|Houston Map, c. 1890
I’ve always had some level of fascination with maps. What an amazing thing to think that beginning as early as 1,000 years before the birth of Christ, cartographers would lay down on stone or paper or, today, even computer images a depiction of the world that they saw. In truth, part of my fascination comes from sheer unadulterated dependence on maps to get to places where I’ve never been before. For you see, I have very little sense of natural direction. Once I turn a couple of corners, I really can’t tell you in what direction I’m heading. It just doesn’t happen. Hence, my fascination with the fact that not only can someone find their way somewhere but can then depict it in a way that can lead even me to the same place.
It is amazing to me that we can look at a map and see things pretty much the way they are—interstates, state roads, farm-to-market roads, railroad tracks, rivers, bayous, even county lines and airports. So we can follow this detailed map that someone has drawn and get to that place that we need to be. A map will give you a view of the world that will enable you to go places that you’ve never been. So you follow the map, knowing that you’re nearing your destination. The interstate that you’re on is pretty true to scale. The exit onto the smaller farm-to-market road is exactly where the map says. But then you start to see things that aren’t on the map—schools, stores, county seat buildings, town squares, houses, dirt roads, smaller creeks. (My Mom and I often take a trip to Fredericksburg and on the way we cross over Woman-Hollerin Creek—not on the map—but something that has become a humorous and important landmark for us to find our way.) And all along the road are these smaller bodies of water over which someone has at some point built a bridge—unimportant, even non-existent, according to the map, but without which the journey would stop. Because, you see, once we get to a place, our view starts to become bigger and more encompassing than what is possible to show on a map. We begin to sense the familiar, perhaps even creating our own landmarks along the way. We move from being dependent solely on what someone else has told us to our own view of what surrounds us.
But go a step farther. We’re only moving through this place. There are things that even we cannot see. We do not see the group of smiling, rowdy six-year old girls in the first house past the filling station celebrating a birthday by wearing paper dresses and decorating cupcakes. We do not see the little boy crying on the porch behind the next house because his intoxicated father hit him and threw him outside for accidentally spilling the whole bottle of bourbon on the living room rug. And we do not see the elderly woman sitting alone, missing her children and grandchildren and desperately still grieving over the loss of her husband and her sister over the last six months. The map will not show us that. Driving through will not show us that. The only way to see these things is to become part of them, to actually experience them, to stop and share one another’s lives, to realize our shared experiences and our shared history with each other. That is the only way to broaden our view enough to see the world.
You know, Christianity has given us a wonderful map, a foundation on which our lives can be built, a tradition of belief that has stood the test of time. But maps and signs are not what grow our faith. That is not enough. A map will only get you to the point where you need to start being, to the place where you have to start seeing. And at that point, we begin to walk the road. We begin to live our faith through rituals and liturgy, through Scripture and tradition, through prayer and discipline. We begin to see those things along the road, those things that make up this journey. And we also begin to see those things that influence us and pull us away from the road on which we need to be. But even that is not enough. For even though our eyes have been opened, we are limited by our own view of the way the world is, by our own personal experiences that affect how we look at things.
So it is on this Lenten journey that we hear the call to change our view, to a new way of seeing and a new way of being, to a way of seeing beyond our view, even beyond what we expect to see. It is a way of seeing the world in an unleavened way. Marcel Proust says that “the true voyage of discovery does not involve finding new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Those new eyes can only be attained through our experiences with others, for it is through others’ eyes and our shared experiences that we truly start to see things as they really are. And seeing our lives through others enables us to see God through our own lives. We are not called to just follow the map or to walk through life looking only at what appears to be. Rather, we are called to see as Christ sees. And the only way to do this is to experience the world through others’ eyes, to open our lives and our hearts to others with a sort of radical, unchecked, even risky hospitality. We cannot just drive by and look at the houses on the road. It is what is inside that really counts. We have to be willing to enter the doors of others’ lives and be just as willing to invite them into ours. We have to open our eyes to the needs and the experiences of others and truly receive each and every one in the name of Christ. It is entering and experiencing the lives of others and inviting them to experience ours. It is taking the hand of someone else and offering healing in the name of Christ, that they, too, might clearly see.
Lent calls us to see the world for the first time in a new way, not as something that is, but as something that could be. Lent calls us to see the world with Easter eyes, full of promise and hope and eternal life. Lent calls us to step back and look at the world the way God envisions it, as brothers and sisters walking together in peace and harmony and love for each other, not ignoring diversity of lifestyles, cultures, races, views, and even faiths, but embracing them as a part of the landscape of this incredible earth that God created. The map that we’ve been given only gets us to the place. It is through our experiences with Christ and our experiences with each other, though, that we will see the way to go and that our eyes will be opened so that we might finally see everything clearly.
K…I guess this can count as one of those “extra” posts I promised!…So, as part of this Lenten journey, think about the map you follow. What is on the map? What does it not include? Where does it call you to look with new eyes?
Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,