A man’s work is nothing but a slow task to rediscover, through the detour of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened. -Albert Camus
I was watching a video of one of my mentors, Suzanne Stabile, teaching and she said something I have heard her say before, but it struck me in a fresh way. Talking about our spiritual journey she said, “the journey is not linear it is circuitous.” I believe this phrase arrested my soul because so often I live under the compulsion, and with the expectation that the spiritual journey will be direct, simple, short, and clear. Yet my own experience has felt much like the word God shared with the Hebrews as they began their journey from liberation through the wilderness. “When Pharaoh let the people go, God didn’t lead them by the way of the Philistines, even though that was the shorter route… God led the people by the roundabout way of the Red Sea desert.” (Exodus 13:17-18)
This seems so much more like the spiritual journey I find myself on. Liberated from the bondage of brokenness and sin, I expect a quick jaunt through the desert to the Promise Land. Instead, God doesn’t lead me by the shorter route. As we start a new year, it is natural for this to become a time where we take stock of our lives. Every year we circle around to New Year’s Eve and consider if we lost the weight, completed the Bible plan, made more time for our family, and on and on.
If you are like me, then this season is fraught with the dual dangers of shame and self-glorification. I can assume a smug self-satisfaction about the ways I’m a much better San Antonian, coffee connoisseur, member of Trinity, and follower of Jesus than those “other” people, because of the ways I accomplished my goals. On the other hand, I can quickly go for a long ride on the shame train for all of the ways I failed to live into my goals and the person Christ is calling me to be.
It seems part of this comes from my whole notion that the spiritual life is linear. I either celebrate or lament the way my line is trending upward or downward. Jesus seems to introduce a different perspective when he says, “unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) He tells a society who didn’t value children, and was eager to grow beyond their innocence, perspective, and social status, that unless they can circle back around to that perspective, they will be missing something essential to having a Kingdom perspective and life. Jesus is often subverting our linear perspective with such phrases like “the first will be last, and the last will be first.”
How would our lives and this new year be different if we leaned into the reality that the spiritual journey is circuitous? Would we be at peace with ourselves, one another, and with God as we travel down winding, confusing, and surprising routes? I invite you to consider that Jesus is inviting us to follow him on a circuitous journey.