Any spiritual journey is, if authentically embraced, a journey towards truth—and significant truths often come to us in pieces, rather than all at once.
When on a weekend pilgrimage at the Order of the Sisters of St. Francis in Sylvania, Ohio several years ago, our group paused in front of a statue of St. Francis with a wild wolf that he was said to have tamed. The question that we were asked to consider was: I think the untamed wolf in me is ______.
I found that question intriguing and tried to create an answer. But, I couldn’t. At least, not at first. When you find that happening on your spiritual journey, you may need to approach a question sideways, knowing that you’re only chipping away at the surface of the answer. One way to do this is to write about yourself as if you were part of a myth or legend. So, I tried that technique with the wolf question.
On a mountain, there lived a wolf. He was sleek and sharp fanged, and the mountain was steep and jagged, covered by a thick and humid mist. A woman also lived on the mountain. Each day she gathered plants and collected water from the river for her needs, staying close to what was familiar and safe. She knew that something beautiful existed on the other side of the mountain but, even though she had never seen the wolf, she knew of him – and she knew that the wolf was blocking her path.
If she got too close to him, she could sense him by smell and her chest tightened in fear, so she would scurry back to the safety of her cave. Finally, though, she decided that enough was enough. She was going to confront that wolf!
She then tried her hardest to get close to him, but never could. Sometimes, terror overtook her and she fled. Other times, she felt strong – but the sly and slippery wolf could not be found. No matter what her plan, it did not work. Finally she cried out to God for help.
God agreed to help her with the wolf and she eagerly awaited the fulfillment of that promise. But, instead of taking her nearer to the wolf, he took her along long and winding paths, where she often stumbled, sometimes fell – and even got injured.
The woman finally called out in frustration, “God, you promised to guide me to the wolf, to where I could finally deal with him once and for all. Why haven’t you done as you promised?”
“I’ve done exactly what I promised,” he told her.
“I’m no better off than before – and, in many ways, worse!” she cried. “So, if you didn’t plan to help me to actually defeat the wolf, why didn’t you at least take my hand and walk me around the wolf? Then, I could have gotten to the other side without harm!”
He was silent for a moment and the woman feared that she had gone too far, that she had angered God. But, when he finally spoke, his words and tone were gentle. “My daughter,” he said, “you have been circling that same wolf your entire life. If I simply retraced your journey, it would only have made you wearier.”
The woman was outraged. “You haven’t been taking me on a path at all! We just been winding around the mountain for days, months – and even years – in meaningless ways.”
“Not so random,” God countered. “This journey has made your stronger, has it not?”
“That strength will help you when you finally meet the wolf,” God promised. “And, after you nearly slipped off the cliff, you learned how to plant your feet more firmly. So this journey has made you wiser, has it not?”
“Well . . . yes.”
“And, when we first began, you hesitated to hold my hand, even when I encircled yours. Now, you sometimes reach out for mine! Is this journey therefore not making you more faithful?”
“Yes,” the woman replied, “but it’s all been so hard! If you are all powerful, and if it didn’t make sense to circle the wolf, then why didn’t you just defang the beast?”
Again, she feared God’s wrath. But, instead, she sensed a tender smile. “If I did that,” he said, “I would just be giving you another way to avoid the wolf. Instead, he needs tamed.”
“Tamed? How on earth can I tame this wolf when I can’t even get near his ferocious teeth?”
“Take a look at your journey, thus far,” God said. “You trust me more now, despite your winding path. Before, you didn’t even talk to me – and now you feel close enough to me to question me! And, the more that you trust in me, the more I’m giving you the gift of trusting yourself. As this grows, you will get closer.”
“Then,” God responded, “you will get close enough to realize that you are the wolf and the wolf is you. When you can fully embrace that truth, you will have harnessed the wildness of the wolf and can use his spirit to fulfill the purpose I had for you, even before you were born.”
(Originally appeared in Everything to God in Prayer: A Writer’s Weekly Devotional)