Maps

Maps Lewis quote

Maps RMNP detail4IN THE ERA BEFORE GLOBAL POSITIONING SATELLITES, the gold standard for knowing where you were anywhere on the face of the earth were the United States Geological Survey maps (the map detail on the right is similar, but without the topographical elevation lines). We used a USGS map and a compass to navigate through unfamiliar terrain as we hiked up the Gorge Lakes canyon to cross the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The view from Forest Canyon Overlook, across Forest Canyon and up the Gorge Lakes to the Continental Divide, is spectacular. You see four mMaps Gorge Lakesiles, as the crow flies, to the depression which cradles Highest Lake, just below the Divide. Framing the scene is Mt. Julian on the left and Mt. Ida on the right. My friends and I were just a few among the thousands of people who see this view from the edge of Trail Ridge Road every summer. If sightseeing were our only desire, we would have been satisfied to sit on the rock ledge and gaze toward the horizon.

Maps Highest lake closeBut what we were going to do was climb down into Forest Canyon, and up to the Divide, going from lake to lake, until we reached Highest Lake, which that summer of ’74 was still frozen thick in June. We would climb up the small snow-covered glacier on the far side of the lake and cross over to the Pacific side of the Continental Divide. And for that, we needed a good map.

I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED MAPS. They offer a promise of the whole grasped in completeness, of knowing the end of the journey from the beginning. But a map is supposed to be a gateway, not just a window, and a good map can only exist if someone else has already covered the territory.

SO WE ARRIVE AT WHERE WE ARE BECAUSE OF THE MAPS WE FOLLOW. In the summer of ’75 I was again out West, accompanied by a friend, and three books which I thought might be good maps to the meaning of life. The first was the spiritual guidebook, Be Here Now, by Baba Ram Dass, the former Harvard professor who had done LSD research with Timothy Leary in the 60s, then traveled to India to study and practice under a guru, and returned to the States to promote a Westernized version of Hindu pantheism and meditation. I had read Ram Dass’ book the summer before, and we heard him speak that sMaps Taos Mountainummer in Taos, New Mexico. I recall him alluding to Taos Mountain, at the foot of which is Taos Pueblo. There are many ways, he said, to the top of this mountain, just as there are many paths to spiritual enlightenment. He also alluded to phrases and ideas in the biblical New Testament, particularly the notion of being “cast into outer darkness”, which, Ram Dass implied, could occur repeatedly, whenever seekers allow something, such as egotism, to divert them from their path to enlightenment. Unimpressed, I did not see this man as someone who had himself entered the territory of spiritual reality. I set his map aside.

The next day, back at the central plaza in Taos, we wandered through the shops and art galleries. We walked over to the public library and I bought a couple of used books that I also thought might be good maps; a minor science fiction classic called A Voyage to Arcturus, and Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. A Voyage to Arcturus became like a guidebook for the rest of that summer’s travelling, and I would often try to relate what was happening in the book with our experiences on the road. The author, David Lindsay, wrote the book in 1920 after serving in the British army during World War I. That trauma, and his philosophical frame of mind, turned his book into a desperate meandering search on an imaginary planet, looking for the metaphysical foundations of reality—the really real. The story he writes ends Maps Nietzscheas it travels, in uncertainty bordering on despair. I finished Nietzsche’s book back home in August. While I didn’t buy into his whole death of God idiom, I did for a time grasp onto his idea that our ordinary humanness is something to be overcome and the key to doing that was through the heroic individual assertion of the will to power—an aesthetic re-molding of ourselves in whatever way we desire. But Nietzsche’s work and life turned out to be little more than the gravestone of Romanticism. Eventually I would see both books as maps which led to nowhere.

SO, MAPS ABOUND and I have tried a great many of them and found them wanting. One map always seems to be beckoning:  The history and wisdom of ancient Israel, from Moses to the apostles of Christ. We call it the Bible; that just means “book”. I know it seems strange that the collected writings of a people who began as nomadic tribesmen would be the real map to the territory of God, but I am persuaded that Abraham and Moses and David and Paul of Tarsus and John the beloved disciple, and Jesus of Nazareth have laid out the latitude and the longitude, the elevation and the waypoints, to what is real, and true, anMaps Codexd good. They know because they have been there. There are very good historical, archaeological, and even existential reasons I could detail to demonstrate why I think this is so. But I won’t do that right now. But you might want to check this map out yourself, and see where it takes you.

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About Michael W Nicholson

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband, father, and grandfather, a brother and a friend. My professional career has been in education. I taught Industrial Arts in Middle School for six years, four years as an adjunct professor in theology and philosophy, and fifteen years teaching classes in Old Testament, Apologetics, and Worldviews in a Christian High School. Like everyone else who breathes in American culture, I am infected with chronic postmodernity, but I am aware of this and regularly administer the treatment: Historic Christian Orthodoxy as contained in the Scriptures of the Old & New Testaments. I am fascinated by almost every subject imaginable, except economics. I have a Ph.D. in systematic theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I believe in a God who wants to be found; who leaves signs and suggestions, trademarks, signatures, and signposts scattered throughout every aspect of our existence. And if we are truly looking, He will find us. God is the great Story-teller, and the story he is telling is the great drama of Reality, unfolding before us and of which we are all inescapably a part. And so I am collecting fragments, in Philosophy, in Science, and in Art and holding these fragments up to the light and turning them this way and that, and trying to see and say how the Story—the metanarrative, the Christian Worldview—is involved in, and makes sense of, every aspect of our being-in-the-world (to borrow a term from Heidegger and take it where perhaps he did not intend for it to go). And by doing this I hope I am helping to light the way Home; back to the sea, the ocean, the Ocean of Infinite Love. My blog covers a wide range of topics around this central theme that the transcendent realm surrounds and permeates our existence. I put up new posts periodically. I hope you enjoy them. I hope they help.
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