I have long had a fascination with maps. I could easily spend hours with an atlas, and I am nostalgic for the days when every service station had a rack of them available for the passing traveler. I know, progress has been made and our GPS, now built into the car, takes care of what that unwieldy paper map once offered. I know, and I don’t quite accept it.
Accordingly, I was thrilled to come upon a chapter in Louise Penny’s latest book in her series on Inspector Gamache of Quebec. If you know this series, you are already a fan. If not, you might want to try her work. She writes beautifully and so, what could have been a banal police procedural ,is complicated psychological tangle. My joy came from a page on which one of the characters talks about the “magic of maps”.
He spoke of maps as giving humans control over their surroundings for the first time. They could see how to get from place to place. In other words, they had a glimpse into the future, into where they were going and what they might find by way of rivers and mountains. Best of all, this new perspective was God’s view of their world.
I had never quite thought of this before. The earliest maps are of the heavens. The next step was to turn that viewpoint upside down and let humans have a bird’s eye view of their earth. Dazzling, isn’t it?
A dozen ideas danced through my mind as I tried to imagine a group of early map readers gathered around a clay tablet (the very earliest map( or a sheet of parchment that could guide them to places they had never been, and bring them back home again. The route was visible before them. They need not venture into the totally unknown.
I know that Jesus never said “I am the map”, but he could have, had maps been available in 1st century Palestine. So much of what he taught is a spiritual GPS to help us navigate our way into life’s mysteries as we try to find our way home.
So, the next time you see tourists turning their maps this way and that, think about what an advance those maps were in the story of civilization. Be grateful for the gift from that first map maker.