In the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, writer Elizabeth Gilbert gives up her entire way of life to spend a year traveling the world, finding spiritual enlightenment along the way. Julia Roberts, who plays Gilbert’s character in the movie version out this week, apparently found enlightenment of her own through the role, revealing that she has become a practicing Hindu.
As Joan Ball asks in a Guest Voices post, “Is it possible to live a life of deep, transformational faith without dropping everything and hitting the road?”
In your tradition, what is the aim of the spiritual journey?
There are those who would say: “We are all going up the same mountain; we’re just on different paths.” I don’t buy that. I’m more inclined to say that there is one true path, but we climb at different speeds and in different ways. Religious people should first struggle to find that true path before they immerse themselves in the journey.
Some people are called upon to devote their entire life to a spiritual journey. Many priests, ministers, rabbis, and nuns forsake other aspects of their lives to seek a higher truth. I admire the dedication of these people. They show a faith that few others have. They may also reach higher levels of understanding than the rest of us, but that is not certain.
Dedication is only part of the equation. It only works if the voyager is on the correct path or close to it. If the journey follows the wrong path, the lessons taught and learned will be wrong. Unfortunately, it is sometimes hard to recognize whether the path is the correct one. Moreover, I am afraid that total commitment often brings with it an undeserved level of respect.
The world today should teach us that total emersion in faith can result in very different outcomes. Both Osama bin Ladin and Billy Graham have devoted their lives to their faiths. They have “walked the walk,” but they are on very different paths. One man has contributed greatly to humanity by preaching a doctrine of peace. The other has spread terror and death. The path, not their dedication or determination, made the difference.
For most of us, the contrast between paths will not be this stark, but nevertheless it is clear that people of faith need to attach a good deal of significance to finding the best path. This is not a passive decision. Faith is a serious matter, and as Pope Benedict XVI has explained, it requires the application of reason. We are called upon to educate ourselves about matters of faith.
Pope John Paul II said “be not afraid.” Be not afraid of new ideas. Be not afraid of exploring foreign doctrines. Be not afraid of looking at other paths. But, be not afraid to defend the truth or to hold fast to your faith. Undue reliance must not be placed in others simply because they have taken a long spiritual journey. It is up to each of us to examine the path of our spiritual journey and to select our direction with great care.