In the last war, while England was expecting to be invaded as other European countries had been, the government took measures to make things difficult for the enemy when they arrived. They used camouflage on coastal installations, set up a Home Guard of old men and boys with outmoded rifles, which the English today still feel nostalgic about; and they took down all road signposts. It is a funny idea that the mighty German army would have been seriously impeded by not knowing whether to turn right or left at a crossroads in the English countryside.
When I read about this I thought it reflected a feeling we have on any journey of faith – starting a marriage, beginning a new community, finishing the writing of a book or raising children. These are all journeys on which faith – personal commitment and trust – has to deepen at every juncture. And yet, often there are no signposts pointing clearly to reassure us we are on the right road or will take the right turning. Sometimes the signs are there but not very helpfully: like the time my decision-making powers were paralysed. I was driving from Bere Island to Cork. I came to a fork in the road. There was a sign. But one side pointed left saying ‘Cork’ and another pointed right saying ‘Cork’.
In the spiritual dimension the path itself is everything. The deeper we go into the silence and let go of words, thoughts and imagination, as we do with the mantra, the fewer conventionally reassuring signs there are. There is simply the path, the way we are treading. And there is the treading, taking the next step. At first we protest at the absence of reassurances and re-confirmation of our direction. Our senses of direction and confidence are challenged or confused.
Slowly we realise that the path itself is the reassurance. There comes a sense of relief that there is a way, through the jungle, through the maze of options that overwhelm people today. We have found it. There’s a big life-changing difference as we realise that we are on a way. We may feel, too, that it has found us because there is a sense, coming from the road itself, that we are being led by a direct, intimate connection with it. It knows us better than we know it. The connection is simply our treading the path, always taking the next step. You did not choose me, I chose you… I am the Way. This sense belongs uniquely to the spiritual dimension. It allows us to follow those stretches of the road that have no signs.
All this might sound flaky and impractical. The sign that it is real is read in daily life, on the parallel pathways of action and decision-making. In material matters there are difficult decisions to make with insufficient time or information. The faith of our inner journey is surprisingly useful here. We don’t panic, when necessary we wait and endure better. When we make a decision we have more clarity and make the best choice we can. We trust. If it turns out we were wrong we adjust by direction again.
If we are faithful in the deep issues of the inner journey we will be more faithful in the material issues of life as well.