The coldest part of my vigil was in the blue pre-dawn. My fire was small as I waited for the sun to rise, too small to fight back the cold that had settled in through the night. I hesitated to put more wood on lest the fire still be burning when the sun rose.
Even before the sun is fully risen there is already much more light in the sky than my campfire could ever offer. I imagined what it would be like to live in a world only lit by campfires. How taxing that would be, always concerned about having enough wood, always fearful of what’s in the dark. There would be so much soot and smoke and ash and fear.
It would be exhausting, which is exactly how I felt as I waited for the sun to rise.
I wanted so badly to stop tending this fire, to simply rest in the light and warmth of the risen sun. I wrote in my journal:
This might be the hardest part, waiting in the dawn for the sun to rise.
“Should I put more wood on?”
“It’s light out. You don’t need to.”
“Then put wood on. Let the wood serve you; it was always meant to.”
I stoked up the fire a bit and thought about Jesus saying that the Sabbath was made for the people, not the people for the Sabbath. All this effort put into campfires and disciplines, its all meant to be a set of tools for us not a burden to be carried, or a gauntlet to be overcome.
Prayer is not a thousand step staircase you must climb on your knees, it’s a hammer with which to build your faith.
I don’t know why every prayer is not answered, but I do know that the more you pray, the more prayers will be answered.
I also know that sometimes that’s just not enough to build your faith on. Like Mike McHargue says, you can pray to a milk jug with the same results. Consistency of answered prayer would go a long way in developing the Saints, but it would also go a long way in developing our systems and rules and expectations of a vending machine god.
When we make God into a graven image, or even a mental one, we define Him in our own terms and we create expectations of how He “works”. That’s when our spiritual practice becomes old-school pagan.
Suddenly, our prayers are concocted with a little eye of newt in the name of Jesus.
Campfires work like that. I know what to put into it, and how to maintain it, to get the size of fire I want. It would be so comfortable if my god worked the same way.
But He’s just not that small. He’s as infinitely more vast than any concept I can create as the risen sun is than any campfire I can build, and He refuses to settle for being my idol.
God is not a formula, and neither is my relationship with Him, which is why vision quests and pilgrimages are not guaranteed to bring me enlightenment or revelation. It’s why I can hike 500 miles across Spain and return home seemingly unchanged. It’s why Jonah can spend three days in the bowels of a fish and still come out angry at the mercy of God. And why I can spend three days on a mountain and feel nothing but weariness.
None of these things earn us anything. All we can do is submit to the process, like a seed submits to the soil. Without the soil the seed will not give way to the plant, but once buried the seed gets to work being born again.
This is the closest I can come to understanding the process of Theosis, where our practice of the disciplines meets the cosmic force of the Divine to bring forth a new branch of the vine.
It’s an analogy that gives me a picture I can wrap my head around, but if I’m honest, I’ll admit that it doesn’t totally satisfy me. I’m still left wondering about atonement, intimacy, and the practical application of this divine dance in my daily, ordinary life.
But that’s what this journey is all about. It’s an exploration of what it means to be loved by God and a quest to let that love change us. It’s a pilgrimage into the heart of the Divine, and I’m so glad you’re here.
Buen Camino, my friends.