"A Narrow Path"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
As I stood on my bathroom scale this morning I unfortunately realized that I had put on a few unwanted extra pounds over the holidays and “half-jokingly” told myself that if I keep on gaining weight like this I won’t be able to fit through the narrow entranceway to the desert that I pass through whenever I take a walk in the wilderness.
Just across the street from our house there is a tiny little entrance path that leads out onto the desert floor. I literally have to squeeze through a hole in some trees and bushes that form a narrow doorway leading out into the wilderness, making it all the more stunning when I finally make my way through and find myself in the midst of a vast and boundless desert paradise.
When I pass through that narrow entrance I often think of something Jesus taught his disciples about walking a spiritual path:
Strive to enter through the narrow door,
because many will try to enter through that narrow door
but will not be able to.
These words probably sound rather obscure to those of us who hear them nowadays, but if you lived back in Jesus’ time you would have immediately understood what he was saying. This one little phrase is filled with a profound wisdom.
Back in Jesus’ day there were two ways through which you could enter a city like Jerusalem. One entrance was through the main gate, and this was the path most people traveled. This entranceway was wide enough to accommodate large crowds: soldiers on horses clad in their armor, temple priests in royal garb, merchants hauling carts laden with wares to be sold in the marketplace, people with their purses filled with enough cash to “do some serious shopping.”
But there was another, little used entranceway into the city: a little narrow door though which only one person at a time might barely squeeze through. If you entered through that narrow door you couldn’t haul all your “stuff” along with you – no horses, no armor, no carts, no purses.
When Jesus tells his disciples that the entrance to a spiritual path is through the narrow door, he is saying that if you want to get to that place of deeper peace and fuller life you need to leave all your “ego-stuff” behind. In order to enter through the narrow passage, you must leave behind your old self with all its attachments so that you might find a new self on the other side.
Of course many people won’t be able to do this because they aren’t willing to let go of all the things they cling to, their accumulated possessions, long-held ideas, exaggerated sense of self importance, and so they will walk the road more traveled with all their “stuff” in tow: many will try to enter through that narrow door but will not be able to.
I am reminded of something Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, once said:
Letting go gives us freedom,
and freedom is the only condition for happiness.
If, in our heart, we still cling to anything –
ideas, anger, anxiety or possessions
we cannot be free.
When I got off the scale this morning I vowed to lose some of those extra pounds so that I can pass through that narrow door. I also remembered one of my favorite Sufi prayers:
May I be given
The narrow path
The wide outlook
The end in peace