encounters that disrupt our equilibrium
My Dear One,
Chance encounters are often the ones that make all the difference.
If you had been placed in a different third grade class, you wouldn’t have sat next to the person who became your lifelong best friend. If you hadn’t taken that class in high school, you wouldn’t have been inspired by the teacher who helped you find your career path. If you hadn’t attended that conference you wouldn’t have met the person who became your spouse. If your parents hadn’t met at that dance you wouldn’t be here at all.
Our life story is shaped by the people we meet, often by chance, who have a profound affect upon the shape, scope and direction of our journey. These encounters are not scripted. We can choose any number of things about our lives but who we will meet and the affect they will have on us are almost entirely beyond our control. It is a matter of being in the right place at the right time. If we’d been in a different place at a different time, we could be living an entirely different life right now. Even the smallest of changes can make the most profound difference.
This is true of course not only in positive ways but in negative ways as well. If that other driver hadn’t been intoxicated, the wreck wouldn’t have happened. If this person hadn’t been so cruel to me, I wouldn’t have suffered as much as I have. If the doctor hadn’t misdiagnosed the illness our loved one wouldn’t have been in such pain for so long.
When it comes to the Universal Transformative Journey, there are special people we meet a few times in our lives who assistance proves invaluable, incalculable, miraculous. We never would have gotten up the courage to do the hard things we had to do if they hadn’t been there prodding us into action, giving us the encouragement we needed, helping us out when we got stuck.
“Meeting with the Mentor is the stage of the Hero’s Journey in which the hero gains the supplies, knowledge, and confidence needed to overcome fear and commence the adventure.” (Vogler p. 117)
For me, these mentors have come in the form of a high school teacher who taught me more about life than how to speak French, a priest who inspired me to become a priest even though later he fell from grace, a seminary faculty member who taught me how to accept that I am a human being, a spiritual director who helped me take a necessary leap of faith, and a psychologist who walked with me and cared for me until I could learn to care again for myself. Each of these people came into my life at just the time I needed them most. They were the face of God, God’s hands and voice and love incarnate before me.
[In movies and mythology] “The gods usually speak to us through the filter of other people who are temporarily filled with a godlike spirit.” (Vogler p.120)
Movie Example: Doc in Back to the Future
Marty McFly is a regular teenage boy. He dislikes school, he wishes he had a nicer vehicle, he loves his girlfriend, and though he plays in a band he doubts they will ever make it. His principal, Mr. Strickland, relishes in Marty’s mediocrity, yelling that “No McFly ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley!”
Marty’s best friend is Doc Brown, a mad scientist who is always on the verge of figuring out “something big.” Like Marty, there is plenty of reason to doubt Doc will ever amount to much, except for one thing - Doc’s unshakeable tenacity and that he has thrown himself whole-heartedly into his work and his love of science. Marty doesn’t know how to throw himself into life just yet. That is, until one night when Doc Brown’s time-traveling DeLorean actually works and sends Marty back in time.
This adventure marks the beginning of Marty’s journey not only through time and back but also his journey to discovering his sense of self and belief that he can in fact “amount to something.” And, like a good mentor, Doc is there to guide and help him just when he needs it most.
Biblical Example: John the Baptizer
Even Jesus needed a forerunner, someone to prepare The Way before him. We don’t know much about Jesus’ mentors. Undoubtedly his parents, rabbis, and others had a profound influence. And from the biblical record it would seem that John and Jesus did not know one another well despite being relatives. However, Jesus’ admiration and respect for John is evident.
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he … and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen! Matthew 11:11, 14-15
John serves a crucial role in the life of Christ. He is the one who baptizes Jesus, who allows him to cross the threshold, though John protests that Jesus is greater than he is. But Jesus insists. Jesus is about to enter the wilderness for his first temptation to inaugurate his public ministry. He chooses John to be the one who ushers him into that wilderness, meeting him in the river where Jesus will cross from Israel back out into the wilderness where, like Moses, he will wander, this time for 40 days instead of 40 years.
Think back to crucial turning points in your life. Who were the people who steered you in the right direction, believed in you when you didn’t believe in yourself, or introduced a whole new alternative pathway that hadn’t existed before then?
Did you listen to them at first or did you need to think it through for yourself? If you initially refused the call, did your mentors play an important role in helping you come back around to it? We all have mentors whether we think of them as that at the time or not. Oftentimes they are older and wiser than us but not always. A child can be a mentor if they reopen our eyes to the beauty and wonder of the world around us. An animal can be a mentor if they teach us to play, to accept love, or give us a new sense of self. And sometimes the mentor isn’t a person at all but rather an experience, or a book, a poem, a movie, a pilgrimage, etc. that sets us off in a whole new direction in life. Whatever form they take, our mentors are the means through which God speaks to us and guides us into The Way.
Your Journey this week
Last week we looked at The Refusal and all the reasons we might have for holding fast to the status quo and refusing to go on the journey of transformation. This week, we are focusing on the person or event that disrupts our equilibrium to the point that we choose to let go of what has been in order to explore what might be.
As you think about the sense of call you feel to make a change in your life right now, who is (or has the potential to be) your champion and cheerleader? Who do you trust to help you sort through the pros and cons of making this change? Is there someone who has walked this path before you who might help keep you from making a misstep? Who can you lean on to walk with you and help you get through this?
Make time this week to talk with them. Let them know more about your sense of feeling called to go on a new adventure. Share with them some of the fears you noted last week that could cause you to refuse the call. Ask them to pray for you and let them know you will be checking in with them from time to time about this.
And pray to God for direct guidance from the Holy Spirit, the Advocate that Jesus promised will walk with us. The Holy Spirit is the greatest mentor of all, always there with a power and wisdom greater than our own. Sometimes the Holy Spirit moves through gentle nudges and sometimes through abrupt clarion calls. Sometimes it is through our own conscience and intuition but quite often it is through someone else who comes into our life at just the right time to mentor us into the next phase. These are our angels, walking among us, loving us and reassuring us we can make the journey God calls us to make.
Chance encounters are often the ones that make all the difference, which raises the question if they are actually by chance or if a guiding hand is behind it after all.
following The Way,