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.
In the Episcopal Church today, March 9, is the Feast of St. Gregory of Nyssa. The Eastern Church celebrates Gregory on January 10.
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.
For all my talk about journey, what I really want is to have arrived.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.
Jon Mark, I am right there with you. For me (and, I think, many others)part of it is about being “enough.” I still find myself at the end of some days adding up my billable hours.
I love the concept of epektasis. In fact, I can’t get enough of it!
Lucky for you there is always more!
Now that you are a proud owner of the Anglican Breviary, you can enjoy the spiritual blessings of the ‘Itinerarium’.
I think we are there, its just our souls, our minds, our bodies aren’t aware of it. We have so much conscious programming created by society that it creates blockages that do not allow ourselves to see it.
Angel, thanks for your comment. It reminds me of Jesus’ exhortation to stay awake. We fall asleep and miss what is before us.
From Glory to Glory! I love this book on the writings of St. Gregory of Nyssa. It is a compilation of texts of this Saint. In a nutshell it expresses this Journey upon which each of us is treading upon in the day to day, as Moses did, as the Bride did in the search of her Beloved, as you or I are doing today! There is Glory in the Presence of God at the beginning of the Journey, as in the ending. All that is in between is also all of God’s doing, for He is the Breath of our breath, the very life of our souls, He who instills the longings into our hearts and minds. Who we seek is here, now, if we but “take off our sandals” and stop to realize Who it is who walks with us each step of the way. I am not implying that it it an easy trek. But, His Presence of Grace is sufficient, that is it is “enough” for the moment. We couldn’t stand to see or hear or taste or feel the fullness of the Glory while on the Path! Epictasis! In the constant movement and progress
is the perfection of “holiness” or what is called “the divinization process” or “Theosis”. And, during Lent is certainly does include “repentance”. I am saying this for myself today, while I am faced with a seeming unsurmountable obstacle . . . “Oh God come to my assistance, make haste to help me.! Ps. 69
nun Helen, that is a beautiful reflection and description of the journey. Thank you. I will remember you in my prayers.