A Universe in a Grain of Sand
The Trouble With Trouble

The Limits of Cartography

I have a lust for maps and map-making.  Nothing much equals the delight I have in pulling out the Rand McNally Road Atlas and poring over the lines and names on the pages, planning my every move.  I'm a planner, a dreamer, an imaginer of all that will happen and all I will see along the way.  Sometimes the actual travel is melodramatic; I have already been there in my mind.

And yet I so often find that my imagination has gotten ahead of life.  Things happen unexpectedly.  Someone's sick.  There are delays.  Accommodations need to be changed.  We scramble to rebook, to modify plans, to adapt.  We never really know what is around the next bend in the highway.  Sometimes that's unsettling.  And yet it can be exciting, as a new and unplanned discovery may await us.

The road trip or the family vacation is an apt metaphor for the spiritual journey, for our walkabout with God.  Christ is my guide and Scripture is my road map, and yet I do not know where life will take me, what awaits me around the next turn of events.  In the final essay of Alan Jacobs' collection, entitled Wayfaring, he describes it this way:

The light of Christ. . .  --- the light that is Christ --- . . . illuminates with perfect clarity your next step, but blots out the surrounding territory.  Christ is the Word of God, and the psalmist tells us that the word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path: it shows us where to place one trembling foot, but it does not make us authoritative cartographers of the whole territory.

Jacobs goes on to note the limitations of our Guide's revelation to us, noting that "it's worth remembering that when people ask Jesus the cartographic kind of questions --- 'Will many be saved or only a few?' --- Jesus tells them to mind their own spiritual business."  The question, really, is simple: Where do I take my next step (or, spiritually, what does faithfulness look like now, today, in this place, in this moment?)  Doing so, we have faith that the following step will be illuminated at that moment, that trust in Jesus will be proven warranted.  Sure, He gave us scripture to mark out the boundaries of our travels and a theology that represents our best attempt to see the landscape ahead in some holistic fashion, to understand where we are and to settle in our imagination a good dream of what's ahead.  As a result, there are things we know --- that He is good, that He is trustworthy, that He is present, and that Heaven is sure.  And yet there is much we do not know --- things we don't plan on happening.

In the front of my Rand McNally, there is a disclaimer to the effect that "we cannot be responsible for any errors, changes, omissions, or any loss, injury, or inconvenience sustained by any person or entity as a result of information or advice contained in this book."  Scripture --- that map for the soul --- makes another claim, of course, promising that it's "breathed out by God and profitable. . ." (2 Tim. 4:16).  William Rand and Andrew McNally could make no such claim.

And yet, I'm not giving up maps.  I want to dream well.  I want to know the possibilities, the parameters of the path.  And yet things happen out there, providences aplenty.  I want to be ready for a holy detour, one trembling step at a time, in His light, at my feet, on the way, Home.