When Mother Teresa was asked why she worked for the destitute and dying, she shocked the interviewer with the answer, “I do this to combat the Hitler in me.”

Mahatma Ghandi was speaking about much the same thing when he said, “When I see a man doing good, I seek to be like that man. When I see a man doing evil, I look to my own heart.”

Wise words. Unless we know and own, our own potential for evil, we are working with a grave handicap, for in the mystery of paradox, what is shadow in our lives, is the point of potential growth. Darkness is light unborn. Winter is preparation for Spring. Fear is always ready to be sacrificed to love. That is at the heart of the mystery that took Jesus to the cross and through to the resurrection.

It’s probably true that the poetry of metaphor and parable can make journey seem complex. I love story “sign posts” because I’m a writer, a dreamer. But the reality of our journey with Jesus is very simple. The tool of journey is love. The inhibitor is fear. The writer of the first letter of John put it succinctly. There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out all fear.

We know fear but as our capacity for love increases, so does the fear diminish. I find it useful to gauge my own actions and reactions with that measure. Does this come from love? Or does it come from fear? It’s a simple test and it usually works.

Here is an old Hassidic story about fear, which is a personal favourite. Some of you may have heard it before, but it is worth repeating. I find it very powerful.

There was once a holy man who went on a long journey. Unfortunately, he left his house open and while he was away a band of monsters moved in and made themselves at home. The man came back. He opened the front door and at once the monsters rushed at him. Quickly, he slammed the door shut. He prayed to God, took a deep breath and opened the door again. Once more the monsters came at him. As they did so, he bowed and acknowledged their presence. When he did that, half the monsters disappeared but the half that was left were the biggest. They snarled, showed their teeth and pounced on the man. He offered them hospitality, asked if he could get them food and drink. At that, all the monsters disappeared except the chief. Now this monster was huge, with enormous jaws and great sharp teeth. Moreover, it was not going to be put off. It lunged at the man, it’s mouth open wide. As it came close, the man put his head in the monster’s mouth. The chief of the monsters also vanished, and the man had his house back.

From time to time I sit with that story in order to find my chief fear and put my head in its mouth. It’s an ongoing exercise.

There is no perfection for us in life school. Thank God for that. Perfection has very little room for growth. We claim our errors and try to learn from them and our frailty, far from being a source of concern, is reason for gratitude. It is our God-given growing space.

We can summarise the stages of the personal journey more or less like this:

1. In early stages we can experience chaos as we are called to step into a larger space. 2. We can feel aloneness, vulnerability. 3. We become aware of remarkable God incidence, teachers, guidance, learning patterns, everything is there at the time when we need it. 4. We enter into the mystery of paradox. 5. We become aware that God’s word is all around us. We discover the parables of nature. 6. We have an overwhelming sense of the interconnectedness of everything. 7. There us a peace that comes with simplicity, a freedom, a lightness and enhanced sense of humour. 8. We have a knowing without words. 9. There is awareness that the foundation of the universe, is love. 10. We know that separation from God is an illusion.

The journey into paradox is one of true freedom and rejoicing. It is well expressed in this verse by American poet Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

Joy Cowley