The Christian Native American storyteller Dayton Edmonds tells the story of an axe passed down to him from his great-great-great uncle. He received the axe as a gift on his birthday. It came to him as a family heirloom, with much fanfare. He was overjoyed. It meant the world to him to have an axe passed down through so many generations.

After the excitement waned, Dayton took his mother aside and began to inquire about the axe. “Is this really my great-great-great uncle’s axe?” “Yes it is,” his mother replied. “This is the actual handle and head that my great-great-great uncle wielded generations ago?” Dayton excitedly inquired. “Oh no,” said his mother. “The handle has been replaced several times and I think the head was replaced once too, but it’s the same axe!”

This is the essence of tradition. It’s not something we can pinpoint and solidify. That’s its power. The spirit of the early mystics remains alive through the ages and goes where it will even after it’s been seemingly lost. It has a life of its own that lives in the memory of our people—of our Christian grandmothers and grandfathers. Those meant to find it will. Their seeking hearts won’t let them down. They will seek and find (Matthew 7:7).

If we seek the mystical essence of Jesus, Jesus will in turn seek us out through a word, through a practice, through a teacher, through a book. Even though seeking requires effort on our part, we remind ourselves it’s God who brings all forms of authentic teaching to us.