Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Not quite The Cave (with apologies to Plato)

My family just returned from ten days in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota. This is something we do nearly every year -- go far away from the crowds and the noise into the wilderness. It's sanity time, family time, time to challenge ourselves, time to think and talk and play and reflect and maybe fish.

There's time to think when you don't have to worry about emails and deadlines and phone calls and traffic jams. So here's one small part of what I was thinking about as I was carrying a canoe over a portage.

Everybody's Portaging a Canoe

When you're portaging a canoe, your world gets very small. It's about four feet high, six feet wide and maybe twenty or thirty feet long. It's limited by what you can see under the canoe, to either side, and a few yards down the trail in front of you. You don't see the trees, unless low branches get in your way. You don't see the sunshine, for the canoe blocks it out. You are so focused on not stumbling, on where you should put your foot next, that you probably don't even notice berries growing next to the trail.

Everybody's portaging a canoe in this life. We carry our burdens and they close our world down until it is very small. Narrow. Dim. We get so focused on the next step or two that we fail to see the grandeur around us.

The trail is narrow, and when we meet another person who is going the other direction, it's difficult. We need to pause and step to the side until they pass. We may get resentful. Why can't they let me alone to bear this burden and get on with it?

Every now and then, someone comes along who talks of things we can hardly imagine. They aren't carrying a canoe, apparently, and they talk of treetops and sunshine, of wide vistas and beautiful panoramas. They speak about strange things we can't imagine, things like horizons and sky and clouds. Weird. These are prophets and visionaries and crazy people. (The line between these three categories is shady at best.)

We plod on, one step in front of the other, over the tree roots, careful of the rocks, watch your step on the gravel. We dream of a day when we will come to the end of the portage, when we will set down this canoe and lay our burdens inside it, and this thing that we have carried will carry us. We will be there under the open sky, out on the water, with beautiful panoramic views of lakes and hills and horizons stretching on as far as the eye can see.

Oh, every now and then we come to a hilltop and our world opens up. Instead of seeing twenty feet ahead maybe I can see fifty, or a hundred. Moments like these we call perspective, or retreat, or epiphany, or vision. But when we turn our steps down the hill, the bow of the canoe overhead descends and the world closes in again.

We plod along under our canoes, and the sky and the treetops seem like so much cotton candy. They're not real. How could they be? All that's real is this narrow world of mine -- four feet by six by twenty. Plod. Plod. Oh, my aching shoulders!

What if the prophets are right? What if there was a way to lay our burdens down, to gain some perspective, to see things as they really are rather than how we imagine them? What if the limits on my sight are the illusion, and there really is a beautiful reality surrounding me every moment that I have just failed to see?

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

1 comment:

  1. i wanted to click "like" on this last post, but then remembered that this isn't facebook!