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The Quest for the Grail
The Quest for the Grail

The Quest and Its Questions

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Bill Plotkin, depth psychologist and wilderness guide, identifies a crucial moment in the Grail story. He highlights the importance of asking ultimate questions of the soul:

In the popular European myth of the Holy Grail, the young man, Parsifal, goes out into the world to seek life’s deeper meaning—his soul (which is what the Grail ultimately symbolizes). His travels take him to the castle of the sick Grail King (who, as in most myths, symbolizes the old story, the ego’s old and fortressed way of being in the world). The only cure for the king is for an unknown knight (a Wanderer) to come along and ask the king two specific questions. But Parsifal’s mother had taught him that questions were foolish or rude, and so Parsifal does not ask. Consequently the castle (and the vison of the Grail) vanishes, and Parsifal finds himself in a great wilderness through which he must wander for many years, until he has learned enough, through the trials and losses of life, to be ready to ask the right questions. [Father Richard: Thus, it was called a “quest”—seeking the right question, unlike today’s insistence on the right answer.]

The first question is, “Lord, what ails thee?” By asking ourselves (our egos) that question—and living it—we, like Parsifal, develop understanding and empathy for how we cocreate many of our ailments and how those difficulties teach us what we need to learn. We begin to uncover our sacred wounds. We develop compassion for ourselves, learning to appreciate our mistakes, failures, and wounds as much as our talents and successes.

The second question is, “Whom does the Grail serve?” By asking “Whom does my soul serve?” we learn to turn our attention to the deeper purposes of what we do. We enlarge our vision of what’s possible and gradually learn to root our actions in soul. Eventually we learn who and what to serve. The answer will have two parts to it, like two sides of a coin: we serve the specific purposes of our souls and we serve our people, and we do one by doing the other. . . .

One of the key features of the Grail myth is that, in order to heal the king, and thereby the land, Parsifal need only ask the questions. He doesn’t need to answer them himself (nor does the king). [1]

Richard writes that to go on a spiritual quest is inherently tied to asking life’s deeper questions:

We cannot go on a quest until we know what the question is. Whom does the Grail serve? What am I doing this for? Why am I feeling what I am feeling? This anger, this pain? Unless we feel it, unless we go down into the grief, into the depths, into the great unconscious, we won’t usually know the deeper answers. We will have stayed on the level of life’s superficial questions, which is precisely not to go on the quest. [2]


[1] Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2003), 259–260.

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Quest for the Grail (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1994), 78, 79.

Explore Further:

Image credit: Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 1, 2 & 3 (details), 2022, photographs, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images by Katrina Lillian Sorrentino appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Entelechy: the seeded, coded essence that contains both patterns and possibilities for your life. Ever since I left my Christian marriage, I wanted to do the Camino, a pilgrimage that people from all over the world make to St. James’ tomb in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. In May, I walked it as a ritual in order to shed a previous version of Self and embody a truer one. I walked a total of 333 miles in order to capture entelechy through the photograph. This series is a relic of a ritual that carried me further into being. —Katrina Lillian Sorrentino

Story from Our Community:

As a child I was easily filled with a sense of wonder. But my young curious heart began to slip away in the face of fear and judgement. Eventually, I began to understand my spiritual wound. I longed to be connected again with Great Spirit and recognize my indigenous cultural roots. I delighted in discovering the CAC’s message of original goodness, which has led me home to my spiritual quest. I am now awakening to Sacred Presence. I am grateful for the Grace of Transformation. —Maria D.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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