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:: Friday, July 25, 2003 ::

Individual vs Personal: What is the Nature of a Christian Spiritual Journey?

In the comments box of my last post, a reader asks how the following statement made to her in the past fits into what I wrote about the spiritual journey. The statement made to her was "Nobody's journey is their own, that's a post-enlightenment, individualistic lie."
I started a comment but it was long enough to warrant a full post. Here is my response:

I don't think the sentiments at the end of my last post necessarily contradict the sentence you quoted. I think the disconnect may be found in the different ways in which we use the word �journey.�

First of all I would reiterate what I wrote in my Feb 6 post about the incredibly important distinction between �individual� and �personal.� From an Orthodox POV, your cousin is right; there is no such thing as having your own individual, private spiritual journey. In fact that is the definition of hell!

In other words, I am not an isolated creature whose spiritual life has little bearing or impact on others, nor do I have the right to dictate to God what the rules of the journey are. True, I must own the journey in that I am the one who has to walk the path, personally. But it is not mine in that I don�t walk it alone nor do I create the path.

So when I said ��.no part of our human experience is left untouched by the grace of God--no matter where we are along the journey� I am in no way affirming the modern Protestant understanding of the word �journey.� The modern idea tells me if I don�t happen to like:

a) the historic, apostolic, way of doing or being �church�
b) the moral teachings of the Church
c) the ancient and proven spiritual praxis of the Church's ascetical life
d) anything not fitting comfortably into my idea of what Christianity should be

then I am perfectly free to jettison the parts I don�t like to better fit �MY journey.�

Here we see the difference between the two views: For the Protestant, the word �journey� is primarily seen through the subjective eyes of journeyer, rather than the path itself. In American Christian culture, everything about our lives is sadly judged through the lens of the individual person rather than the ways and will of God as have been revealed to us in the Church. ("You have what works for you; I have what works for me"....and other such relativistic worldviews...)

For the Orthodox, there is only one journey for all of human beings and it is the same journey. Our job (and our joy) is to learn to actually follow the path laid down for us by the Fathers, the Saints, the Apostles, the Martyrs, by Christ Himself.

Some of us may spend a lifetime just getting started along the path. Others may advance far along on it. Either way, the journey is the same and can�t be reinterpreted or created by us. �The fullness of the faith was delivered once to the saints,� St. Jude tells us.

But our understanding of what the Christian life is has dramatically faded in the Christian world today. Tragically, many Christians have come to believe that "true" doctrines and "good" worship and what constitutes a God-pleasing �spiritual journey� are to be measured by how well they fit with "where we they are personally"--or in other words, by how closely they conform to our own fallen opinions, feelings, and desires.

It is true that God "meets us where we are." No questions there. But He always encourages us to move, as C.S. Lewis put it, "father up and further in." While it may start outside, this journey is only able to be *completed* in the Church.

It is the Orthodox teaching that the only authentic Christian journey is one toward Christ and his Church. Union with Christ must also mean, even perhaps in some way mysterious to us, union with His Church. For Christ and His Body comprise an organic union. (�Why are you persecuting *ME*� Jesus told Saul, not �why are you persecuting my individual spiritual journeyers��)

Once a person accepts the fact that it is history and the visible Church Christ established, and not our personal interpretations, that show us what the Christian journey is, the fact that Orthodoxy is the one true expression of that path is fairly easy to discover and experience. Once we have discovered this (by the grace of God) it is imperative for us to act upon the truth God has revealed. ("To whom much is given...." Luke 12:48b)

We must trust the wisdom of the Church above our own fallen feelings, opinion and judgments--for as the prophet Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful above all things, a desperately corrupt; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). Part of the authentic Christian journey is learning to trust those wise and holy saints who have shown us the way.

The path that God has created for us in the Church is a narrow one, and not even outward membership guarantees full union with God. But we must seek it out, for our salvation depends on it. Jesus tells us to "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Matt. 7:13-14)

YMMV, of course. No doubt I�m probably just as opinionated as your cousin!

Update: Pastor Brad Boydston makes a good point about individualism

:: Karl :: 9:04:00 AM [Link] ::

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