Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life – John 8:12
An old friend sent me a link to an online adoration service which she said was devotional and inspiring. And indeed it was. The priest had carefully put together a service of praise and worship accompanied by soft and beautiful songs of veneration to the Lord. Interspersed with these were short and meaningful messages that were conveyed in hushed tones that sank right into the souls of the listeners. He touched on several pain-points of the audience—sufferings, setbacks, anxieties, failed plans and broken dreams— and spoke of our incessant preoccupation with destinations, when it was actually the journey that mattered. Our prayers were always aimed at achieving targets or plans for ourselves or for our children, whereas our Lord was actually the king of our journey, not of our aspirational destinations.
His words struck a chord within me. I looked out pensively at my overgrown backyard. Hardly two months back it was a small but well-maintained garden, lined with flowering pots, and a small trimmed carpet of green grass, thanks to Sumith, my Bengali gardener. He had disappeared since the lockdown, and, like most of his migrant friends, must be facing a bleak and uncertain future. Indeed, life just did an ‘about-turn’ for most of us in the face of an enemy that is unseen and hitherto unknown. Lucrative careers in the Middle East, prestigious jobs in hospitals and other sectors, prospering businesses, school and college education—these and many other stepping stones to a secure future have been smashed to smithereens by this strange viral ghost enemy!
One lesson we learn from this strange set of events that has just overtaken us is that however carefully we plan our future, ensuring our safety and security to the maximum, we have little control over the actual outcome. The only thing left with us then, is the path we are presently traversing in life’s long journey, and our only strength and protection in this life comes from the constant presence of the Lord in our lives.
The concept of life as a journey is strongly reflected in two major books of the Bible. The first one is the Book of Numbers which recounts the forty-year long trail of the Israelites across the desert. The second, Acts of the Apostles, describes the mission embarked upon by the apostles of Jesus after their Pentecost experience, in obedience to the Lord’s command to ‘make disciples of all nations.’ Though both these journeys are hardly comparable in context and size, they had one common bonding—the constant presence of the Lord. He was not waiting for the Israelites in the Promised Land which was their final destination. He was with them by day, in a pillar of cloud, to show them the way, and by night as a pillar of fire, lighting the way for them. Similarly, the Acts of the Apostles describes the tremendous empowerment that happened during the Pentecost and the fearless messages of the apostles, constantly inspired by the Holy Spirit, as they journeyed through strange lands. Our Lord is not the Lord of destinations – He is the Lord of our journey. While there are no guarantees of what we encounter in our individual journeys of life, His presence is assured and that is all we really need.
Today we face an uncertain future. Forecasts of the Covid spread continue to be grim. Just as we begin to hope that the situation is getting under control, there is a spike from an unexpected quarter. How long will the labourers survive without their daily wages? How much stress can businesses take with a continuing lockdown? How many health workers will survive the exposure? How many nations will continue to get infected? How many more will die? There are no answers still. There are no assurances for tomorrow.
Rabindranath Tagore’s famous poem entitled The Journey speaks of a group of friends who set out on a long trek through different climes and countries. The poet speaks of how he dropped out, so enraptured by the surroundings that he forgot why he travelled. His friends hurried on, mocking him for failing to focus on the end point of the journey. When he woke from his slumber, he encountered the Lord face to face, and in relief, the poem ends with the lines:
How I had feared that the path was long and wearisome, and the struggle to reach thee was hard.
Let not a single day of your life pass by without the experience of His constant presence by your side. Let your final destination be decided by each day’s journey, and not by the perfect plans you make to a reach the mirage of your self-structured terminus.