Basically, every story ever told is a quest story: The hero must go on a journey to locate the thing he thinks he needs.
And basically, every well-written quest story ends with the realization that the thing they have needed has been with them all along. Consider, if you will, Dorothy with her ruby slippers. It is telling that she received them right at the beginning; furthermore, it is the shoes which in some sense allow her to move down the yellow brick road at all.
It is as if the decision to embark on the quest is the most important thing.
When Jesus told his followers he was going to be leaving, they got upset and asked how they would ever find him. Jesus responded “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”
I understand Jesus to be saying, “Your journey is sacred. The act of leaving is the holy part of it. At the end, you will find that I have been with you all along.”
We, like Dorothy, will find that the ruby slippers we got, right as we took those very first steps, are the things we needed after all.
I think the way that we use that verse is tragic. It is wielded like a weapon. You would think that Jesus said, “I am the wall, and the football team’s defensive line. I plan on actively interfering with your ability to find truth and life.”
Of course, a little bit of a shell game goes on. Because the people who pervert Jesus’ words in this case might object that they want to help those on their quests find Jesus. When those words get (mis)used, inevitably what follows is an explanation of their view on just what a Christian needs to do in order to connect to Jesus.
A reason I find these understandings suspect is that they generally rely on cherry picking from some other part of the bible. There is talk of special prayers that are required to connect with Jesus; or specific rituals; or prescribed actions.
Perhaps these actions, prayers and rituals are good things to do. Many of them are in the bible. But Jesus, I think, is saying at this time, that his followers already know where they are going. They have known the father the whole time. They are wearing the slippers that they thought they were looking for.
As a big fan of quest stories, I know that one of the ways to drag out a quest is to complicate the trip in some way. If it doesn’t take Harry Potter the whole novel to find the piece of Voldemort’s soul, perhaps we can extend the journey by requiring him to find a weapon capable of destroying the horcruxes. If the video game’s over-arching plot wasn’t quite extensive enough to justify the money customers will spend, perhaps we can throw in some side quests to customize the game. If the journey with the one true ring isn’t quite expansive enough, perhaps we need to take a side-trip to where the elves lives for somebody to heal up.
If the actual distance covered in this journey wasn’t really the point, then the actual distance in the side-journeys is even less relevant. I have been thinking, lately, about the soul. I think, that our quest to find, understand, and highlight the soul is a side-quest… An adventure in missing the point.
The thing we had? Our version of the slippers? It was the thing that was so close we never even gave it a second thought. It was this body, that carried us around, through the journey. The physical stuff that carter our thoughts, ideas, and sensations around… This was what we needed in the first place.
I realize that there is lots that ought to be said about this. I hope you will forgive me if I am being a bit provacative. I will be back in a couple days and say some more about this idea. But for now, I wanted to give you something to sit with, and explore.
If you have some thoughts– maybe simply that I have it all wrong– I hope you’ll leave a comment below.