A Guiding Metaphor

BY Doug Jones

July 17, 2012


Stories are powerful. Often they are what remain in my memory from great speakers, sermons, and sitting around with friends. Memorable stories have a way of wriggling their way into our lives, and with each retelling they become part of us, in an almost imperceptible way.

One such story for me comes from Esther de Waal, and it has been a metaphor that seems to have made that imperceptible journey into my life, forming who I am becoming. I first came across the story many years ago while reading de Waal’s book, The Celtic Way of Prayer. The author defines a Celtic understanding of the Latin word peregrinatio with the following story:

In the ninth century three Irishmen set out on peregrinatio. They went from the shores of Ireland in coracles (sail boats with no keel), without oars, to drift on the sea for seven days. They landed ashore in Cornwall, England, and were brought to the court of King Alfred. When the king asked them where they had come from and where they were going, they answered that they “stole away because we wanted for the love of God to be on pilgrimage, we cared not where.”

– Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer (New York: Doubleday, 1997), p. 2.

That story of being on pilgrimage for the love of God and caring not where has woven itself into my life. I haven’t been able to shake it, and it has become the desire of my life.  It has led me to places geographically, spiritually, and emotionally that have made me more human, humane, and alive.

Do you find that stories are powerful? Have you unexpectedly stumbled on a story or stories that have worked their way into your life? Would love for you to share a story in the comments.


[Photo credit: yewenyi]

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7 comments on “A Guiding Metaphor

    • Peter – I look back at my “story” and it has tons of shadows and tension and some pain and regret mixed in – yet, in the light of a new day I can see that in the midst of that depression and darkness my formation and character was most marked and shaped (at the time I thought I would break). Nothing you don’t know friend (that Charles of yours doesn’t think the story is very depressing!).

  1. I dont see that as a metaphore at all. I see it as a way to live. I feel more guided by the characters I know from the great tales who are as real as yours, or as much a fantasy as the mind can imagine ( Roland Dechain) – They all help to shape me adm nd my attitudes. But you pointed it out so well. Thanks!

  2. Jim – I hear you. I think it is a way to live – from my perspective though the story guides me in this way: when I get up in the morning – I consciously find myself being reminded by the story to metaphorically put down the oars to direct my life and put up the sail to allow God’s Spirit to guide me where it will. It also changes my attitude when my “pilgrimage” is interrupted by the unexpected (landing on unexpected shores) to see it isn’t where I am going or meeting my schedule – it is merely to go with God for the love of God, I care not where. So that for me is the metaphor of it all I unfortunately don’t have the courage to head out each day on the Ohio River in a coracle (maybe someday!)…

  3. Henri Nouwen tells a story in the book, “In the Name of Jesus”, about a handicapped friend named Bill who went with him to a speaking engagement. At the beginning of their trip, Bill asks Nouwen, “We are doing this together, aren’t we?” The whole book is really a story of what it means for Christians to “do this together.” It is a truly a story that is beginning to work its way into my life.

  4. Doug,
    I have a story in mind that has stuck with me since High School (I think). I can not for the life of me remember the specifics of when and where I heard it, or who shared it. Despite Google’s best efforts and a myriad of search terms, I have not been able to determine a source.

    Here is the story as I remember it.

    It was wintertime. Two men were on a journey through an expansive mountain pass when I a terrible snow storm erupted. Their situation was bleak but the pressed on to their destination which was closer then where they had come from. As they pain painstakingly made their way higher and higher into the mountains the temperatures plummeted. As their path rounded a sharp corner they came upon a man lying in the snow half frozen to death. The two men argued about what to do. The first man said, “Leave him. It will kill us both to try and save him.” The second man refused, pleading for the other man’s help. The first man left them both by the side of the path in the snow.
    An hour later the second man with the one he had found hoisted on his back, reached the summit and began descending down the mountain pass. Suddenly, we came upon the first man lying dead in the snow. The cold was too much and he froze. The second man continued on carrying the other on his back, not realizing that their body heat was keeping both of them from freezing.
    His journey down the mountain was most difficult… but both of them made it.

    This story has stuck with me for over a decade. I think of it often when we are serving people here at Arrowhead. Over the past decade I have experienced seasons of life when I have felt like each of the three men.

    • “…two are better than one.” Independence has a price. “doing unto others” is costly but has it’s benefits… some of the thoughts I had about that story. Thanks for sharing it Ben.

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