The World Games opened in Birmingham, Alabama today – all those sports not included in the Olympics but that players wish would be. Everything from Ju-Jitsu and Sumo to canoeing and waterskiing are part of the Games.
Orienteering is the one that fascinates me. Competitors use their navigational skills to run long distances through unknown terrain, using only a compass and a special map they’re handed at the start of the race. While fitness and running speed are important, concentration on the map (while running) is also critical. The fastest leg between the various control check points is not always the shortest route on the map.
Most of us don’t use paper maps anymore. Although I’ll admit to missing some of the beauty and romance of those maps, and the gritty challenge of trying to fold them up just as they were unfolded, I’m okay with GPS. At least most of the time. When “she” gets snippy at me in my car, because I’ve forced her to recalculate my route, I start to wonder, “Who is this woman and who taught her to be such a nuisance? Why does she speak so insistently and order me and my car around in these terse ways? Where is she from anyway?” Since I can’t detect a particular accent in her voice, I figure that I know a better route than she does. Whether that’s true or not, eventually she acquiesces and quiets down.
I read somewhere that when you’re deep in the woods and lost, and you feel like you’re walking in circles, you probably are. That’s because walking a straight line in unfamiliar territory is very difficult for the hippocampus in our brain to keep computing our location. So, someone lost in the woods often ends up going in circles without realizing that they’re actually crossing their own paths.
When the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness too long, Moses said to them one day, “We have circled this mountain long enough. It is time to move northward” (Deut 2:3). From everything I can tell, the ancient Hebrew people were neither fast (40 years wandering in the wilderness for a relatively manageable distance), nor clever with maps (they sometimes walked in circles). But that’s why they were given the Torah, meaning “the way,” or even more clearly, “the finger pointing the way.”
We have plenty of ways to get lost in life, and more than just some inability to locate our place on a map. We often make up our own rules, design our own ethics, and just do what seems personally right to us. It’s not exactly grounded living, but it’s very common. For those of us who seek to walk the Christian life, we don’t carry the map, thumb compass, or safety whistle of an orienteer. But we have some awesome navigational tools for finding true north. Do you know what these are? If so, your challenge is probably the same as mine: relying on them.