All of us, no matter what our station in life, have dreams. These dreams may be vibrant and alive, pulsating in our entire being; or they may be dead, perhaps worn down by the weight of the years and the affairs of daily life. For the people who nourish great, expansive dreams in their heart, each day is full of meaning and direction. But for those who have let their dreams fade, life, no matter how pleasurable it may be, is empty of real fulfillment.
Only those who chase their dreams, no matter what the difficulty, will be able make something of themselves, living a life of their own choice.
In Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, we have the story of Santiago, a young shepherd who dreams of buried treasure in the Pyramids of Egypt. He chases his dream, leaving behind all that he knew. He encounters difficulty after difficulty, and more than once comes face to face with his imminent death.
Indeed, until the very end of the novel, it seems as if Santiago will perish in a distant land without having reached his goal. And yet, through circumstances that he could not have foreseen, he eventually obtains his treasure – both in gold and wisdom.
The Religious Journey Called Life There are many parallels between Santiago’s experiences in the book and the spiritual journey that we all must take up. His journey, set off by a recurrent dream, speaks to us of the goals and aims that we hold dear to our hearts. And, like him, we may ignore the persistent voice of our inner self in order to pursue short-sighted objectives, being aware of our possibilities but afraid of leaving a familiar world behind. We all have a purpose in life that no one else can fulfill but us.
We are put on earth to carry out particular mission, a task that we are well-suited to, in spite of our limited self-concept and our current circumstances. And, oftentimes, the most important thing we can do is to simply get started. Christians have no difficulty believing in a purpose set by God, and yet too many people shrink from what seems to be the Herculean efforts that will be required of them to see it through. When they do this, they show how little faith they have in the wisdom and grace of God.
After all, would an all-knowing, all-powerful being set a task for a man that he cannot bear? In all actuality, it is man who doubts his capacity, seeking to make his life more manageable by circumscribing it, rather than making it the exquisite and meaningful adventure that it was meant to be. Like Santiago, we all have to be able to give up our day-to-day affairs in order to pursue a higher goal. In and by itself, the routine of daily life is not very meaningful, especially if we are aware that there is something greater that must be accomplished.
The first time that we step out to do something about our goals, we will be hit by the fear of uncertainty, which will be aided in large part by the opinions of people around us. If, for instance, you feel called to travel the world for a few years, you will be hit by myriad concerns. Where will the money come from? Will I have a job when I get back? What will people think of me? These concerns, relatively trivial when beholding a one’s purpose in life, appear much more important to us than they should, in part because there will always be people around to convince us that what we propose to do is impractical – even crazy.
Even Jesus’ injunction to “take no thought for the morrow,” though well-known by all who profess the Christian faith, has often easily been swept aside by more pragmatic considerations. The Alchemist: A Christian Book? Christian similarities notwithstanding, those who wish to see The Alchemist as a purely Christian book are bound to be disappointed. Indeed, the book makes as much out of Islamic principles as it does Christian ones. Also, the very title itself is suggestive of the occult, for established Christianity has historically viewed alchemy as little more than the work of the Devil himself.
Putting these narrow considerations aside, however, anyone should be able to see that the true value of The Alchemist lies in the universality of its message. All religion, in it purest form, aims to transcend daily life and come into communion with the divine reality. In the end, connection with the divine cannot be distilled into practiced systems of moral behavior, or in the practice of rituals. One must learn to listen within, to get in touch with the divine spark that resides in each person. Only by persisting in this quest – this journey – can we gain the inner strength required to find our own individual “treasure. ”