- Panentheism – an Inclusive and Diverse View of God
- Immersed in God
- Destinations and Journeys
“There are many paths to God.”
A few years ago, the United Methodist church in the US ran an ad campaign that showed people climbing up a mountain. Some took one route, some another; some went directly, others followed a more winding course; some came from the east, the west, the north or the south. In the end, they all arrived at the top of the same mountain.
Modern pluralism has embraced the old saying “We’re all trying to get to the same place” with great enthusiasm.
But I wonder…
Now, don’t worry, I haven’t been converted by the “my way or the hellway” crowd. No, what I wonder about is whether we haven’t missed the point (again) by talking about the destination at all.
I often hear people describe the traditional Christian image of heaven as boring. Who would want to sit around for eternity singing hosannas? How long could you stand it if nothing new ever happened?
For those who live in horrible conditions, whether in a war- or famine-ravaged part of the world; or in squalid or abusive places in the most advanced societies on the planet, I can understand how a few eons of peace and quiet might be appealing. Not to mention justly earned. But even for them, would an eternity of quietude be satisfying?
There’s another old saying that I like – It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
What if the point isn’t to reach a “goal” but rather to engage in a journey? A journey without end.
Regardless of whether it’s called “heaven” or “Nirvana” or “at-one-ment” or “Cosmic Unity” or anything else; whether it’s traditional religion or New Age spirituality; it always seems as though we express faith in terms of a goal to strive for.
And there’s the problem. If we’re concentrating on our destination, then everything we do between here and there is simply a means to an end.
I took a trip last summer with my daughter. We drove across Canada to see my sons. One lives in Alberta, the other in British Columbia. I live in Ontario. Unfortunately, I miscalculated the distances (using an American Google map which talks in those quaint “miles” things, and then converting to kilometers, is not recommended). The result was that we left later than we should have and ended up in a mad dash across the country in order to get to our destination on time. The places I had planned to stop, the people I had planned to see, sped by the open window while I snapped pictures and my daughter wondered how many shots of snow-covered mountains one really needed to put on Facebook.
The destination was all that mattered.
The thing is, from a purely human, materialistic point of view, that makes perfectly good sense. We only had a limited amount of time. If I had to choose between looking at dinosaur bones or the north shore of Lake Superior, and playing with my grandchildren and hugging my sons and daughter-in-law, there was no contest. The destination won.
But faith isn’t like that.
As much as I liked the United Methodist mountain-as-many-paths metaphor, I’ve come to realize that it missed the mark as well.
It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
In fact, we should turn the image around. We all start from the same point. We come into the world in the same way, with no preconceived ideas of what the world, or God, are like.
From that common starting point, we fan out in all directions. None of us experiences the world, or God, in exactly the same way. Good fortune or bad, loving family or aching loneliness, celebrity, notoriety, or anonymity; for each and every one of us, a path as distinct as our fingerprints.
From that perspective, the mountain is not a good metaphor. In fact, it could be downright depressing. It conjures up an image of moving “away from” the point of unity. It seems to say that, as we go through life we get farther and farther away from God.
Which, I hope I can hear you saying, is just wrong. We know that we’re not moving away from God. We know it because God doesn’t move away from us. God is part of us, now and always.
So instead of a mountain, or paths (many or one), let’s try a different metaphor.
We are like fish. We’re constantly surrounded by the “ocean” of God’s Spirit. We breathe it in, it gives us life. No matter where we go or what we do, God is there. We need no “destination” to be one with God because God was, is and always shall be, one with us.
But to experience God more fully we need to swim. We need to explore. We need to move in a myriad of different directions; in three dimensions. That’s the only way we can encounter more of God.
If we stay in the same pool in which we were spawned, it isn’t that we won’t “reach our destination.” We’ll still know God – in whatever way God is expressed in that place. Whether through small eddies that bring the taste of salt; or in the warmth of still waters heated by the sun.
But we’ll never know the crash of the surf, or the rushing of a waterfall, or the magnificence of a calving glacier. Those are also part of the “ocean” in which we live and move and have our being.
There aren’t many paths to God. Nor is there just one path to God. There is only learning about the limitless diversity in the ocean of Creation that is still only a partial expression of all that God is.
And even when we inevitably reach the time when we can journey no farther, we don’t need to be concerned about the destination. Because our “destination”, our God, has been with us the whole time.
Enjoy the journey.
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