The Waze We Journey

The spiritual theme for the month of March is Journey. Rev. Peter Friedrichs, Director of Religious Education Chrissy Bushyager, and Worship Associate Ed Mathis explore the many possible ways to pursue our spiritual journey, the routes we take, and where they lead.

Sermon: "The Waze We Journey"; Rev. Peter Friedrichs

How do you travel? Do you plan your trips meticulously? Do you double and triple-check your reservations before you leave? Are you like me and you always over-pack? I’m not sure what it is, but I take those words, “just in case,” seriously. Just in case it rains. Just in case I spill something. Just in case we decide to go out to dinner. I want to be ready, so I pack all these extra clothes into the suitcase. And invariably I only use about half of them. When you go on a road trip, do you use a map? Do you plan out where you’re going to stop along the way? Do you scout out where the rest stops are? Or are you more casual about your travels? Are you more of a wanderer, not particularly worried about what you’ll encounter along the way?

Of course, with the advent of GPS navigation, a lot of the guess-work has been taken away. Now, we can plug in our destination and waypoints. We can decide whether we want to take the shortest route, the fastest route, the route that avoids tolls and, if you’re like some members of my family, the route that avoids bridges. We can even program in the voice we want to guide us along the way. My personal preference is a woman with a British accent. It always feels like I’m traveling with class when she directs me where to go.

I admit to having a challenging relationship with that British woman, though. Because if you’re going to really use her, you’ve got to surrender to her completely. And I’ve told you the challenges I have with giving up control. The truth is,  I can’t say that I always trust her. Maybe it’s a “guy thing,” but there are times when she’ll tell me to turn left and I think she’s wrong, so I turn right.  And, of course, that rarely turns out well. And she seems to have infinite patience, which can be annoying. She’ll re-route, and re-route no matter how many wrong turns I take. It’s infuriating that she doesn’t just throw up her virtual hands and tell me she’s done with me. We can, of course, choose not to use Google Maps or Apple Maps or Waze when we travel. And then, in the middle of the trip, maybe after we’ve gotten hopelessly lost, we can relent and switch it on and it’s pretty likely they’ll help us find our way to wherever it is we want to go.

So why am I telling you about all the ways - and the Waze - that I tend to travel? Well, because our spiritual theme for this month is “Journey,” and I think there are some pretty good parallels between the ways we take our physical journeys and the ways we take our spiritual journeys. And, I’ll submit to you that this church – this community of love, compassion, courage and justice – can be the Waze for those journeys.

It’s pretty clear that, when we take a trip, we usually have a destination in mind. There aren’t many of us who have the time or the luxury of just wandering around aimlessly. We want to get from somewhere to somewhere else. That’s not to say that the journey itself doesn’t matter. It very much does, but let’s put that aside for now. When we decide to take a trip, it all starts with the end point. Disney World. The Grand Canyon. Grandma’s house. On our spiritual journeys, I think we tend to be pretty vague about where we want to end up. We’re looking for something, but we can’t name it or define it. Sometimes it starts with a sense of restlessness, or unfulfillment, or dis-ease. It feels like there’s something missing in our lives, or we have a sense that there must be more to life than “just this.” Or it might be that we experience some kind of trauma or grief, and what we want, what we need is to get over or past or through it.

I’d suggest that our spiritual journeys might be better served if we had more clarity about where we want to go. Maybe we want to gain a sense of inner peace. We might want to bring more joy into our lives. Maybe our goal, our destination, is to worry less. It might be to feel more connected – to others, to nature, to God, to life. I’ll admit that it’s often hard to see what we’re lacking or missing in our lives, to name what it is that we want or want more of. Getting to the point where we can define the destination for our spiritual journeys can be a journey in itself. So, that’s something of a conundrum, unless we give ourselves permission to name clarity as a destination itself. Maybe that’s the first trip we take.

