Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Walking, Maps and G.K. Chesterton

It is good to know your purpose and destination but not to the exclusion of enjoying the journey.

The three of us were walking back to my car at 9:30 pm. We were leaving the city lights and heading towards the quiet lakefront, when I spotted Lake Michigan ahead in the bright moonlight. It called to me, so we went and watched the terrible and beautiful scene of a full moon over frozen Lake Michigan.

We walked over to the bluff-like, grassy overlook and stood on the edge of the protruding land. At our feet, it dropped off a good 20 feet to the shore and its ragged edge zigzagged dramatically to our left and right as far as we could see. Most stunning of all was the full moon, beaming brightly overhead and casting a muted glow over the water below it. Letting my eyes follow the lighted path over water, I reached the horizon. Sky and lake met there in the moonlight and shadows. We were facing the edge of what was before us and the edge of what was to come. So struck by the beauty and power of the moment, I exclaimed, “Here at the edge of all things!”

I only realized later what a fitting metaphor that was, emotionally. I was about to depart and leave these friends to experience a new adventure together. Where I was going, what was awaiting me over the immediate edge and distant horizon was a mystery. Caught up in the moment’s romance, I marveled at how nature and God seemed to dialogue with each other. And I found myself in the midst of it, gleaning supernatural truths from physical realities. How could anyone see such beauty and order in the universe and think it just chance? The power of metaphor. My greatest inspiration for what I call “metaphoric wisdom writing” comes when I’m in nature, when the elements around me are speaking their wisdom about the mysteries of God.

The ride home was an adventure. In the last two weeks, I’ve been to Milwaukee twice, and both times my directions didn’t take me the way I thought they would. While I didn’t get lost (phew!) I did miss a turn and ended up just following Farwell downtown. Not sure exactly where I’d be spit out, I just kept going, looking for signs to the freeway to let me know I was on the right path. As I passed impressive buildings like the Marcus Center for the Arts and old historic buildings aglow in golden light, I became ecstatic. Wow! Look at that! I felt like God was taking me on an adventure, showing me the city sights after the breathtaking lake scene. I was on a date night with God! And the solitude felt like a blessing. I couldn’t have seen so much of the city had I found the original street I was looking for.

I had stumbled upon amazing discoveries by not limiting myself to my agenda. “The objects of a walk are often disappointing, but the accidents are magnificent,” said G.K. Chesterton. When we open ourselves up to the possibility of discovery, we participate in the true human drama.

The next day after I returned home, I consulted a Milwaukee map to see where exactly I had “gone wrong.” I was delighted to fix my eyes on all the streets we had traversed the night before and to see their intertwining paths and destinations laid out before me. I spent quite some time pondering the map and having “Aha!” moments. I have come to the conclusion that G.K. Chesterton is right again on this subject, as he writes, “Upon the whole, it may be admitted that the pedestrian should carry a map, but he should not consult it often, and he should always cherish the thrilling and secret thought that it may be all wrong. In fact, a map should be taken chiefly because it is such a particularly beautiful thing in itself.”

If you’re interested in reading more great insights from Chesterton, I recommend the book The Wisdom of G.K. Chesterton: The Very Best Quotes, Quips & Cracks, edited by Dave Armstrong (North Carolina, 2009). His thoughts on “Walking” were written in his book The Apostle and the Wild Ducks (London: Paul Elek, 1975).

Happy travels! And have fun!

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