“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” John 14:6
A text came through on my day off saying that one of ours was in the hospital. It sounded serious and so I paused in the midst of my errands to check in.
I was dressed for baking and grocery shopping and such — not in my usual professional garb — which is perhaps why the volunteer behind the front desk did not recognize me at first when I stopped to confirm his room number. “2029,” she said. “Do you need me to show you the way?” And then she glanced up to see my chaplain’s tag and smiling, continued, “Of course not… You know the way.”
And of course I did, having walked that hallway countless times before. Only physically knowing one’s ‘way’ is different from knowing the way in other ways, isn’t it? What I mean to say is this: Only recently have I learned to walk that long hallway to patient rooms using it to find my way in my mind and in my heart. As I put one foot in front of another, I try to shed whatever was occupying my attention before I parked my car in the lot out front. I do my best to set aside wherever it was I just came from and wherever it is that I am headed to after this. And I do this. Since most of the time I know the one on whom I will be calling, I bring an image of him or her to mind. And in an ancient and simple form of intercessory prayer, I mentally put them in the hands of Jesus. This has become my habit and I find it helps me to be more ‘present’ when I arrive at Room 2029. This is my own small way of staying on the Way that Jesus speaks of now. For not long ago, more often than not, I found I could know the way and still be lost once I found my destination.
This is, perhaps, easiest to do when one physically knows ‘ones’ way,’ of course. Not so much when you need to be more alert to your physical surroundings. Indeed, not so much, when you have neither physically nor emotionally nor spiritually walked a particular path before, for then your eyes and ears and maybe even your heart must be alert to be sure you get to where you are going in the first place. But this is also so. Sometimes the ‘way’ can seem familiar. And one can still find oneself unexpectedly lost ‘on the way.’
For it is so that it was only a few days before that I had walked that same hallway. Only that time I was venturing into the room of one unknown to me for I was the ‘chaplain on call’ last week. A nurse from ICU dialed my number and told me the need was urgent. “Just come to the unit,” she said. “We’ll show you the way from there.” And so I did. And so I stood while niece and nephew, nephew’s wife and long time friend circled his bed and we offered prayer. And someone from respiratory came in and removed the breathing apparatus. And the nurse quietly turned off the equipment which was dripping pharmaceuticals into his bloodstream keeping him alive. I put my hand on his niece’s shoulder as she quietly wept, watching his breathing slow and stop. And I was jolted back to another hospital room, decades ago, when my dad was first sick and the sensation of a friend’s hand on my shoulder pulling me back from the precipice I thought would surely swallow me up then. Oh, it is so that for an instant, I was back there again, 25 years younger than I am today, and in that moment I instinctively stepped back into a metal garbage can, shattering the grief filled silence of that room and bringing me back into the moment where this time it was my hand on another that was needed.
Oh yes, we can know ‘the way,’ can’t we? We can walk confidently, thinking we are on track, but this way that Jesus is is one that we keep on practicing — clinging to it — returning to it — yearning to find with him and through him the answers to our deepest questions about the meaning of suffering, the purpose of living, the destinations waiting for us beyond the time we share here.
And so it is that Jesus speaks to his disciples and all of us of ‘the way’ today. And so it is that his disciples don’t seem to have a clue as to what he is talking about.
And you can’t really blame them, of course. For while they may not fully know it yet, the hours ahead hold the kind of danger — both physical and spiritual — the likes of which they surely had not known before. Perhaps, in part, they are tuned in to this and as a result, their more physical senses are on hyper alert. Or maybe not. Maybe they are simply dull to the possibility of anything more than what they have already known. Perhaps they are yet so bound to this physical world that they cannot begin to imagine what it is that Jesus speaks of now. I’ve certainly had times when I have been one or the other of these. And it is so that in such times, it can be difficult to comprehend the words Jesus speaks today.
And yet, just like Thomas and Philip now, I expect that some of this will always be mystery to us. And much like with Jesus’ first disciples, sometimes we will walk the hall to Room 2029 with ease, using our steps to walk deeper in the ‘way.’ And other times we will find ourselves taking a step back and shattering the silence with our own deeply held questions and doubts and fears.
It is in those other times when I cling most deeply to the promises that Jesus offers now.
- It is then that I recall that Jesus does go ahead — even when I can’t see or comprehend ‘the way’ and prepares a place even for me.
- It is then that I seek to remember that all I have to do is keep my heart fixed on the One I seek to follow for just the next step and the one after that and the one after that.
- It is then that I am reminded that the best we can offer this world on this way today is to seek to live in even small ways as Jesus did. And to see that as the ‘way‘ I am to follow. Like leaving behind what needs to be left behind for the sake of what or who is before us. Like silently lifting in prayer the image of a dear one who is suffering.
If only just for the next step down a long hallway to Room 2029 to check in on one I know well. Or to ICU to stand with the family of one I’ve just met. Or wherever it is I am taken next.
- How is it that you think about “Jesus as the Way?” What does that mean to you?
- How is it that you and I find our way on this way?
- Do these words of Jesus always make sense to you? If so, how are you able to comprehend them? If not, how is that you hear them?
- Are you able to hear these words of Jesus as hope and as promise? How is this so for you?