Once we have picked a destination, what do we do next? It seems we have a variety of ways to travel there. By plane? By car? By bus? Do we want to go alone? With a companion or two? With a guide? On a packaged tour? We’ve got lots of choices. The same question applies to our spiritual journey. But so many of us seem to get stuck at this stage. We may have some sense of where we want to go, but we have no idea how to move toward it. No sense of how we can even take that first step that is the start of any journey. This can be a dangerous stage to be stuck in, because we often feel really alone and helpless. Like there’s no one who’s been through what we’re going through. It’s easy to just give up before we even get going. Maybe we start to self-medicate, seeking to numb ourselves to the feelings we’re feeling.

If we’re determined, though, this is the stage at which we might start collecting guide books. So we start to peruse the self-help section of bookstores. (Remember those?) We look for some blogs or podcasts that might point us in the right direction. Maybe we seek out a therapist or a counselor if we can afford it. If we’re really courageous, we’ll talk to a trusted friend or two. But this can be a pretty frustrating stage, too. Because it’s hard to make progress on our own. If you didn’t spend all kinds of time wandering in the proverbial wilderness when you were trying to figure out where you wanted to go, or even if you did, this can be another one of those “wilderness times.”

It may happen quickly, or it may take years, but at some point we figure out that going it alone isn’t going to get us where we want to go. We find that we either can’t or don’t want to take this long, strange trip on our own. That we need a guide, or that it’s going to be a lot more rewarding or fulfilling to have companions along the way. So maybe we find a class or a group that’s doing meditation, or yoga, or 12-steps. Maybe we even make the momentous decision to try out a church or other faith community. And when we discover our fellow travelers, our compadres, our fellow seekers, we discover the best way, the best Waze, to travel.

What I love most about Waze is that it’s not just algorithm- and data-driven. It’s a social network. It’s dependent on the inputs of everyone else who’s on the road. The people farther down the road are telling those who are behind what to expect, where the hazards are and how to avoid them. Think about how Waze is just like we are here at church: No one using Waze has the whole picture, but every one of us has valuable information, and the small piece that each of us sees contributes to the larger, wider, more helpful view. Using Waze, we’re not alone on the journey, and we all help each other along the way.

One of the best features of Waze, and the church, is that both meet you where you are. Whether you turn it on before you leave, or not until after you’re hopelessly lost, Waze, and we, will find you and figure out a route. That’s what a community of faith does for us. What this community of faith does for us. It meets us wherever we are. It welcomes us in and accepts us for who we are, no matter how lost and confused we might be. Wherever we are on our spiritual journey. Like Waze, it lets us know that we’re not alone. and like Waze, while none of us have all the answers, we all have a piece of the puzzle and we’re willing to offer some guidance and lots of companionship for your journey.

Like all good analogies, this one between physical and spiritual journeys eventually breaks down. On a physical journey, it really is sometimes just about getting to the destination. If we have a business meeting next Tuesday in San Francisco, we need to get from here to there by then. But spiritual journeys aren’t like that, even if we have a clear sense of our hoped-for destination. Unlike a physical trip, which has a start and an end, our spiritual journeys don’t end until we die – and maybe not even then. And I dare to say that, unlike the trips we take in our cars or buses or planes, the spiritual paths that we walk are much less about the destination than about the trips themselves. Unlike a physical trip, with our spiritual travels, we don’t complete the journey. It’s the journey that completes us.

We are all spiritual seekers, and the beauty of our faith and this community is that we’re committed to supporting each other on the many different paths we’re on. To “seeking truth in the spirit of love,” as we say in our covenant each week. None of us has all the answers, but we each have a piece, a glimpse, a fragment of what our lives are all about. We gather here to admit our own limitations and to affirm our collective wisdom. Apart, we are lost. Together, as we find our sense of purpose and meaning, we help to reveal the path ahead for each other. In a very real sense, we are, the church is, the Waze for each other’s spiritual journey.

This day and every day, I wish you peace. Amen.

Closing Words

Our closing words come from the mystic and author, Joseph Campbell:

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”