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Another Perspective

The Pilgrim's Thirst

The great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado wrote:
It is good knowing that glasses
are to drink from;
the bad thing is not to know
what thirst is for.*

Evelyn Underhill, the exceptional English scholar of mysticism, wrote in an essay on "What is the Spiritual Life?": "So many Christians are like deaf people at a concert. They study the program carefully, believe every statement made in it, speak respectfully of the quality of the music, but only really hear a phrase now and again. So they have no notion at all of the mighty symphony which fills the universe, to which our lives are destined to make their tiny contribution, and which is the self-expression of the Eternal God."**

What helps to become aware of the Divine Presence and symphony is to connect with the pilgrim within. The pilgrim is the archetype of change. It is the figure that emerges in the psyche when it is time to move on, to seek a newer world, to deviate from what has been.

Goethe said that God's Spirit is effective in the living and not in the dead; in the becoming and the changing, not in what has already become and so is set fast.

When we allow our lives to stagnate, we ossify. We psychologically and spiritually die. Malaise is that quiet despair that has "seen it all before" and expects no change for the better. It is psychic torpor.

It is at the unsettled or apathetic spot in our lives that the inner pilgrim makes an appearance. One of my mentors, Robert Johnson, when writing about his own experience, observed: "It is ironic that often our breakthroughs into consciousness of the divine grow out of breakdowns in ordinary consciousness. Contacts with the divine may at a time feel like pure suffering and I wonder sometimes if all suffering is a vision of God too great to bear. The Buddhist tradition informs us that enlightenment is often perceived as tragedy or total disaster from the ego's perspective. Very few people have the intelligence to surrender with dignity to forces greater than themselves."***

The Latin root of "authentic" means "that which allows growth and life." We are our most authentic selves when we are in step with our becoming, with the life in movement inside ourselves.

This is never easy. It demands the most gracious of human virtues, humility, in order to be open to change and to the inner pilgrim that seeks it. For every pilgrim admits that previously, he/she never really did have it all together. Acknowledging the pilgrim within is to admit that the answers we seek are yet to be found. It is to be open to change and the hope that comes with it. It is to rediscover what thirst is for.

The poet Rainer Rilke understood the pilgrim's thirst. He got it. One of his poems from his Book of Hours, says:
You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all:
the darkness of each endless fall,
the shimmering light of each ascent.

So many are alive who don't seem to care.
Casual, easy, they move in the world
as though untouched.

But you take pleasure in the faces
of those who know they thirst.
You cherish those
who grip you for survival.

You are not dead yet, it's not too late
to open your depths by plunging into them
and drink in the life
that reveals itself quietly there.****
* This poem was found in News of the Universe, Robert Bly, Sierra Club Books, p. 126.
** Underhill, The Spiritual Life, pp. 14-15.
***Johnson,Balancing Heaven and Earth, p.12.
****Rilke,Book of Hours, I, 14

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