Walking Two Paths at the Same Time

Distractions abound. I am continually amazed at, and dumbfounded by, how little it takes to switch me from the main track into the trackless wasteland. We have to be mindful of the distractions swirling around us, avoid those that can be avoided, wake up to those that blindside us, and bring ourselves back to the task at hand: Being who we are, doing what needs to be done with the gifts/specialties/daemon/shtick/virtues/character/abilities/etc. that form our original nature in the time and place of our living.

We work with the day everyday. In each day, we have to remember what is important, what we are doing, and allow the day to bring us forth in meeting the day, while being who we are and remaining true to ourselves, within the circumstances of our time and place. The day brings us into focus. The day clarifies for us the things we need to be clear about: What are the gifts and characteristics—the qualities of heart and soul—that we are working to bring to life in our lives? The day enables us to see how we are doing, and where improvements and alterations need to be made, and elicits the right response to each situation as it arises.

The day provides a steady stream of encounters and information that we can use in making mid-course adjustments on the path to wholeness. The day shows us where we are in relation to where we have been, and where we need to be. It may start with oversleeping, or with the dog barking a warning to a dog on the other side of the window. We come into focus in the smallest details of living.

The Spiritual Life is lived on two levels at once. This is called “Walking two paths at the same time.” The “in the world but not of it” way of doing things. There is the “what to do level,” and the “how to do it when level.” The what to do level is about what is happening and what needs to be done about it. If we miss the bus, we may have to find a taxi. “What now, how?” brings the present moment into sharp focus, demanding that we assess the situation and come up with a plan of action for dealing successfully with it—using, relying on, the gifts, preferences, interests, enthusiasms, aptitudes, talents, etc., that come with us into the world.

We are born as a bundle of latent knacks and abilities. As we grow up, the hope is that we will gravitate toward what we do best, and that our lives will be proving grounds—where we experiment with who we are, and develop an increasingly clear notion of what is “us” and what is “not us.” We aren’t born knowing what that is, but there’s a homing device, of sorts, within us, and we know “when we are on the beam, and when we are off of it,” when we are on track with our lives and when we are off track, when we are where we belong, and where we belong-not.

Writing has always been “it” for me, and I have fought my way through a lot of internal resistance, and a pronounced lack of external encouragement, to write no matter what. I can say now, after all these years, that writing is “it” for me. I couldn’t have said that at twenty, or thirty, or forty. I certainly couldn’t have said that at fifteen, or eighteen. I did not grow up in one of those loving, attentive spaces without answers. There was not much in the way of listening beneath the surface in my experience, of inviting to the table what all is there. There was only doing what was supposed to be done, which was what somebody older than you told you to do. If you were a boy in the deep south, the adults handed you the life you were supposed to live, and you lived it. You did the things boys in the deep south were supposed to do. And, you were supposed to like it, so, if you didn’t like it, you concealed it—even from yourself—because what else was there to do?

It has been a long and curious route that has brought me to the place of writing no matter what. The process could have been assisted, shortened, and improved with the proper mentors, coaches, advocates, listeners, encouragers, parents and friends, but the process was going to unfurl somehow, some way, over time no matter what. Carl Jung said, “We are who we always have been, and who we will be.” Who we are born to be is always a part of who we are, and who we will be, and is always waiting to be more fully realized, recognized, received and loved into being. It takes a lot to block the process of our growing into the person we are to be in the world. That process is life itself. It’s the dandelion growing through the asphalt. Our lives are about being who we are no matter what. If we live long enough, we will get there. It only takes living to figure it out. We all learn to listen over time.

One of the paths we walk each day is the path of the What: What needs to be done in the day? What gifts, aptitudes, abilities do we possess that need to be brought into play? Now what? What now? We miss the bus. Now what? We are being asked “What are you going to do about this, now?” constantly throughout our day. We assess what is happening and what needs to happen in response, and what skills we possess to deal with the situation. Then comes the How? part of the equation.

What we do is one track of the spiritual journey. The other is how we do it. We work throughout our life to do what needs to be done the way it needs to be done, when it needs to be done. The How is as important as the What.

How we do it is about the spirit, the attitude, the demeanor, the manner, the shape and form, the style and tone, etc., that we exhibit in doing what we do. How we do it is about the qualities and characteristics of heart and soul, and the way in which we bring them to life in our life. Generosity and compassion; grace, mercy and peace; awareness, and mindfulness, and attention; love, joy, hospitality, kindness, gentleness, a propensity for living with good faith, and doing what’s right, to mention a few, are essential requirements of the Spiritual Life. Never was there a saint who wasn’t kind and compassionate. Never will be.

It may be easier for some of us to be kind and compassionate (etc.) than others of us, but it isn’t easy for any of us all of the time. Kindness and compassion (etc.) do not come naturally. Snatching and grabbing, whining and pouting, snarling and grouching, complaining and moaning, running and hiding—these are the things we can do without trying. Anybody can do them without practicing. It takes no effort to be all sour and crabby, withdrawn and sullen, hidden and afraid. For some of us it’s as easy as oversleeping.

The work is to go against the grain; to swim against the current; to do what’s hard; to be generous, when it would be easier to be a jerk; to be compassionate, when we want to tell them a thing or two. The spiritual journey is a walk toward who we are called to be. The Promised Land is a metaphor for what we are here to do and the spirit with which we are to do it. We live toward that every day of our lives. The days are filled with opportunities to assess how well we are doing, and places to practice doing it, as we work to get it down.

Published by jimwdollar

I'm retired, and still finding my way--but now, I don't have to pretend that I know what I'm doing. I retired after 40.5 years as a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, serving churches in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina. I graduated from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Austin, Texas, and Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. My wife, Judy, and I have three daughters and five granddaughters within about twenty minutes from where we live--and are enjoying our retirement as much as we have ever enjoyed anything.

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