Last week, we completed part 2 of our spiritual journey through art. We have now taken survey of the landscape of our spiritual journeys and mapped where we’ve come from and where we’re going. In case you missed them, here are links to the intro, part 1, and part 2. This week, we’re considering what we carry with us on the journey.
This is your spiritual luggage. What’s in it?
Luggage, in this exercise, represents the spiritual heritage that has been handed down to us, the philosophies, ideas, and beliefs we’ve collected along the way, the tools we use along the journey to forge our own paths. I think it's very hard to be spiritual unless you have resisted the religious ideas that were first given to you, unless you resist dogma. It seems to me that great religious or spiritual journeys are just that: journeys; they are passages from one side to another. If you buy what has been given to you as dogma, you may be religious in some terms but you probably know very little about the spiritual. There are of course ways of taking journeys within one's own religion. I've always liked that Buddha, in order to talk about sin and temptation, had to pass through the city of sin and temptation. He didn't avoid it, he went through it, came out with a vision that exceeded it. That's a spiritual journey. If you stand still, you know nothing about spirituality. -Stephen Dunn, poetConsider these biblical references (some narrative, some metaphorical) to what we carry on our spiritual journeys:
- When Jesus sent out the 70, he directed them, “Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’” (Luke 10:3, 4)
- For the rich young ruler, the message was similar: “‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’” (Mark 10:21)
- Noah was commanded to take some unusual baggage on his boat ride. “And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.” (Genesis 6:19)
- Paul bids us, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)
While I attended boarding academy years ago, I flew back to Japan every summer with two suitcases so full they barely zipped shut. My suitcases were bursting with clothes (you know how teenage girls are about clothes), books I couldn’t part with for even a couple of months, and a plethora of stuffed animals. At customs at Narita International Airport, stuffed animals popped out left and right, much to the dismay of officials who made the, in my opinion, unwise decision to inspect my suitcases. I think I packed everything I could, because I didn’t know which belongings I really wanted with me over the summer.
By contrast, fifteen years later when my husband and I traveled to France and Germany for two weeks, we each packed a backpack in the spirit of Rick Steves. We had travel-sized everything. Each piece of clothing was carefully chosen and rolled into the tiniest space possible. Everything we needed we carried on our backs, and when my pack got too heavy, my husband took some of the load.
Somewhere between academy and the trip to Europe, I grew out of a pack rat and into someone who enjoys purging excess belongings. This is true of my spiritual luggage too. I’ve shed much of what feels unnecessary to my spiritual journey, and I’m down to the bare essentials. These include faith in grace, kindness toward others, open-mindedness, and responsibility to humanity. They aren’t 28 fundamental beliefs, but they are my fundamental beliefs. I believe they’ll last me the journey. Even so, even though they’re light luggage, sometimes I still need someone to help me carry the weight.
1. Take inventory of what you’re carrying on your spiritual journey. Ponder the symbolism of what’s in your spiritual luggage.
- Is your luggage light or heavy? Did you pack light, or do you have a dozen suitcases of luggage?
- What’s in your luggage? Ten pounds of Ellen White’s Testimonies? Twenty-eight Fundamental Beliefs? A stack of old Spectrum magazines? A case of Nuteena?
- Have you been asked to carry something unexpected on your journey—an illness, an emerging talent, or an experience of grief, for example? Were you handed Moses’ leadership role, Job’s boils, or Noah’s livestock to take on the journey when you least expected it?
- How much of what you’re carrying with you was an inheritance? How much have you acquired along the way?
- What did you forget to pack? Did you forget that robe of grace, balm of Gilead, or armor of light? Did you lose something along the way that you miss—mustard seeds perhaps?
- What baggage do I need to leave behind? Have you acquired excess belongings?
- What kind of shoes did you pack for the journey? New Testament sandals? Combat boots? Running shoes? Why?
Here’s my luggage (drawn left-handed once again) and some of its contents:
I’ve packed a library—the Bible, Ellen White, and fiction. Much of what I know and believe about the world and God, I learned from these books that aren’t so removed from one another as one might expect. I’ve also packed a compass that represents my explorer’s spirit and a palette with which to express my love of the beauty, balance, color, texture, etc., all at play in the world.
I’m still searching for answers to the difficult questions—the ones that everyone always tries to answer but never adequately—and also a spiritual community. Though I’ve depicted community by a church building, my sense is that my spiritual community has boundaries different from the walls of a church building, or even a set of 28 doctrines. My spiritual community is creative, alive, and expansive in ways that transcend typical boundaries, and I haven’t found it yet.
Along my journey, I’ve lost a child’s faith in which prayers are always heard. I want to believe that prayers are always heard, but sometimes I just don’t know. By choice, I’ve left behind most of my black and white film, because the world is more colorful and complex than black and white photos can represent.
I’m still carrying too much luggage though. I need to empty my carrying case of guilt, because I have grace instead. I need to rid my luggage of unnecessary boxes in which I like to place people who have received my stamp of disapproval, because they too have grace. My luggage will be lighter that way, and more joyful, and I’ll go farther in my travels.
“Bon voyage!” Jesus bids. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light,” he says (Matthew 11:30). Not only that, when I am lost, he carries me. In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, when the good shepherd finds the one lost sheep he “lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing” and carries it home. (Matthew 15:5) I am meant to thrive along the journey. “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
2. Make a drawing that represents what you’re packing for your spiritual travels. You may want to divide your belongings into four piles: what’s in your luggage, what you forgot to pack, what you’re looking for, and what you need to leave behind.
What does your luggage reveal about you, the spiritual traveler? This exercise is about taking inventory, and if necessary, allowing us to recognize what’s weighing us down. Perhaps you'll be reminded of what's most important to you in your spiritual journey. Or, if there are belongings you need to get rid of, perhaps you'll take this opportunity to mentally unpack them from your luggage and leave them behind. Perhaps you'll decide to take the time to open your luggage regularly to see what you can learn about your spiritual journey.
Discovery often comes to us slowly, after all. I'll leave you to ponder this quote from Rainier Maria Rilke: "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer."Are you participating in this art journey? If so, please leave a comment and let me know. And as always, if you’re brave enough to share your creations with the world, scan them in and email them to me (signed or anonymously) at firstname.lastname@example.org along with a brief description of your artwork. I’ll see about putting them up on the blog.
Next week’s activity is “Traveling: Living on the Road.”
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4180