Pam, Jim and Larry – my three friends who were on retreat with me last week – went for a walk on that Tuesday on the land of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Their goal was to reach the artesian well, a spot on the local creek that is at the furthest west point of the large property owned by the Trappist monks. The Abbey church is close to the furthest east point, so it was about a two-mile journey each way. They figured they walked about four miles by the time they were finished on the hot-and-humid day.
But they never found the well.
Frankly, the map of trails and points of interest isn’t that helpful. My friends were lost and were just glad to find their way back. It made me think of the famous prayer of Thomas Merton, the famous monk and writer who called the Abbey home from 1941 until his untimely death in 1968. I recite the prayer regularly. It begins:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I’m going. I do not see the road ahead of me. . . .”
Similar words dwelled in my heart and mind all day the Wednesday of my retreat – during Mass, during all the prayers of the Divine Office, during my praying of the rosary in solitude, during my abundant time of meditative prayer.
This was supposed to be a silent retreat. Alas, there was no silence inside of me. “Where are you going?”
I know other people can relate because I know that question is asked in the hearts of more than just me.
That question came to me all day and into the night, whispered constantly not in a bothersome way, rather in a friendly, trying-to-help way. It was a little like someone handing me a map and offering to help plot my course, if only I would specify my intended destination.
Perhaps I was asking the question of myself. Perhaps I was hearing my wife or my best friend, my mom or dad, my spiritual director or a favorite saint inquiring. Perhaps it was God Himself. Indeed, it likely was all of those voices and others.
“Mike, where are you going? For what purpose are you doing all that you’re doing? Do you even have an eventual destination in mind?”
Have you felt that question asked in your heart? Have you answered it?
I have a daily plan for the things I wish to accomplish or the things I feel I need to do for a healthy physical, emotional, and spiritual life. You might call it my “daily bread” for which I ask whenever I recite the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us, this day, our daily bread.”
My bread is prayer, eating properly and not too much, limiting the sodas I drink, drinking plenty of water instead. My bread is also what needs to be done at my job and at home. Something fun. Progress on a project. Any appointments I might have.
Recently I’ve added the need for reflection. Each day I try to take a few moments to list what I thought were my “victories” – those things that took real effort to do – as well as the day’s blessings.
I look back on all of that, I look ahead at hopes for tasks and accomplishments to come, and I wonder where it will lead me and whether there a reason for it.
When I was in high school, I studied, read and took tests in order to graduate and go to college, but it was more than that. I was driven to excel, to be among the best, if not the best, among my peers. In college I was driven to graduate as quickly as possible in order to get a job, to start living my dream; writing and journalism.
When I got a job in that field, I was driven to do so well that I would get a better job in the field. And once arriving at the desired destination, I was driven to be the best and enjoy every moment. I was driven, essentially, by a dream.
When I married and started a family, I wanted to have a strong marriage, raise my children to be good people. I was driven by love. I was driven by a dream.
When I first fell in love with Jesus, I was driven then as well; to know Him completely, to share my love for God with others, to spread that faith and love, to become a saint. I was driven by a dream.
It has been a good 54 years, filled with success and challenges, failures and disappointments and surprises. Dreams have been realized.
The more I studied all the activity of my life, internal and external, the more I wondered “to what end?” Is the intention to make more money than I do now? To write a best-selling book? To make more friends? To have no regrets? Or is it something much bigger and less measurable: to make the world a better place, to realize true happiness?
Frankly, I don’t know if I have a destination in mind, other than finding eternal joy in heaven. That’s really it. All the earthly things I do are pleasures, responsibilities, or necessities. Though I occasionally shoot for a target, like losing 30 pounds this year, publishing a book, taking a vacation, my joy doesn’t depend on hitting the bull’s-eye.
Heck, my joy doesn’t even depend upon happiness. My burning desire, I suppose, is to be a saint. I seek only to be greeted by the Lord as a good and faithful servant.
That answers the question about where I want to go, but that doesn’t answer the question constantly echoing in my heart and soul these last couple of days:
My friend, where are you really going?
As I pray about it, I wonder if it really matters. My friends never found their desired destination and ended up right back where they had started. They were hot, slightly sweaty, and tired after the journey, but they enjoyed each other’s company. They had shared memories and stories that had great meaning.
Maybe, just maybe, the real destination is home.