ourneys have an end. We obtain our degrees at the graduation ceremony. The cruise ship full of sunburned passengers docks at its final port. Pilgrims arrive in the Holy Land. The beginning of a journey is filled with anticipation, questions, excitement - and the end is inevitably a mix of satisfaction, answers and sometimes regret.
But there's always an end, right?
I teach English at a private high school in the State of Georgia, and this year I'll be teaching the elements of the "quest" to a class of sophomores. The classic quest - whether it be about fighting dragons or rescuing princesses - typically follows a pretty formulaic pattern. The quester, in need of a specific result or item, receives a call to serve as well as aid from an older, wiser character. He is then given special tools and meets allies to help him along the way, and finally, the quest requires that the hero overcome and defeat a series of obstacles.
When the journey is over and the quest complete, the true reward is usually less tangible than the original goal, and the hero experiences a sort of awakening or discovery of truth.
Now what if this series of quest elements applied to more than just Super Mario, Lancelot, and Indiana Jones?
Perhaps it is because I am an English teacher and prone to view my life through the evocative lens of fiction, but it seems that the faith journey that many of us embark upon fits the quest pattern. Whether we're Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, or something else entirely, the questions of faith and spirituality seem to inspire millions, even billions of su, to seek truth outside our own existence, to discover the authenticity of worship and the supernatural.
We seek spiritual truth with the help of elder, wiser leaders, with items of scriptural tools, and we encounter obstacles of doubt, sin, and fear.
What if this journey of discovery doesn't have a neat, definable end, though? When it comes to matters of faith and spirituality, do we ever arrive at the finish line filled with answers, barring death and an encounter with the Almighty?
The quest for truth, elements of which manifest themselves in many popular quests, from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings, does not have an end, but rather, the journey itself is the goal. The process is the result and the course the finish line.
I was born and raised a Christian. My father, uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather were, or still are, ministers, and so the idea of a journey, a quest to grasp hold of an authentic faith might seem unnecessary for someone like myself. Yet I would argue in the case of a traditionally religious individual that the quest for truth and the journey of faith is still as valid and as important as for someone who doesn't attend a worship service each week. I know that I haven't even arrived at the climax of my quest yet, but the obstacles along the way - personal encounters with religious terrorism, heartbreak and loneliness, being lost on the other side of the world, a guilty admiration for atheism and humanism - have all threatened to derail my fragile journey. In the next few weeks, I will be sharing some of my experiences from different stages of my life that have helped me grow closer to God, while at the same time struggling to even keep him in my sights.
This journey will probably never end and it could take me places that I cannot even imagine. However, I don't worry about the end, because it's only just begun.
Martin Surridge, who studied at Walla Walla University, now lives in Georgia.