By Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson Traveling: Living on the Road“I am a part of all that I have met.” —Lord Alfred TennysonLast week, we completed part 3 of our spiritual journey through art. We have now taken survey of the landscape of our spiritual journeys, mapped where we’ve come from and where we’re going, and explored what’s in our spiritual luggage. In case you missed them, here are links to the intro, part 1, part 2, and part 3. This week, we consider who our companions are on this journey.
Travel in the Biblical stories was rarely a solitary experience. Noah traveled with his family and a ship full of animals. Abraham’s lengthy travels with his wife, Sarah, were rich with failures and victories alike. Friends Barnabas and Silas accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys. Joseph and Mary make a wearing journey together toward Bethlehem and a part in the story of salvation. Moses spent forty years wandering the wilderness with a crowd of oft-complaining Israelites.
We are not alone on our spiritual journeys either. “The Lord will guide you continually,” Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 58:11). Not only are we accompanied by divinity on our spiritual journeys, but we are also accompanied by one another. Our paths weave together and across one another like braided streams. We encounter one another on our spiritual journeys, sometimes as fellow travelers, sometimes as guides and followers, sometimes for encouragement: “For if they fall, one will lift up his companion, But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:10)
As you mapped your spiritual journey a couple weeks ago, perhaps you began thinking of people who impacted you along the way—perhaps an older person who took the time to befriend you as a child, parents who modeled a joyful Christian life, a college professor, a friend who is overflowing with grace, or even a fictional character who challenged you to grow spiritually. These are some of your companions on your spiritual journey. Perhaps not all of the significant individuals in your spiritual journey were positive examples, but in some way they affected the direction of your path. These are also your companions.
In college, I encountered two professors who, for me, modeled a life rich in spirituality and art. I saw in them both a genuine faith and a deep love of art, and because of these professors, I realized that I didn’t have to choose between religion and art. I began to believe that I didn’t have to give up either Adventism for the artist’s life or vice versa. My professors had answered Asher Lev’s struggle to reconcile religion and art by embracing both fully, and by doing so, they became spiritual ancestors of mine.
But I am not just on the receiving end of spiritual legacy. I am passing on spiritual legacy as well. My dear nieces and nephews come to mind, of course. They’re growing quickly and are beginning to navigate their own spiritual journeys too, and I’m aware that I’m accompanying them on their journeys and that I’m passing on to them something of my own faith. They are my spiritual descendents, and I hope the spiritual legacy I leave them is an understanding of God’s faithfulness and unchanging love.
Who are your travel companions?
1. Consider the symbols of genealogy, families, and community and their significance to the spiritual journey.
I think the visual of a family is particularly significant here. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). In a sense, our family trees all start with Christ.
What is your spiritual genealogy—literally and figuratively? Who are your spiritual ancestors and descendants? What role models (biblical, familial, secular, fictional) do you include in your spiritual genealogy? What I’d like us to consider here is the impact we have on one another’s spiritual journeys as fellow travelers.
What spiritual inheritance has been passed down to you? And to whom are you passing on this spiritual inheritance? Spiritual descendants may not necessarily be younger than you. They may be friends who seek your companionship on the spiritual journey; sometimes spiritual legacy is passed on and received simultaneously. They may be parents who are growing into the experience of grace.
What is your main role in this family tree? Are you a mother? A younger sister? An uncle? An older brother? I don’t mean literal familial roles, but the spiritual role you fill within your spiritual family tree. Are you the elder sister who nurtures the spiritual growth of those around you? Are you the younger sister looking for spiritual guidance? Are you the uncle who always makes time for his nephew? Are you the spiritual father in your family tree? Does your spiritual identity reveal anything significant about your journey?
2. Draw a spiritual family tree that includes your fellow traveling companions. It can be a traditional-looking family tree, or a creative interpretation. Here’s my spiritual family tree (click for full-size image). It’s much more extensive than my genealogical family tree, and it’s a series of overlapping circles. The circles represent grandparent, parent, sibling, aunts/uncles and descendants roles in my spiritual journey. As I sat down to do this exercise, I realized that in my mind there’s a lot of overlap between the roles—hence the overlapping circles. Each of these roles represents something specific for me.
Grandparents in my spiritual journey represent “heritage”—the faith beliefs and examples instilled in me during childhood. Parental roles represent modeling—the modeling of a life of faith. I chose writers like Flannery O’Connor, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Chaim Potok to represent the many novelists and poets who have impacted my spiritual journey, and they join my real life parents and others from whom I’ve inherited spiritual values. Aunts and uncles represent “nurturing” to me, and the initials and names in this circle indicate some of those who have not so much passed down spiritual values to me as encouraged me in my quest. The quality characterizing my spiritual siblings is “growth.” The names and initials in this circle represent those with whom I am learning and growing. Finally, I’ve designated the word “grace” for the circle that represents my spiritual descendents, because an understanding of God’s grace is what I hope to pass on. In this circle are the aforementioned nieces and nephews, but also my community and the world. I don’t know exactly my role in my community and the world, although I have some inkling. I do know that each of us makes an impact. Each of us passes on something to the world in which we live. For me, I want that something to be grace. In a sense, everything I’ve learned and experienced in my spiritual journey funnels into that statement. “Everything is interwoven, and the web is holy. None of its parts are unconnected. They are composed harmoniously, and together they compose the world.” —Marcus AureliusWhat does your spiritual family tree reveal? What are the responsibilities that come with inheriting faith and with passing on faith? I discovered through this exercise that I believe that spiritual legacy is an interconnected, complex, and colorful inheritance. In our community of faith, our influence is real and it matters. How we live our faith matters—not for what it means for us, but for what it means to those with whom we share our spiritual legacy. We can neither overlook those who have traveled with us on our spiritual journeys nor ignore the responsibility of spiritual legacy. The experience of God’s grace flows down from the hands of Christ into our lives, and it is meant to continue flowing out of our lives into the lives of others.
Are you participating in this spiritual journey through art? Leave a comment and let me know. 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 email@example.com along with a brief description of your artwork. I’ll see about putting them up on the blog.
Next week’s activity is “Discovery: Staking My Claim.”
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4173