’s own being. It’s only in the application where one can find a conclusion to the search – the justification – and then get on with the practice of the answer – the sanctification. Unfortunately, for many individuals in our modern society, they are unaware of the encumbrances of habit that heap against their door of understanding like wet sand driven to shore by the storms of life, as well by the gentle lapping of calm waters. In time, the individual becomes unaware of the door as it can offer nothing beyond. What you cannot imagine, you cannot dream.
We all suffer from our experience, and we all regret the loss of our childhood. Not so much that we want to be a child again in the physical norm, but rather that we wish for the innocence and the unwritten pages of our book to be with us once again, so we can renew our mind to conform to our developed body. It’s an odd reality; that the adult body is encumbered with an adult mind. While the former comes to its full potential, the latter becomes calcified by the pride of being and the fear of not being, and so early in one’s adult life.
My friend came to the Camino in search of something. He hopes that his journey will yield something tangible and applicable into his life by which he will acquire a sense of fulfillment of life’s greatest virtues. He has made the effort. He has interrupted his schedule for something. He wants it in his life; the one he has now, and the one he has scheduled through his own efforts. He wants it to be a distilled answer that he can understand and contain, but such an answer will never come to man; man must come to such an answer.
So I offer him this, as I would to you all.
Know that there is one reality that created all other realities; God. And know that God’s sovereign, providential expression is the sacrificial and immutable stewardship of His creation. The Christian calls this Faith.
Know that things beyond your understanding is of greater value than those things you can understand. Know that things of perfect form is of greater value than those things that emulate that perfect form. Know that things of goodness and value can only be those things beyond man’s invention and dominion. Know that Faith is the only answer.
“But what is Faith?” may be the returned question to my answer, and so I offer him this, as I would to you all.
Faith is the knowledge of and continual expression of gratitude.
In my posts of my journey on “The Way”, I have talked much on the disciplined nature of the physical walk itself, and have asserted in no small manner of the value of habit to the economy of action. I stressed this highly, for example, in my post for Day 6 – Estella to Los Arcos, where I walked through the practical nature of walking on the Camino. I raise this subject to note that Faith is the application of being; it is a work by its very definition rather than an inert state of mental existence. Even to say the word “faith” requires work of the mind, the vocals cords, the mouth, and the lips. Faith as work is well demonstrated in Newton’s Laws of Motion:
1. An object either is at rest or moves at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force.
2. The acceleration of a body is directly proportional to, and in the same direction as, the net force acting on the body, and inversely proportional to its mass.
3. When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body.
Alright, I’m probably scaring the (fill in the blank) out of many devout Christians; especially the Catholics and Evangelicals, when I start using empirical law to define spiritual reality, but God created natural law, not me. What I’m trying to do here is to get Faith out of the abstract, transcendent, spiritual concept of immaterial things, where the secular mind is fully baffled by its meaning and purpose, and locate it where it truly resides; in the physical realm. Faith does not exist in the spiritual realm or in Heaven. There, knowledge codifies the realities of God’s kingdom; not abstract concepts.
I’ve inserted Newton’s Laws of Motion to illustrate the process of God’s natural law, as expressed by the Christian religion and its doctrine of community. Faith is at rest until a force (God and man) puts it into motion. Once in motion, Faith will maintain its expression so long as no other force works on it. Faith will react to all forces applied in a proportional manner.
Now, I know I am way oversimplifying, but it is important to illustrate the physical nature of Faith in the physical world. If I, the giver, express a kindness to another, the receiver, there is a residual effect on the receiving party that encourages kindness as an expressive behavior by the receiver; in reality they become a giver. And so it flows according to the forces applied. This is true of all expressions of communication between individuals and groups. The recent term used for such an expression is “pay it forward”. That is the fundamental difference between a secular society – whose forces are drawn from law – versus a Christin society – whose forces are drawn from love. In the secular world, one pays back, and thus owes nothing. In the Christian world, one pays forward, and thus owes everything. That’s gratitude.
“…. since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
Jesus Christ sought no scholar for discipleship, nor preened royalty to lead His Church. To express gratitude does not require an advanced degree or possession of wealth. It, as well as all other Godly virtues, resides within each one of us through God’s creation of our souls; that holy, immortal reservoir of God’s love. We are in the image of God, and with that truth we innately know what is good and what is evil. As such, I worry not that one’s interpretation of gratitude might be errant or vice-ridden. And if one’s soul is so damaged by life’s experiences that one cannot see the purity of such a virtue as gratitude, its definition is well-established and common in all societies. Look it up in the dictionary, or read of its full measure in the Gospels.
For my friend, I would suggest that he first focuses upon this definition of Faith. It is as was requested; a reasonable answer. Let him practice gratitude for all things in his life and the lives of others, and in time, he will find that closed door open, his innocence restored, and his book unwritten.
Love and God Bless – Reese