Soul-Sojourners and the Journey Within

Aug 2 / Witty Sandle
We need people who will offer us a safe space in which we can be understood beyond our own self-comprehensions. These fellow pilgrims are soul-sojourners, prepared to act as guides towards the dark places in the inner recesses of our hearts; recesses where we swirl around in dizzying circles. These compassionate companions are ready to help us see ourselves as we are, enabling us to peel away our surface manifestations, unearthing what is really going on. They will walk with us no matter what is discovered.

They may be trained Spiritual Directors, or wise souls with no qualifications other than having traveled life’s paths, amassing insights along the way. The discernment of this latter group is forged in the realities and complexities of life. Credentialed or otherwise, these soul-sojourners offer invitations to another way of being, one that is unafraid to look within. Those invitations are towards abundant life, freedom and redemption.
I recently read Fyodor Dovestsky’s, The Idiot, first published in 1869. [1] The central character, Nikolayevich Myshkin, is the “idiot” at the centre of the saga. In him, I saw a type of soul-sojourner who is able to intuit the motivations and intentions of others, even when they themselves cannot. Myshkin is someone who offers the motley crew of characters surrounding him, the opportunity to pause, and wonder what may be motivating their behaviors.

Myshkin’s presence is felt on every page as he attempts to navigate a complex world of societal expectations, misguided love, avarice, and betrayal. He has the ability to go beyond the outer posturing of the varied personalities who cross his path, to the inner psyche of their schemes, fears, angsts and insecurities. So often, these are submerged in their subconscious or purposely suppressed. Myshkin notices what lies beyond their immediate awareness.

I found myself asking, what drives these characters to think, act and feel the way they do?

Cistercian monk, Fr Thomas Keating [2] offers an answer in his book The Human Condition, with three “emotional programs for happiness.” [3] They are the need for power and control, the need for affection and esteem, and the need for security and survival. All are writ large in the pages of The Idiot. Myskin is cognizant of all three in others and in himself.

I am reminded how often I have spied similar interior dispositions in my peripheral vision but have hastened to avert my line of sight. I recall the ways I have scrambled to bury that which threatens to accuse me, and have needed the non-judgemental empathy of another to admit to what I know lurks within.

Myshkin has the empathy and capacity to extend compassion that allows him to move towards others rather than reject them. His peers may think him a fool, but he is in fact, the most perceptive of everyone, penetrating outer facades to the inner turmoil. Myskin is much like a soul-sojourner or Spiritual Director. They notice patterns and themes. They observe hurts, anxieties and woundedness of their directees. They help us name falsehoods that obscure our pathways, gently pointing towards different ways of being, and offering us signposts towards wholeness.

In the face of Myskin’s gift of grace and understanding, the hearts of others are laid bare, bringing the release of pseudo-ideals and protective instincts. The Myskins of the world create safe spaces where we can dare to expose our vulnerabilities and reveal our fragilities. They see beyond our words and insulating coverings. These soul-sojourners draw us into the tender-hearted gaze of the triune God, the God who holds us forever in divine belovedness. Before this God, we need not fear the journey within.

The world needs Myskin-like people, soul-sojourners.

What are the Myskin’s in your life inviting you to discover about yourself or your image of God?

In what ways are you tending your own soul to be a soul-sojourner for others?

[1] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot. 1989. Dostoyevsky was a Russian novelist writing in the 19th century.
[2] Thomas Keating is credited with bringing the contemplative practice of centering prayer to the attention of many Christians. He died in 2018.
[3] Keating, Thomas. The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation. United States: Paulist Press, 1999.
Witty Sandle
Witty works as the Career and Vocational counsellor at The King’s University in Edmonton, Alberta, combining her professional career development background with her spiritual direction skillset. She graduated from Portland Seminary in 2019 with a Masters in Spiritual Formation. Witty is deeply interested in questions of vocation and significance. She describes her own vocation as seeking to be an attentive presence, creating safe spaces where others can discover all they are called to be.