Imagine a narrow winding pathway, stretching off into the distance. The sides of the pathway are steep and slippery. On one side of the path is a bog, on the other a desert, from either of which it is most evidently difficult to escape, should you find yourself in them.
The morass to the one side is ruled by powers hostile to God, which demand a definite and increasing control in the lives of those who live there. These powers have agendas to which they demand allegiance. These agendas are promoted through human institutions and systems.
The agenda of the institutions
These institutions are often powerful and far-reaching, having a considerable influence in the lives of those exposed to them. Many of them are based upon noble ideas and laudable ideals. Ideals, however, which are perverted by the ruling powers, in order to ensnare and control people. Two groups of stakeholders are particularly influenced by these institutions and systems: workers (paid by the institution) and consumers (consuming the product of the institution). Both are ultimately required to give allegiance to the institution and to comply with its agenda.
Compliance with the agendas of commercial institutions, religious institutions, political institutions, ideological institutions. Some very obviously enslaving human beings, others doing so much less obviously. None, however, are promoting genuine human freedom and human flourishing, i.e., the capacity to fulfil personal destiny, to behave authentically, in community with others, to act intentionally — “making a conscious choice to make a conscious choice,” as Saint Benedict put it.
The people caught in the bog are thus ruled – directly and indirectly – by the institutions’ agendas. Their compliance is ensured by strongholds – engrained attitudes having a strong hold – upon their minds and hearts: strongholds of complacency, fear, anxiety and oppression.
The morass is “COMPLIANCY.”
The marginalisation of the critics
The desert on the opposite side of the narrow pathway is also ruled by powers hostile to God. These powers, however, do not control the people there in the same way as those ruling the bog. They do not seek to control, but rather to drive. They do not seek allegiance to institutions, but, rather, they engender attitudes of aggravation, rebellion, cynicism.
The people here can see much farther than those in the bog; they are more analytical and can easily identify the faults and problems in the systems and institutions that hold the people in the bog under their sway. Indeed people in the desert are usually fierce critics of the institutions. In fact, they are people who, at some time in the past, have identified the deep cynicism which truly lies at the heart of either one particular institution or, indeed, of a vast maze of institutions.
Having identified the cynicism at the heart of the institutions, these people can no longer give their allegiance to the perverted agendas which the ruling powers are promoting via the institutions. They have realised that they must resist the agendas, expose them and challenge the reigning power structures. In raising legitimate and reasonable concerns, they were, in reality, frequently seeking to bring institutions back to the honourable and just purposes that they were intended to serve… honourably, without cynicism.
Nevertheless, because of the ruling powers demand for allegiance, those who critique the institutions in this way are swiftly identified and — if they continue to refuse to comply – they are marginalised, before they can properly expose the cynicism and perversion of humanity that is at stake. Those treated in this way find that their own criticisms are – and sound – increasingly cynical, as they soon discover themselves to be practically powerless in the face of overwhelming intransigence and wholesale compliancy.
Thus, the critics become the next victims of the cynical powers and institutions which they have identified. Unable to comply, they continue to resist, but finding themselves marginalised and disempowered, they themselves sink into despondency and hit back with the only weapon left: cynicism. The critics have become cynics; the powers have won.
The process is completed when the marginalised cynics are expelled from the bog, into the desert, where they wander about, attempting to give one another succour through sympathising with and indulging each other‘s cynical critiques. Ultimately, though they are as lacking in true Freedom as those in the bog of Compliancy.
The desert is “CYNICISM.”
…As should be obvious to any experienced observer of life, some of the strongest and most cynical institutions are those of a religious nature. Religious affections are used to promote a strong motivation for compliancy and, equally, to provide a fearful condemnation for those who seek to expose the cynicism. The ultimate weapon of excommunication is wielded by religious powers in a way that makes political and commercial powers green with envy!
Jesus became such a victim of religious powers, powers who were able to dupe the powerful politico-military powers into compliancy and into serving their wicked end. Before this happened, however, Jesus provided the ultimate example of how to walk upon the narrow road that leads to life…
The Narrow Path
The narrow path represents a way of walking. A way that is pleasing to Adonai, to God — the God of Jesus, the Messiah — a narrow path that is called righteousness, or better yet, faithfulness.
Walking on the path requires a level of discipline and remaining upon it a degree of confidence, skill and determination that is based upon a transformation of the heart and mind, allowing those who would walk upon this road to experience something of the heart of God and to become ruled by it.
Most of the time, those who walk on this path do so in privacy and secrecy, experiencing varying degrees and seasons of isolation, such that, at times, they are strangely unaware of other journeyers. During other key periods, however, the journey becomes a public one, and may, for that time, be called prophetic.
The chief characteristic of those who walk upon this narrow road is a rhythm of hearing, believing, trusting and obeying the Word. The Word is discernible at all times to those upon the pathway: as a Silent Sound, an Invisible Presence, a Hidden Reality that constantly accompanies and can be seen at work amongst all human communities and especially those lost in the bog and the desert. The Word always bears testimony to the Will of God.
A path of continual resistance
Those who walk upon the Narrow Way must constantly resist the tactical attempts of the powers of Compliancy and Cynicism to defeat them, resisting their efforts to tempt them into either the bog of Compliancy or the desert of Cynicism. Just to go on making progress upon this pathway represents a very significant victory.
Occasionally, the Narrow Path becomes particularly difficult to traverse, becoming rocky or steep or littered with hard obstacles. Sometimes additional responsibilities for the journeyers can take a heavy toll. Wounds inflicted on the way and difficulties endured in the course of progress can mean that the narrow road seems to be a much harder choice than either the bog of Compliancy or the desert of Cynicism. This is a Reality which cannot be escaped.
Manifestations of Prophetic Community
During such times of testing, the Community of other pilgrim Travellers must be relied upon to assist one another in overcoming the obstacles. Those more experienced lend the voice of experience; those with particular skills, gifts, strengths offer them. A group uniting around what they have in common — a community — making possible what would have been impossible for a lone traveller and gels around such experiences. In time this offers the hope, the possibility of their becoming an authentic prophetic community — a genuine alternative to Cynicism towards or Compliancy with the Powers.
The “Church” is intended by God to be just such a Prophetic Community, bearing witness to the Word of God and to the Will of God. More normally it has settled and become an institution, with its own Agenda, forcing Compliancy upon Human Beings and making Cynics out of Critics, before rejecting them completely. Prophetic communities arising through the united efforts of travellers upon the Narrow Path will always face the temptation towards employing Coercion and Compliancy. The bog is never far away.
Similarly, those who find the cost of the Journey, of travelling on the path of Righteousness, too great, run the risk of becoming Cynical about the Truth. The desert, too is never far away.