Is Life a Journey?
An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive
Suitable for Key Stage 4/5
To consider that life is an adventurous journey with many things to learn on the way.
Preparation and materials
- Two books that tell the story of a journey, for example The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (1678) and Pole to Pole by Michael Palin (1992). A few sentences will be read from these books during the assembly.
- Optional: A reader to perform 'The Road Not Taken' by Robert Frost.
- Optional: Pictures of people travelling clearly displayed.
1. Read a few sentences from two separate books describing part of a journey, for example, the first few sentences of John Bunyan's book The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) and Michael Palin's book Pole to Pole (1992).
2. Point out that the idea of journeys seems to have been at the heart of storytelling from the beginning of time and stories of journeys still have the power to capture our imagination. People are fascinated by stories from the Bible such as the travels of Abraham or the Israelites in the wilderness. Stories about fantasy journeys such as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, stories about ancient voyages by Marco Polo or Christopher Columbus, or stories about modern-day travellers such as Michael Palin and Bill Bryson are just as popular.
3. It is not hard to work out why the 'journey' story holds such attraction both for the storyteller and the listener or reader. Here are three possible reasons: you can probably think of more.
- Firstly, a journey provides a framework for a series of episodes, which can be as varied as you like: the pleasant and the unpleasant, the reassuring and the scary, the mysterious and the amusing can all find their place, and the story can move on when it wants to.
There can be a succession of meetings and partings. New characters can be introduced and then they can be left behind, or they can join the travellers. The possibilities are endless.
- Secondly, the journey itself poses challenges and dangers. The road ahead is unknown. Decisions have to be made: sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong.
- Thirdly, a journey supplies the inbuilt sense of the story, its heading for a final goal. It raises questions such as 'Will the travellers all get there?' and 'What will it be like when they do?'
4. 'Life is a journey' is a well-known saying. Sometimes life can feel that it's just one day after another; we are plodding onwards, trying to make the best we can of each day. Sometimes we feel are just going round in circles on the spot, or maybe like we are just sitting on a conveyor belt that moves relentlessly from birth to old age, with very little we can do about it. Some people look on life rather like a ladder to be climbed or a game to be won.
5. Perhaps rather than saying that ‘life is a journey’ it is more helpful to compare the idea of life with the journey stories above. Let's think again about the three points in Section 3.
- Firstly, what are the major things that have affected you in your life so far?
Which people have influenced you? Has their influence been good or bad?
Are there people who you have met but who are no longer with you?
- Secondly, how have you approached the difficulties and challenges that have come your way?
Do you grasp challenges and decisions or do you prefer to take the easy way out?
- Thirdly, what is your goal for the future?
In John Bunyan's book the main character, Pilgrim, was heading for the Celestial City, which was an image of Heaven. Christians believe that there is an ultimate goal of union with God and of living in his presence.
Michael Palin, on the other hand, followed as close as he could to the 30-degree east line of longitude and became 'the only man with a cat called Albert to have stood on both Poles'!
What are your goals in life?
6. A final thought: the word 'journey' is connected to the French word 'jour', meaning day. I wonder how far you will travel in your life today? Perhaps at the end of today you could look back and see.
Time for reflection
Reflect on each of the three questions raised in the assembly and pause for thought/reflection and quiet prayer after each one:
- Think about the people who have influenced you life.
- What are the difficulties and challenges you are facing? Why not ask God for courage and guidance?
- What are your goals in life and what are you going to do to achieve them?
Alternatively, you could use the 'Irish Blessing' from A Child's Book of Blessings by Sarah Dearborn.
For music evocative of journeys use, for example, 'The Brendan Voyage' by Shaun Davey, Tara CD 3006; 'Lemminkäinen's Return' from the Lemminkäinen Suite by Jean Sibelius