Magellan, TomTom, Lowrance; global positioning systems that allow travelers the security of knowing exactly where they are at all times. I wouldn’t own one if you paid me. Not because they don’t work – they work all too well.
One of the great pleasures in my life has been ‘exploring’, either by car (so expensive now!) or by foot. My wife and I have traveled the highways and back roads of much of the East Coast and have spent many a day and night on woodland trails, especially those of the Appalachians. Even though I love maps, and own hundreds of them, I rarely employ them on any of these trips. When vacationing in strange places we avoid the guided tour, preferring to discover things on our own, with no trepidation. I like to brag that w never get lost – in fact, we can’t get lost.
A trademark of our trips is to first pick a destination not written in stone. We then consult the map to get a general idea of how we are going to get there. Unless we are on a timetable (like catching a plane or attending a wedding) the map is then folded and put away. Next we hit the open road, avoiding the Interstates at all costs.
The GPS in my car is very reliable. I call it Bev. When we approach a crossroads, I simply ask; “Bev, left or right?”. She quickly provides an answer and I follow her direction – sometimes. Half the time I will choose exactly the opposite course.
This practice has taken us to towns, villages, valleys, mountains, rivers, lakes and streams that we would otherwise have never seen. It is not uncommon for us to pick a route by whimsy and an hour later come to, what many would call, a ‘dead end’. We’ve found ourselves camping along side dirt roads, near roaring wilderness brooks, snowy mountain passes and in star lit meadows among gently lowing cows.
Shopping in run down country stores (on very rare occasions even asking for directions) we’ve met people that are so much like us, yet so very different, that we aren’t exactly sure who we are. Eating in greasy spoons and biker bars (our number one preference) has resulted in some of the most memorable and enjoyable dining experiences of our lives. Sitting on bar stools beside friendly and exuberent leather clad vagabonds, sharing a bowl of chili, a long neck Bud and tales of the open road, sure beats bottomless coffee at Denny’s. (Remind me to tell you the story of the big biker chick we met in a little dive in Oatman Arizona. She had given names to certain parts of her body and even had them tattooed to prove it.)
We rarely make our intended destination, our random ramblings taking us far ‘off course’. (Sometimes it is hard for us to figure out exactly where we ended up. When friends later ask us where we went or how we got there, we are usually at a loss for words.) When we finally make it ‘home’ we feel a mingling sense of comfort and exhaustion overlaid with a touch of melancholy- sadly the journey is over. Yet we realize that we never arrived anywhere at all – that next week or next month, we will be back on the road again.
Someone, who cannot fathom finding pleasure in this way, might ask; “What are you looking for? Why are you so restless?”. Those are good questions (ones that, thank God, my wife never asks). After 30 years of rambling, both on holiday as well as on the numerous paths my life has taken, the answer is simple; I don’t know, and I don’t really care. For me, the journey, with all it’s dead ends, challenging switchbacks and treacherous curves, has provided me with memorable stops and overlooks not found on fast and safe limited-access highways.
I think that this longing I have for exploration (admittedly on a much less grand scale than what we see in the National Geographic) has taken me to where I am in my faith. I don’t want or need clear cut, well defined answers and solutions to what other people see as ‘problems’ that need solving. For me, the problem, the challenge, is usually that which allows me to become stronger in my faith. If these problems, the dead ends and road blocks of life, were avoided because someone else provided me with an excellent map – then where’s the faith? Where’s the adventure?
My faith becomes stronger in those times when I do not ‘know’ where I am or where I am going. It allows me to discover new ways that bring me into touch with people that I may never have met otherwise. The more people I meet, the more who are ‘different’ than me, the more fully I can see God. As John D. Caputo puts it:
The spiritual journey on which we are embarked is, we say, a journey of faith. That means that those who insist they know the way have programmed their lives, have put their lives on automatic pilot. They are knowers (gnostics) who have taken themselves out of the game. They are like vacationers who are eager for an adventure, to set forth into the unknown – but not without an air-conditioned Hummer with four-wheel drive, an experienced guide, and reservations at a five-star hotel. Indeed, even were we able to hook up to a satellite system that would guide our travels around the physical globe, still, for radical spiritual sojourners like us, this earthly globe is but a speck of dust in an infinite universe, and we keep asking where it is all going.