The Practice of Embracing the Unknown

The Soul of a Pilgrim, chapter 7

Reading and Reflecting

In the opening lines of chapter 7, Christine Valters Paintner mentions “The Guest House,” a poem by the Sufi poet Rumi. If you are not familiar with the poem, find it here. 

In the poem we are encouraged to welcome all kinds of emotions and feelings: joy, depression, meanness, as well as dark thoughts, shame, and malice. “Invite them in,”says Rumi, “for each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

Reflect: What is your reaction to the poem? Do you have any experience in unwelcome thoughts suddenly showing up? How do you usually greet them?

Radical hospitality, says Paintner, includes making way for “holy disruptions.” We allow space for discomfort, strangeness, and loss and begin to believe that long-range good can come out of it.

Reflect: What situation are you facing just now in which you need to let go and proceed not forcing your own agenda onto the outcome? How might you begin to move forward not knowing what might happen? Are you comfortable with the idea that there are possibilities you have not envisioned?

Paintner suggests that as we cultivate seeing the world with new eyes we may be ready to trust that things that lead us to unfamiliar places are essential parts of our unfolding. Can we welcome in the grief and fear that accompany our brokenness and see them as windows into a larger understanding of God at work in our lives? Paintner asks, “What if we embraced the unknown as sacred wisdom for the unfolding of our lives?” (pg 111).

Reflect: As you look back on your spiritual journey so far, do you find places where initial grief and fear led you into a larger view of God? 

In the book, the author relates the pilgrimage she was launched on when her mother died. In that time she began to have doubts about the theological framework that had sustained her all her life. Her spiritual director advised her to not ty to figure out what she believed and to embrace the unknowing doubt. As a result, she found that it became easier to rest in the tensions of life. She moved more into mystery as she questioned long-held assumptions. 

Reflect: How could you yield your resistance and desire for familiarity to step into the wide horizon of possibilities beyond your understanding? (from pg113)

TO Practice this Week:

On pages 114-116, the author introduces us to John Cassian’s “three renunciations” that are required on the spiritual journey. The third renunciation is to let go of our images of God because “any image or pronouncement we can ever make about God is too small to contain the divine.” Spend some quiet time this week thinking of your images of God. How might they be too small? In what ways have they limited God in your imagination? How do they fit into the agenda you have created for your life? What would happen if you set those images aside and allowed your understanding of God to reveal itself to you rather than you determining it?

back to course content.