We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – TS Eliot
As I continue to spend some time with the Prayer of Brendan the Navigator this Lent, I remembered these lines by TS Eliot, words which speak to the very heart of journey and breaking new ground. I am sure there are many worthies who have waxed lyrical on the meaning of this quotation. I am not proposing that I have anything new to say, other than share the times when I have known the truth of it myself.
I’ve learned over the years that new places are not necessarily the things that teach us. I’ve lived in several places and experienced many new things, new people and new opportunities. It is quite possible to travel many miles and yet learn nothing. If that is true of life experience, it is true of the relationship between me and God.
Coming into the presence of God as a young teenager was like a discovering that I’m not alone, that I’m loved, regarded, and seen. As I grew, to come to God was to come into the presence of One with answers, direction, guidance and revelation. The temptation, then, is to continue to try to come back to that place again and again, but God, whilst always the same, is never the same. When I think I’ve got him pinned down, he reminds me he is Other. And so, journeying on, I begin to learn to know God’s presence through patterns and forms, the rhythm of prayer and discipline, obedience and trust. I discover that through the discipline of seeking him, he delights to dance around and enliven my human regularity. I find him there, and then, one day, the forms empty, the patterns fade and all that remains are the questions in the silence. The pursuit continues.
Stepping into the void, I fall into the arms of the God of Questions who causes me to search deeper within my own self, to wade through the driftwood and blockages of life which clutter up the divine flow within. God becomes elusive but ever present, real but beyond reach. I open myself to his mystery, fumble in some darkness until I come to the acknowledgement that ‘underneath are his ever lasting arms.’ Having got to the bottom and found him there, I’m released once more to approach him in simplicity, to know him again in all the ways I’ve experienced him in a new way!
Breaking new ground in faith is what comes through the determination of refusing to make God in my own image; in freeing him from my own limitations; and, in trusting him to be the one in whom all my exploration can take place. My guide in all this? Jesus of Nazareth, whose knowledge of God is unsurpassed, but whose life shows me that God can be found, trusted and known as much as he can be lost, questioned and remain mysterious.
If, like Brendan, I am to ‘leave the old ways and break fresh ground’ with God, then it is a commitment to permanent travel. It is a commitment to always take a second look. It is to see God’s presence and influence in places I looked before but didn’t find. It is the joy of being surprised, delighted and thrilled with the familiar, and to know all things again for the first time.