Editor’s Note: The following essay appears in our recent publication, Join the Journey.
My pattern is generally like this: After I have been smashed, bashed, torn, or twisted by an unexpected circumstance or personal difficulty, I look up to find that my way back to myself will be a daunting journey. I generally lack the strength and willpower to pick myself up and return to the fray of life. That’s when I turn to a spiritual guide who can help me find what I need to get back home.
Many spiritual applications have been drawn from The Legend of Bagger Vance–a book written by Steven Pressfield, and later made into a movie directed by Robert Redford. The story is told as a reflection from the viewpoint of Hardy Greaves. He describes a remarkable golf match he saw as a child. In the match, golf greats Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen play opposite the local war hero, Rannulph Junah. Initially, Junah declines to play, but the mysterious Bagger Vance, who has become Junah’s companion, offers to caddy for him. It is Bagger Vance who encourages Junah to ignore the thinly veiled contempt of the others and to find his “authentic swing.” At one point Bagger tells Junah, “Inside each and every one of us is our one true authentic swing. Something I was born with…Something that can’t be learned…Something that’s got to be remembered.”
This story resonates with me because it is the archetypal journey of a hero who falls into darkness through some disconnect with his soul, and then comes back into the light with the help of a spiritual guide. Finding my own way home involves the sometimes ironic and painful process of letting go of my ego and its needs; I never know if I am dying to myself or transcending myself, and maybe it doesn’t matter. Whatever I call it, I still must find a way out of the darkness—I must find a way to pick up the pieces of my life; I must once again connect with my “authentic swing” so I can go home.
Joseph Campbell described the Monomyth, or Hero’s Journey, in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In the Monomyth, thresholds appear at various times. As the heroine of my own life, I must cross the thresholds that appear along my path, intentionally walking into something that separates me from the familiar.
In recent years, I have crossed thresholds of job transitions, divorce, children in crisis, financial stress, elderly parents, depression, anxiety, and illness. Other, happier crossings include completing graduate school, integrating my sexuality and my spirituality, finding love again with a new life partner, and entering menopause.
Often there are guardians at these thresholds that must be conquered. Guardians of fixed belief, fear, insecurity, or perceived unworthiness try to keep me stuck in old ways of engaging life, even though those ways no longer work for me. That’s when my own spiritual guide encourages me to overcome, and invites me into a new and sacred space.
Once I cross over, I occasionally find that I am alone in the darkness of a new world. In the darkness, I have the opportunity to discover my own “authentic swing.” I emerge from the darkness transformed by the experience and affirmed by my spiritual guide. The continual cycle of death and resurrection is manifesting a new creation: a more integrated, healed, and whole self. Like Mr. Junah, I find not only my authentic swing, but also myself. It is always a homecoming.
Taking this journey involves a habit of the heart referred to as prayer—a practice I share with my spiritual guide. In recent years, I have become a spiritual guide for other seeking souls. I listen to their stories and their prayers, honoring the sacredness of each threshold as a companion to another. By holding each seeker in this holy attention, the movements of God in the soul are discerned.
This is my story. It is the story of Bagger Vance, of Rannulph Junah, and of the game of golf, which is a metaphor for life. This is the hero’s story, and as a spiritual guide, I become present to another and to the One; ultimately realizing, in the words of Thomas Merton, “there is no Other—you and the Other are one.”
Martha West, M. A. Theology, is a spiritual director practicing in the Twin Cities. She invites seekers to notice God’s movement by prayerfully listening for the presence of Spirit.