"Walking Down a Wilderness Road"
When I was a younger man, I imagined that one of the benefits of growing older would be that I would be able to "apply" all that I had learned throughout my life - my education and life experiences would no doubt serve me well in gaining a greater wisdom in my later years.
Now that I am in my later years, I have discovered that I was only partially right about the benefits of growing older. While I have indeed benefitted from all my many years of education and life experiences; I have also discovered that in essence I have had to "unlearn" most of everything I once held as true and accepted as fact.
As I walked my daily wilderness walk yesterday, I was struck by one particular "unlearning" gained in my later years living in the desert.
The desert is a big place- it's bigger than big - vast and expansive. In fact, it's so big that it reduces you, making you feel as if you have absolutely no control over it.
When I walk the desert I never really think about reaching any particular destination. In fact even if I do try to set an "end point" for my walk, I become quickly discouraged because everything seems so far away and unreachable- the high stoney mountains, endless sandy terrain.
So the lesson I have learned here is to simply focus on where I am.
As always, the desert is my great teacher. It teaches me about who I am, and how I am related to other people and to the larger world around me. It teaches me about the "Holy" - forming in me new understandings about who "God" is.
The desert has taught me to unlearn those well-worn "truths" about life that I once carried around with me as if they were "givens."
For most of my life I operated under the principle of "keep your eyes on the prize." As I grew up, I was taught (and believed) that the secret to success was determined by a clear articulation of goals and objectives - figure out who you want to be and what you want to do in life, develop a career strategy, devise a plan for "church growth," develop personal, educational and spiritual growth goals and then, with your "eyes on the prize," work toward meeting those goals.
In my desert walk yesterday, I remembered all those numerous spiritual retreats I had conducted over the years as a parish priest. In keeping with my "eyes on the prize" philosophy, I would always begin the retreat by asking participants what they "hoped to get out of their retreat experience." I was asking them to set their goals, determine their destination so they could use the retreat time to reach their desired outcomes.
Yesterday as a walked along the wilderness road, I sort of chuckled to myself. Today I wouldn't even think of starting off a retreat by asking people to begin by defining their intended destination.
In fact, my newly learned direction in life (my unlearned learning) is
Keep your eyes off the prize!
As I look back on my life, I wonder how much I missed in the present by being so future-oriented. I now realize that my efforts at determining my destinations and working toward my goals were purely an act of a bloated ego. "I" was in control - "I" wanted to be in control.
"I" was the one who determined where "I" wanted to go with my life and my work. And yes, "I" was the one who determined who "God" was and who I wanted God to be, and what "I" wanted "God to do. After all those years of studying theology, I figured that I should be able to have a pretty good handle on what direction my spiritual path should take.
I have unlearned it all, and in the unlearning I have come to a place of far deeper peace.
I have no clue about what the future might hold for me (I never did before either, but fooled myself into believing I did). So, I just get up every day and walk along the wilderness road - concentrating on what is, always surprised by what comes my way.
In fact, I have no clue as to who "God" really is or what "God" might want of me or what I want God to do - I have NO goals for the spiritual life. All my descriptions, my neat sanitized categories, my names for "God," my theologies about "God" have essentially been abandoned- unlearned.
Now all I have is "God" - Wildly Passionate, Frighteningly Awesome, Intimately Tender, Always Abiding, Holy Presence - "God"
I walk along the wilderness road - my eyes are off the prize.