J is for Journey (an alphabet for penitents)

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. –Phillipians 3:12

Journey is seen, in Scripture, most poignantly in the Exodus, but it comes to describe the very nature of the spiritual life. In Lent, we describe our ‘lenten journey’ and trace Jesus’ circuitous and difficult road to Calvary. Early Christians were called ‘followers of the Way,'(cf. Acts 22:4) indicating that we are a people on the move. We are pilgrims on a journey; we are brothers on the road. We are here to help each other, walk the mile and bear the load.

Israel left Egpyt bound for the Promised Land. The end of their wilderness wanderings took them to Canaan. Israel crossed over the Jordon River and entered the land. African American spirituals pick up on this Exodus/journey motif (historically speaking the coded language of abolition):

Come and go to that land
Come and go to that land
Come and go to that land

Where I’m bound
Where I’m bound

There are two aspects of journey which I think are instructive for us. First, our current actions—the things we do and the steps we take—are determined by our destination. We do what we do because we are going where we are going. Even in the relative ease of modern air travel, we begin our journey by resetting our watches to the time zone we are heading toward. We look out the window and watch the landscape change beneath us. We count down the hours and watch the airplane’s journey on the little screen on the seat in front of us. In the same way, followers of the Way are always looking for signs of God’s inbreaking Kingdom. Are we there yet? We press on, eager to hold of that for which Christ took hold of us. Second, we also know we have not yet arrived. Are we there yet? Nope. Things aren’t as they should be. We aren’t where we want to be. We aren’t in the land of Promise yet. We haven’t arrived at our goal. 

These two aspects of our journey are in tension. Our destination determines our current action, but we haven’t arrived. This is the already/not yet tension of God’s Kingdom. We acknowledge that both the things out there and our own interior life are not where they need to be. But we don’t settle for where we are either. We haven’t arrived but we are on the move. Holding these two aspects in tension helps us to hold on to our idealism and be gracious with ourselves (and others) for not being there yet.

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