Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Why Are We Doing This?

During our first day hiking in the Tatra mountains, my daughter (who is 11) made an honest comment: I don't understand why we are doing this.

Her mental approach is not unlike my own, and so I find this a very useful observation. She was not making a thinly-veiled complaint (Why am I doing this? I don't want to.) but rather was searching for understanding of what use this was.

Because, let's face it, climbing up that mountain we were bathed in sweat, carrying backpacks, straining muscles, panting, getting sore, traveling mostly in silence for sheer lack of breath, and various other discomforts -- all with the point of climbing to an unseen destination an unknown distance away. And then we'd turn and go back down again. What's the point?

Metaphorically, this question can be applied to pilgrimage in general. We invested a lot of work, a lot of stress, a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of effort, all to go to a destination that offered constant unknown, surprises, discomforts, trials.

Why? Why do this?

The Christian conception of pilgrimage, as I have now experienced it, boils down to this: Love calls and awakens a desire in the beloved for Himself. That desire compels us, and eventually propels us past what we actually bargained for. We do not seek difficulties. We do not seek thrills. We do not seek challenges. We seek God. God will be found by any heart that is determined to seek. It is the will that keeps on after the feeling of desire gives out.

Determination happens inside one's soul. St. Teresa of Avila says determination is the fruit of Christian daring. You cannot borrow someone else's determination; you cannot put it on like a jacket. Endurance can push you through difficulties, but determination means the will faces the difficulty and goes forward, regardless of feeling. We dare to seek the face of God, and God rewards us with grace that unites us to Him more profoundly.

I generally find graces to be shocking. Better territory than I ever expect, but always surprising, costly, humbling, and ennobling.

For me, I see that God is dead serious about me being a Carmelite. Frankly, it comes as a bit of a surprise just how serious God is about me at all. I haven't always taken myself very seriously. I'm just a doot, a basically meaningless person. Who cares. I've thought this attitude was humility.

But it isn't. God is Totally Awesome, and I exist in order to live in union with Him, making me an agent of bearing Totally Awesome into this world where vast, heart-breaking numbers of people basically want to die because all they know is pain, pain, and pain. Repeatedly, I have been the recipient of love either dripping from or flowing from another (depending upon how much I could handle without being suffocated by it all). God does not give to me so that I can sit on a couch and hug myself and think about myself. He gives to me so that I can give every ounce of my little soul to Him, so that I can love and pray -- not because I am great and have great things to give, but because He is great and has great things to give through me. I ain't got nothin'! But He's got everything, and I have Him!

We go to this place of stripping because we follow Jesus who accepted the way of the cross. We follow other believers who, in following Jesus have climbed mountains and entered churches and shrines and gathered and prayed and sought Him. We join where others have led. We call to others to follow, even if they aren't exactly sure Who they will find. As St. John of the Cross famously said, when a soul is seeking God, his Beloved is already seeking that soul all the more ardently.

We climb the mountain and we go on pilgrimage to be found. In being found by God, we discover who we are. We are His sons and daughters. We are His mother, bringing Him to birth again in this world, for the salvation of souls and the glory of Blessed Trinity.

We live and move and have our being in the Totally Awesome.