Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The metaphor of ‘path’ is universal in spirituality. It is so deeply embedded that it scarcely seems a metaphor at all. The metaphor extends itself into ‘climbing’, and gives us the titles of many classics: The Ascent of Mount Carmel (St John of the Cross), The Ladder of Perfection (Walter Hilton), A Ladder of Four Rungs (a 15th-century translation of a book by Guigo II), etc.
In this passage Jesus spoke of a ‘place’. This too is a metaphor, of course. Eternal life has no geographical location. He also spoke of the path (the “way”) in this passage: “You know the way to the place….”
Metaphors are not strictly true or false in the way that literal speech is. For this reason they don't exclude one another – as is clear from the way Jesus used two apparently opposite ones in the same sentence.
Let’s dwell for a moment on the metaphor of place. The ‘place’ of spirituality is always here, this place – just as the time is always now. Are we not already here now? Yes and no. Physically I am always ‘here’, and the time is always ‘now’. But in every other way I can be simply absent. From this angle, spiritual development is less like making a journey than waking up from a dream. In the dream you are in San Francisco or in Paris. But to come back to reality you don't need to book a flight, you don't have to travel at all. All you need is someone’s elbow in your ribs!
An older translation had “In my Father’s house there are many mansions.” The word comes from Latin manere, ‘to remain’. ‘Mansion’ means a place where you stay. In a hyper-active age it is helpful to be reminded not to move! Let’s hear from Meister Eckhart: “People say: 'Alas, sir, I wish I stood as well with God or had as much devotion and were as much at peace with God as others are…. I can never manage it unless I am there or there, or do this or that; I must get away from it all, or go and live in a cell or a cloister.' In fact, the reason lies entirely with yourself and with nothing else. It is self-will, though you may not know it or believe it…. Though we may think one should flee these things or seek those things – places or people or methods, or company or deeds – this is not the reason why methods or things hold you back: what prevents you is you yourself in the things, for you have a wrong attitude to things. Begin therefore with yourself and forget yourself.”
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