I happened to catch the advertising blurb for the TV programme “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’. The show is of the ‘reality TV’ genre where a group of people are put onto an island from which there is no escape, unless they want to say ‘get me out of here’. The participants are put though a series of tests.
So one of the participants was talking about their ’Journey.’ It struck me then, just how many people are talking about their ‘journeys’. Footballers who are recovering from injury are on a ‘journey’ and whole football teams are ‘on a journey.’ Tod Sampson, of ‘The Gruen Transfer’ in the show ‘Redesign My Brain’ went on a ‘journey’ and undertook a whole series of difficult challenges in order to confront his fears.
I started to wonder about what this increase in the use of the ‘journey’ metaphor meant.
So clearly, a journey is about some kind of travel. But there are different kinds of travel. There are ‘tours’ where people travel to see different things. Or there are ‘trips’ like a ‘trip to the shops’ or a ‘trip’ overseas. These kinds of travel are not described as ‘journeys’.
But then there are other common phrases like ‘The Hero’s journey’ or ‘a journey of discovery’ where the travel is undertaken with the purpose of being changed. The Hero goes on a journey to discover what it means to be a man or a woman. So it looks like that the difference between a ‘trip’ and a ‘journey’ is that the journey is travel, but travel that brings with it a change in the meaning of life for those undertaking the journey. So here is my conclusion. A journey is travel with meaning attached. This travel may be actual travel, or metaphorical travel (i.e. taken in the one place, but describing the discovery of meaning through the events that happen in that one place.)
So it’s interesting to me that lots of people are interested in the question of the meaning of their lives. To ask a person ‘can you tell me what journey you think you are on?” is to ask them to describe the kinds of things that give meaning to life.
Television shows, which reflect to us in a concentrated form the issues that we are dealing with more extensively, day by day, have picked up on this quest for meaning and so become popular, because they resonate with our own desire to have lives which are not simply ‘one damn thing after another’ but lives which actually mean something.
Which brings me to the Eucharist. Margaret Visser, in her book ‘The Geometry of Love’ describes the Church of St. Agnes Outside the Walls in Rome. In this book she describes the way that the journey of a Christian is embodied in the architecture of the building (the same for many Churches). A Christian enters upon the ‘Way’ of being a disciple of Christ through baptism, so that the Font is placed near the entrance. One takes a little holy water, and makes the sign of the cross, as one enters the Church, which says “The journey I am about to take, began at my baptism, and is under the sign of the Cross.’ I am a disciple of Jesus.
But then, going down the central passageway of a church, one ends with a vision of heaven. The altar, the sanctuary and the promise of the abiding presence of this same Christ with us. This is the goal, the end of the journey: communion with God in Christ in a most intimate way, and where earth and heaven are the one place:
This journey is the one that happens every Sunday in Eucharist. We enter via the font, and through being unpicked by the Word of God, and confessing our failings, we are reconciled, and so able to have communion with each other, and with God in Christ.’
Like a reality TV show (or rather, a reality TV show is like a liturgy) in the Eucharist, we are participants in an intensive form of the kind of life we live outside Church. This is the description of our life’s journey. This is the meaning of life for us.
The structure of reality TV shows is the same as the structure of the liturgy in Church (i.e. a baptismal structure). People are torn from their old life, plunged (baptized) into a new situation where the journey’ happens, and then come out the other side with a new person: ‘wiser’ perhaps.
I must say however that I think that I prefer the ‘real’ journey of the Eucharist than the constructed journey of a TV show. For my money, the journey of a Christian provides a stronger framework upon which to lay the beams of one’s life’s dwelling, than does any other metaphor (like becoming rich, raising a family, becoming a good sportsperson etc.). TV shows have picked up on this metaphor, and made a good liturgy out of it, but I think the baptismal one is prior to them, in the sense that the baptismal metaphor that we live in the Eucharist is the ground metaphor, which the other ones copy.
It is to me a matter of great disappointment that this treasure is there, available in our village, and around the world, but that it is ignored. It is a great shame that the Church herself has by her actions helped this disdain along.
But still. This treasure of a real journey, that can make sense of other journeys, or any travel, actual or metaphorical is available to us and especially at every Eucharist.