Sometimes ideas for these inspirational reflections come from odd places. This one grew out of an innocent encounter in a hallway. I had just finished exercising and was walking out of the building. Around the corner came a secretary into a near collision with me. Since I know her, I simply greeted her with the all-too-routine, “how’s it goin’? Without thinking much, she said, “I’m getting there.” Perhaps too flippantly, I blurted out, “will you know ‘there’ when you get there?”
Maybe my last question was flip. Occasionally, I know that I have been flip. I am flip when I don’t know much about something or when I am trying to be funny. It normally is shrugged off with a laugh and we move on to something else. Occasionally being flip is a bad move. It is not a good thing to drop into a serious situation. Then I usually have to apologize and be sorry.
The encounter today with the secretary ended rather interestingly and has caused me to ponder further the scene. As we walked down the hallway a bit further---she to her office and me out the door to the parking lot---another intriguing step was taken. She picked up on my question, “will you know ‘there’ when you get there.” “I’m not sure,” she said with a pensive look. We split and went our separate ways. I was left to ponder or put it out of my mind.
I could not put it out of my mind. The idea of “there” was now tantalizingly lodged in my brain and would not let me ignore it. I knew I had to explore “there!” The first thing that occurs to me is the fact “there” has many different levels and nuances. Sometimes it is very clear and other times it is vague and, perhaps, indeterminate.
There are easy situations to know “there” is very clear. Recently, I drove to Washington, DC. I knew when I got there because I could see the famous Washington monument. Had I discovered Independence Hall, I would have known I was in Philadelphia and though I had intended to go to DC, I was not there. There are other easy determinations. If I have a set of exams to grade, my goal is to finish them. When the last one is marked, I know I am “there.” Often “there” is quite specific, determinate and literal. To know we are “there” is easy.
At the other end of the spectrum, “there” can be more figurative than literal, less determinate and, maybe, more general or even mysterious. Take something like maturity for example. We all have a sense about maturity. But it usually is not something most of us have defined and have specific requirements. We can make a judgment about someone being mature, but it is not easy or even accurate. And two people might not agree on some person’s maturity.
When we move the consideration of “there” into our spiritual lives, it continues to fascinate me. Again, I am sure both levels of “there” apply. There are times when “there” is quite literal, specific and determinate. This means there are occasions in spirituality much like the grading of exams. For example, in my practice of spiritual disciplines, I will know I am “there” if I pray each day like I wanted to or if I meditate as intended. As long as “there” is specific, literal and determinate, it is easy to measure or evaluate.
This is important because too often I do not get “there.” I intend to pray, but I get too busy or neglect it. It slips down the list of my priorities. When this happens, it is important not to get too down on myself. Certainly, we don’t beat ourselves up if we don’t get “there.” We simply need to decide whether we really want to get “there.” We have to be honest with ourselves. And this leads to the other level of “there.”
Spiritually speaking, the other level of “there” is more like the maturity example. I do think each of us is capable of spiritual depth, i.e. spiritual maturity. But knowing if we are “there” is certainly not easy. Clearly, Jesus was “there.” And other saintly folks know it in their lives. Just as certainly, I am not “there.”
Spiritual maturity is something I would like to experience. However, I suspect in the spirituality experience, there is a paradox here. I suspect the ones who truly become spiritually mature do not know or claim that they are “there.” In fact, I think they would be surprised to have people say that they were spiritually mature. Paradoxically, it seems they can be “there” and not know they are there!
And this brings us to the last point. In the spiritual journey, “there” is likely more a process than a destination or achievement. Getting there is a daily journey that matches our effort and God’s grace. I am thankful to be on the journey. I want to get “there,” even if it is fairly general, figurative and indeterminate.