I’ve recently been challenged by a question posed in Goodreads. ‘What mystery in your own life could be a plot for a book?’
This got me reflecting on my life’s journey. Sure, like all of us, I have a life story. Some parts of it may be inspiring, touching, even amazing. There have been mysteries, problems to be solved, challenges to overcome. No doubt some parts of my life, if not the whole story, are worth telling, and could even make a good book. But as I thought about this, it seemed to me that the greatest mystery in my life is my inner journey; why I make the decisions I do, why I act and interact with others in certain ways, why I repeat certain unhelpful patterns of behaviour. At nearly 70 I’m surprised at how often I still wonder why I did or said something, why I reacted in a certain way. Shouldn’t I know myself really well by now? Shouldn’t I be fully formed, stable, predictable? At least to myself? Shouldn’t the rough edges be smoothed out by now? Shouldn’t I have found the wisdom I need to decide and respond well? Clearly not, because I’m still a mystery, to myself often and no doubt, to others at least sometimes.
Last week I read Ian Acheson’s ACW blog – a great review of Christine Painter’s book, The Soul of a Pilgrim, which I encourage you to read, and which was a good reminder to me that we are never fully formed this side of heaven, that our life’s journey is a pilgrimage with God, ever changing, growing, becoming. Of course, deep down I’ve known this for a long time, but needed reminding. I was particularly taken by a line in the Blurb for the book. “Painter identifies 8 stages of the pilgrim’s way and shows how to follow these steps to make an intentional, transformative journey to the reader’s “wild edges.” I loved that image and it took me on a short journey through some similar lines I’ve recently read.
The Introduction to the Soul of a Pilgrim begins with a quote from Mark Nepo from his book, The Exquisite Risk: “To journey without being changed is to be a nomad. To change without journeying is to be a chameleon. To journey and to be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.” What a great challenge and also a warning for me. I mustn’t cease to be a pilgrim!
This led me to another of Nepo’s books, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen. Nepo, on learning that there were seven thousand living languages on earth (and these are only the ones we know of), suggested there must, therefore, be at least seven thousand ways to listen. “To enter into deep listening, I’ve had to learn how to keep emptying and opening, how to keep beginning. I’ve had to lean into all I don’t understand, accepting that I am changed by what I hear. Listening is a personal pilgrimage that takes time and a willingness to circle back. With each trouble that stalls us and each wonder that lifts us, we are asked to put down our conclusions and feel and think anew. Unpredictable as life itself is, the practice of listening is one of the mysterious, luminous and challenging art forms on earth. … This is the work of reverence: to stay vital and alive by listening deeply.”
This listening, paying attention to what is happening deep within us, where God’s voice is quiet but most enlightening, is what Marjorie Thompson, in Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, calls an act of worship. “Worship ushers us into the present of the living God and demands the attention, receptivity, and response of our whole being. It asks us to disengage from the nose-length focus of daily life and see below the surface to life’s source. We can then reengage the realities of the world from a deeper and clearer perspective.”
I’ve also been dipping into Curt Thompson’s, ‘Anatomy of the Soul,’ in which the author explores the ways in which we impede the blessings of God by struggling to believe that God loves us much as He claims in scripture, that He delights in us, treasures us, that He wants to live deeply with us, moment by moment. What a mystery is that? How can that be? That Almighty God, creator of the universe, could love us so. Thompson invites us to sit with God until we can feel God’s feeling about us. Not just believe it, but feel it. Now, there’s a journey worth taking.
All of these writers encourage paying attention to our inner journey as much – perhaps more – than the outer journey, returning to what really matters throughout the day, naming what is meaningful, noting the changes, or possible changes that can come from our experiences, from ageing, from surviving loss, from words, written or spoken, which come from others, from scripture and from our deep moments with God.
I’ve been reminded in all of this that the deepest mystery in my life is the wonder of being chosen by God to be His child, to walk through my life with Him. I’ve remembered how often the first thing that comes to my mind when I stop and make space and time for God, is : “How can this be, that You have loved me, saved me, want to share my life, invite me to share life with you?” It is also a mystery to me why I let this amazing truth and grace fade into the background and allow busyness, distractions (even good ones) to dim my excitement and gratitude for God’s love.
I’m thankful to the writers who prompt me to reflect on my inner life; both fiction and non-fiction writers. While I enjoy a good novel to escape into, a good plot and a moving story about someone else’s life, I know I need to balance my reading with writings which will challenge my inner life and prompt me to delve deeply into the mystery of God’s love for me, which is the source and underpinning of all my living.
Carol writes historical novels based on her family ancestry in Australia from the First Fleet. They include the Turning the Tide series; Mary’s Guardian, Charlotte’s Angel, Tangled Secrets and Truly Free. Two of her earlier novels, Suzannah’s Gold and Rebecca’s Dream, were re-released by EBP. Next of Kin was released in 2015 by Rhiza Press and the sequel, Beyond the Fight, was released in 2016. You can see more about Carol and her novels on her website, her Amazon author page or FB author page.