When I was a child, our breakfast nook had two maps of the world: one was from the 18th Century, the other from the mid-1950s. I was intrigued by the idea that, through the process of exploration and discovery, we could so improve our understanding of our world. I decided then that I wanted to be an explorer and discoverer.
Maps tell me about my place in the physical world. The sense of knowing deeply where I am gives me the confidence I need to head out and explore. Maps also tell me how to explore safely, and they guide me to my intended destination.
Yet maps have limitations as well, and I have had to learn when to put them away and to look elsewhere for guidance. Maps help me to direct and control my journey, but that can inhibit me from discovering destinations not of my own choosing.
I have learned instead to practice the “faith walk,” whether navigating back roads or a major transition in life – take small steps, observe widely, listen deeply, and follow the path down which I feel led. This process is never without anxiety, but the many unexpected and delightful destinations to which it has led me have been an abundant reward for taking the risk.
During a trip to France in 2006, we were staying at a house deep in the country, surrounded by dense woods. Feeling the need for a long walk, I looked over the vague directions provided for this purpose, then headed out. I pushed the boundaries of the walk a bit, emboldened by the guidance in the directions that “all paths to the left lead back to the house.” I finally took one of those paths to the left, but after a bit, in the deep woods, my confidence waned. I muttered to myself that, upon my return, I should draw a proper map of the area and its walking paths, in order to provide better guidance to future guests.
Then I remembered a conversation earlier in the day about putting away the map and doing the faith walk, and I began to pay more attention to the details of my surroundings – the ancient stone walls buried beneath ivy, the shapes of trees and foliage, and especially the luminescence of clearings in the distance toward which I felt drawn. Finally, after traversing several of these paths toward the light, I recognized I had arrived back at the house. This faith walk had reached its destination!
My obsession with maps remains undiminished, but I also remain mindful of the need to occasionally restrain my impulse to be a mapmaker. Regardless of whether the terrain one is exploring is terrestrial or spiritual, the desire to describe what one has seen and learned must be balanced against the need for each of us to experience the uncertainty of “faith walk” and the joy of discovery awaiting all who accept the invitation to explore.