"A Lay Person's Perspective on the Spiritual Life"
Thinking of life as a journey is a metaphor. We can think of life's journey in many different ways. From our beginning, life is taking us to a destination with challenging adventures along the way. Life may be seen as an ocean voyage across unknown depths, where storms occasionally toss us about as we seek the safety of calm shores. An old bluegrass song tells us that life is like a journey on a mountain railway with hills, tunnels, dangerous curves and the need of a brave engineer. For the 12 tribes of Israel, life was pretty much a continuous journey across the dessert (into and out of slavery) until they would finally reach the "promised land", their final home.
In the National Art Gallery, there is a group of four paintings depicting the "journey" of a man's life from childhood to old age. They are very moving works of art and in each the man is "traveling" via a small vessel on a body of water mostly resembling a river. In the first painting he is a young child just stepping off a dock into the boat. In the second he is a youth and he is recklessly running white water and laughing in the face of the tossing. In the third he is a full grown man in stature and is steadfastly sailing full speed ahead but with a keen eye to the stars. In the last he is a stooped old man, sitting in the vessel and calmly skimming the placid surface of the water. However, in each of these four paintings there is a spiritual presence behind or above him that is obviously protecting, guiding, encouraging and comforting the human in the vessel.
However you think of the progression of days through our earthly existence, our lives are marked by certain major events common to most folks, birth being the first and most significant one. Then there is the first day of school, the first recital (of whatever), followed by a graduation from high school, graduation from college, then the first job, perhaps marriage, the birth of a fist-born child, the death of a parent or loved one, and so on until the last and final event - passing from this life into eternity. These events are usually celebrated in one way or another - Perhaps by a party, a gathering over food and drink, a special service in church, or just a quiet moment alone to remember the significance of the event.
In the Church, the major events of our spiritual lives are marked by a set of "sacraments". These sacraments come at the major mile stones of our lives and serve to remind us of the significance of the event for our souls, and a celebration of the spirit at this stage of our "journey with God". "The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace." The Book of Common Prayer, p.857.
"The purpose of a sacrament is to make us aware of a truth that is not self-evident so that we might benefit from it. Sacraments are symbolic, ritual acts of revelation. Sacraments, importantly, make something that is already true and available real for us, so that we might fully benefit from it... When an invisible reality is realized, or made real, that is a sacrament.
Or to put it another way - a sacrament is a point of connection between the invisible and visible - an outward and visible material sign of an inward and invisible nonmaterial reality."
Lillie R. Hardingham
There are 7 sacraments in the Episcopal Church: