Editor’s Note: This week I begin a series focused on the many ways we each experience our faith journey. I am asking guest writers to share their stories of faith and spiritual growth. The rationale for the series and some of my faith story can be found in last week’s post. This week’s guest writer is a friend from high school and fellow spiritual pilgrim, Tim Leadem. Tim has retired from Vancouver, British Columbia to a small nearby island. Tom Adams
For several years I have been fascinated with pilgrimages as a living metaphor for walking the spiritual path. As 2020 began, I was in the process of booking a trip to the small island of Shikoku in Japan to honor a vow made to the great Buddhist teacher of the 7th century Kobo Daishi to complete a pilgrimage around 88 temples. (For more information about this fascinating walk see: http://www.shikokuhenrotrail.com/shikoku/daishihistory.html). After that trip, I planned to join up with some high school friends to walk the Camino Ingles in Northern Spain. And for still later in 2020, I had contracted with a guide to take me around Mount Kailash, the sacred mountain in Western Tibet.
However, God had other plans in store for me. In mid-January, I was diagnosed by my urologist as having an aggressive form of cancer that would require fast-tracked surgery. Yet I still held hope that I would be able post-surgery to continue on my travel and hiking plans.
I reached out to friends and family for support with my personal health crisis. I felt the power of prayer as my support network responded. An old friend reminded me of the biblical story told in the synoptic Gospels of Jesus calming the stormy Sea of Galilee. The disciples of the Lord were in terror at the power of nature – the winds and waves threatened to overpower their small boat. They woke Jesus who was asleep in the stern of the boat. He calmed the storm and then asked them: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
My own faith over the years had waxed and waned. A lifelong interest in the spiritual had taken me to various religions and “isms.” Like a dilettante, I migrated from tenet to belief and from church to temple to sangha so often that I could have opened my own spiritual lost and found center. The central questions kept on popping up: Why are we here? What happens when we die? Where and why did this incredible universe come into being? And this perplexing question “How can an all-loving and omnipotent God allow such suffering in this world?”
But facing cancer I realized it was time for me to wake the Lord back into my life. I was born into Catholicism, but like many, I let it all slide away. When I discovered that the human institutions of churches are not perfect entities when allegations of historical abuse and ill-treatment of congregants surfaced and would not go away lightly, I, in turn, shunned the Church. There were so many reasons to criticize what appeared to be systemic problems-the demeaning treatment of women by a centrist hierarchical clergy, the preoccupation with property and wealth, the harsh judgments meted out to those who failed to meet the precepts.
But as I prepared for major surgery, fear of the unknown, fear of death engulfed my being. Every time I felt overwhelmed by the eternal night of the soul, I focused on a small boat in a wine-dark sea tossing to and fro at the mercy of the elements. And I called out to the Lord to save me. Each time He responded with grace and strength.
I would like to say that I had the necessary surgery and that the cancer was successfully removed. But instead, the cancer has remained. And with it, I have to face some difficult decisions about treatment and life-altering effects. But perhaps something better than remission of an incurable cancer has happened to me through the Lord’s grace. I have found a Church almost as much as it has found me. I was not really searching for one yet through a series of what appeared to be serendipitous events I made a connection with a small community of faith on the small Island that I call home.
I came to a Church with a pastor who with her words at each service tells me that I belong: “Whoever you are, wherever you are in life’s journey, you are welcome.”
And perhaps I will return to the pilgrimages around the world that I was so carefully planning. But for now, I know that I am still walking my pilgrimage; I am on a spiritual path-a path that I tread with an open heart.