One thing about every good story, and a lot of not-so-good stories, is that they feature different kinds of characters. There has to be a central character who can just an ordinary person, a villain or evil thing that is creating havoc, and a plot where the protagonist finds themselves on a quest for something: to kill a dragon or demon, to find something that was lost, restore that something to its rightful place and thereby make the world a better and happier place. He or She isn’t a hero or heroine yet; that doesn’t come until the end, usually. In between times they find themselves on an adventure and they become what we call a seeker.
Seekers are interesting characters. Usually they’re ordinary people put in extraordinary circumstances and who develop things like courage, knowledge and purpose.
In stories they often fall into these adventures as a result of circumstances, like Sir Galahad, the knight of the Round Table who sought the Holy Grail, or Luke Skywalker. They usually are led into quests that tested them in ways they would never have expected and, in the end, they often were considered heroes and were rewarded for their success. Usually the journey was full of twists, turns, traps, dead ends and danger before it was all finished, but in the process the seeker did more than achieve the goal; they learned about themselves and, sometimes, about a relationship they didn’t know they lacked.
In the Bible there are lots of seekers. Most of them seem to say “Why me?” at the beginning. Paul the apostle was busy being a persecutor of Christ’s disciples and followers until he was unceremoniously dumped in the road on the way to Damascus and his life abruptly took a 180-degree turn. The rich young man approached Jesus was seeking eternal life, but when Jesus told him what was necessary for him to attain it, it was too difficult a quest for him. In the Old Testament, Moses was a prince in Egypt, became an exile after a murder, and then met a mysterious force that burned a bush but did not consume it. The bush had a voice coming from it with instructions for Moses to get on the road and do some rather difficult things. Moses was one of the “Why me?” people, but he did as he was told and the result was that the Israelites that had been in Egypt were returned to the Promised Land.
Each of us is a seeker, whether we are engaged on a life-altering quest or not. There is the quest on which the advertisers send us to find the perfect anything – house, car, mate, chocolate, whatever—by using their products and services to help in your search. Of course, in this case, the seeking probably will never stop and the seeker will reach the end of the quest. Set on the earthly path which requires more and more, some people can never stop searching for things that will make their lives perfect and complete. They may never find either.
Then there are the seekers who are have an emptiness that they need to fill. What each one seeks is a little different from person to person. Unlike the seekers in stories, everyday human beings are faced with multiple choices in a story that has yet to be written or told, much less finished. Many people seek God or some sort of Higher Power simply because they realize there’s something missing in their lives. Many men and women would and do go to monasteries, convents, or even out the wilderness to find way to fill up that emptiness. They used prayer, contemplation, work and study to find what they considered the ultimate treasure which was unity with God.
Most of us cannot give up our day jobs and our families to go out in the desert or join a religious community in order to make the search happen. Most of us have to do it wherever we are. Still, we feel the need to seek God, to look for a fulfilling intimacy that only God can fill. With Lent under way, many people are seeking Lenten practices that will aid in the struggle of living a Christian life in a desert of broken dreams, broken promises and probably broken health whether it be the mind or body.
The seeker in the Song of Songs passage was looking for her lover, God, in various places, even in dreams. The important thing was that she continued to search. That is part of what Lent is supposed to teach us: to continue to seek greater things than the world can offer us. It’s an invitation for us to practice the things that open us up to God and to let God come in and fill the empty spaces that we may not even know where there. We need the God we encounter in dreams and readings, but the important thing is to keep searching until we find God who is really only a breath away but sometimes seems billion miles.
During this Lent, let us become the kind of seeker the Song of Songs tells us about. Let us seek and be open to all possibilities, no matter how remote, exotic, mundane or seemingly impossible. If we pay attention we can find what we are looking for.
Have a blessed Lent.
Sir Galahad Discovers the Grail, c. 1890, by Edwin Austin Abbey (1852-1911). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons