Each of our individual spiritual journeys is exactly that – individual. We exist in community, we worship in community, indeed, our lives as Christians are fulfilled in communion with others. Despite that, and despite the fidelity of God’s being constantly by our side, we walk a solitary path. Each of our own journeys toward and with God is unique.
My friend Randy Buck wrote a play a long time ago called Adjoining Trances, about the relationship between Tennessee Williams and Carson McCulllers. (The play is currently being performed in Virginia.) The opening speech of the Williams character is one the sense of which I’ve never forgotten, although I couldn’t remember the exact words. Randy and I recently reconnected after not being in touch for a long time (something that fills me with absolute delight) and he sent me the excerpt. The Williams character, talking about writing and basis for his immediate bond with McCullers, says:
We remain apart. Yet even the most solitary soul seeks comfort. Companionship The hand stretches across the void, longing to find – something to cling to….[T]hough we each make the journey alone, there’s comfort in seeing the glow of another pilgrim candle valiantly pierce the night. Such a tiny light, so fragile, so easily extinguished, must be cherished, nurtured, or else we stumble alone through a dark no ray can brighten…
Although Williams is speaking about writing, he could easily have been speaking of the spiritual journey. Although ultimately the journey is a solitary one, there is real comfort in seeing the glow of another pilgrim’s candle, even if her journey is very different from one’s own, even if the other is traveling a different path. Knowing we are not alone means something to us.
Several years ago, I did the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in the form of the 19th Annotation, which entailed a daily commitment for prayer and weekly meetings with my retreat director over a nine month period. There were about twenty other people doing the Exercises at the same time I was. Since we prayed in our own time and place and met individually with our directors, there were only three occasions during the entire nine months when we came together as a group – the beginning, around the halfway point and the end. But knowing that the other nineteen were doing the retreat with me mattered…particularly during the very difficult times (and there were some extremely difficult times). There was strength even in that “tiny light, so fragile.”
I think we all need to see the glow of another pilgrim candle as we walk our individual paths. And I am extremely grateful to those whose lights help brighten my way.