The Saturday Stoke #4
Listen to The Saturday Stoke
Thank goodness for life’s backroads; for by-way living; for the green-dotted roads. You know, those roads marked on the map as “scenic by-ways” by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
We forget that we don’t have to take the highway—what my daughters call the fast road—to reach our destination, wherever it may be.
In fact, one of my own unwritten rules for travel is, when available, always take the scenic route.
In life, I’d like to think I’m adventuring on the green-dotted road. And you and I know, all adventures include a bit of danger and an obstacle or two?
Here’s one: beware of the plastic people.
I’m convinced that the plastic people who have everything figured out with formulas and pre-determined GPS coordinates for life, are the same people who’ve helped to shape our world into a land of bottom-line thinking, pragmatic living, and market-driven achieving.
Whatever happened to the dreamers, the pioneers, the explorers, the people running to the frontier?
What happened to the people who viewed the world not as something to be conquered but as something to be experienced in all its terrifying mysterious wonder?
What happened to the people who do not live following the plastic people’s coordinates?
How desperate we are for these people. How incomplete our world would be without them.
And yet, I think we all have a bit of plastic in us. It’s just that some of us remain in the plastic world, while others happen upon a way out of it. And once we squeeze through the portal, we find the whole world staring us in the face.
“What to do with it?” we ask.
“How do I understand it?” we puzzle.
I find the best way to understand something or someone is to explore.
“Explore?” someone says. “Isn’t there a set of directions or a drop-down box we can click on?
“Just check the manual,” someone else says. “Ask Google, or call the help desk.”
But that won’t do. Life doesn’t come with a browser.
We must listen to that voice buried deep inside of us and take that first step into exploration.
Escaping the plastic world is a feat in and of itself, but it is only the beginning.
Once out, we must learn to live in this gigantic organic beautiful world.
And learning to live does not require our complete understanding; it only requires our participation, and perhaps a cup of Earl Grey tea with some honey and a splash of whole milk, organic, of course.
You and I are pilgrims, wanderers. And as the road stretches out before us, we must decide if we will actually walk it, or if we will sit up in the balcony and watch the passersby, which is the plastic-people choice.
We must embrace our pilgrim status.
The Latin phrase homo viator means “man on a quest” or “man as traveler or pilgrim.”
But the concept of human beings as homo viator does not indicate hapless wanderings. Quite the opposite. It’s the theological idea that we were created to search.
There’s a lingering sense of incompleteness to life. And that’s not a bad thing.
The fourth century theologian Augustine touched upon this idea of homo viator when he famously began his timeless work Confessions with this reflection:
“You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[i]
Think about those words, stir and restless. How does God stir us? And with what?
And restless. Who doesn’t feel this in their life? How many of us fill our lives with things or experiences because we’re trying to satisfy the hungering in our hearts?
Augustine was a wanderer. He describes life before and after a person finds God as a journey. Before he found God, he indulged in sexual and philosophical pursuits he thought would satisfy his desires.
But it wasn’t until he gave his life completely to God that he realized all the beautiful things of the world draw us closer to God, and that life itself is a journey into God.
When Augustine realized that it was not the beautiful things themselves that he desired, but their creator, he responded with one of the most beautiful sections of writing you’ll ever read:
“Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you.
“The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.
You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.”[ii]
It was beauty that lured Augustine. It was the touch of Beauty that set him on fire.
Apart from God, beautiful things can become the love and pursuit of the pilgrim. Those beautiful things take many forms. You can spot them easily enough because they find their way into your life as things that delight the senses, giving momentary pleasure.
For Augustine it was women and parties. For others it might be status or material possessions.
Here’s a little hack for us wanderers.
When you embrace your pilgrim status and pull close to God, a sense of freedom displaces anxiety.
The first step on a new trail always causes the heart to flutter. But down the path, when the countryside opens up before our eyes, we realize our desire lies “further up and further in.”
You and I? We are wired seekers.
The road to life is our becoming. And there is no one way of becoming. Beware of the plastic people. Remember your wayfarer roots. And keep your eyes peeled. For the glories dance all around us, ready to set us on fire.
Stay stoked my friends.