Most journeys can be understood in three parts – leaving, traveling, and arrival. We leave with a particular destination in mind. There is a point of arrival. We have probably all asked or heard the familiar travel questions: “Are we there yet?” “How much longer?” “When will get there?”
Whether our journey is geographical, emotional, or spiritual those seem to be underlying questions. We want to “arrive” – with all the various meanings of that word. We want to arrive safely at the end of a geographical journey. We want to arrive in our career with success and recognition. We want to arrive emotionally in the sense of being complete, whole, and satisfied. “To arrive” is somehow seen as having been successful, accomplished, known.
Many of us not only want but often strive to arrive spiritually. Arrival is not, however, the destination of the spiritual journey. Are we there yet? No. How much longer? Eternity. When will get there? Never. The answers on the spiritual journey are different. The spiritual journey is one of eternal progress towards God. This is sometimes called the doctrine of epektasis and attributed to St. Gregory of Nyssa.
And so every desire for the Beautiful which draws us on in this ascent is intensified by the soul’s very progress towards it. And this is the real meaning of seeing God: never to have this desire satisfied. But fixing our eyes on those things which help us to see, we must ever keep alive in us the desire to see more and more. And so no limit can be set to our progress towards God: first of all, because no limitation can be put on upon the Beautiful, and secondly because the increase in our desire for the Beautiful cannot be stopped by any sense of satisfaction.
– St. Gregory of Nyssa in The Life of Moses
St. Paul describes his own journey as one of stretching and straining forward [epekteinomenos] toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul is describing a constant move forward in an attempt to grasp something. For Gregory this movement describes the soul’s eternal progress in grace and perfection in God. Our longing for God is fulfilled in our progress towards God but is never satisfied. The grace of an unsatisfied soul calls us forward, deeper into the heart of God. I cannot help but wonder if that “grace of unsatisfaction” is not God’s own longing for us.
May the mercy of God and the prayers of Blessed Gregory and all the saints grant us the grace of an unsatisfied soul, the strength and will to strain forward, and the courage to trust the Mystery.
* This is a re-post from last year.