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The Way of Jesus
The Way of Jesus

A Mapless Journey

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Author and scholar Diana Butler Bass writes of Jesus as “the way,” a title Jesus used for himself:  

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus invites people to follow him, to walk with him, to go on a journey. There is nothing particularly new in this, as the Hebrew scriptures are full of stories of wanderers, pilgrims, exiles, and immigrants…. However, in the gospel of John, Jesus upped the theological ante. He not only taught a way inviting the curious to follow him, but he said he was the way: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6).  

That is a beautiful verse, a poetic and parabolic image of the way and the Way, a beckoning for all who know Jesus to willingly embrace the journey. That is the path, the road of liberation. And it would be freeing but for the next sentence: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Wait, what? The welcome is pulled back, boundaries are put up, and suddenly the picture shifts, as the call to dance and sing and run through the fields fades into a rather grim image of judgment and exclusion.…. 

Many Christians cling ferociously to the exclusionary interpretation of this verse…. [Yet] “way,” “truth,” and “life” are relational words, all things that Jesus says he is. “Way” is not a technique or map, “truth” is not about philosophy or dogma, and “life” is not about going to heaven. In the mystical poetry of John, Jesus uses these terms to explain how he embodies a way of being in this world [that is] so close to the heart of God that God can be known in and through Jesus. 

Butler Bass describes being drawn to the inner and outer journeys of contemplation and action: 

Author Elizabeth O’Connor told the story of a Christian community organized around two spiritual journeys—the interior one toward knowing our true self and knowing God, and the one directed outward into the world to enact God’s justice and love. [1] These two movements comprise the way of Jesus, a continual flow of breath: in, out; in, out; in, out.… 

This quest is a mapless journey—there is no single road—the only guides to it are nature, saints, poetry, song, and Spirit. When you dare leave the map behind, Jesus emerges as the road itself and the Light that guides. The Quakers refer to this as the “inner light”; medieval mystics speak of Jesus likewise. Of it Meister Eckhart wrote: “There is a journey you must take. It is a journey without destination. There is no map. Your soul will lead you. And you can take nothing with you.” [2] Conventional Christianity (of many different denominations) prefers to see Jesus as a directive or destination rather than this path; for them “way” is a noun, not a verb. On the mapless journey, however, all is movement. There is no destination, only the enveloping presence of love. 


[1] Elizabeth O’Connor, Journey Inward, Journey Outward (New York: Harper and Row, 1968). 

[2] Jon M. Sweeney and Mark S. Burrows, Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads, 2017), 166. Sweeney and Burrow cite Meister Eckhart: Selected Writings, trans. Oliver Davies (New York: Penguin Books, 1994), 246–247. 

Diana Butler Bass, Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence (New York: HarperOne, 2021), 165–166, 167–168, 186, 187–188. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 6. Jenna Keiper, Taos Snow. Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 2. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.  

Like ever-changing light in snow, we open to surprises on the way of Jesus. 

Story from Our Community:

Knowing that a community like the CAC exists gives me hope in this crazy world. I feel supported knowing that people of one heart are surrounding me near and far. It’s grounding to me—in spirit and soul. —Anne H. 

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