Sunday, April 13, 2014

The promise of a path

I've been here at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the past three days as a guest of the Festival of Faith and Writing.  It's been a wonderful visit. The staff is welcoming and effortlessly competent, the students are enthusiastic and promising, and the attendees are somehow not only willing, but actually excited to show up at the crack of dawn on a weekend to hear some non-celebrity former TV critic from the boonies talk about theology and stuff.

It's a a beautiful campus, besides, dotted with low, rambling buildings whose unotrusiveness -- none are over a couple of stories high, all are the color of earth or sand -- seems to reflect the stated ethos of the college. I heard a faculty member mention that Calvin is a place where "we compete to be the most humble."

But what I love most about a college campus -- any campus, really, from corporate to clerical -- are the pathways. Curving through trees, skirting green spaces, circling fields, edging buildings.  When I set out on such a path, I always get a jolt of memory at some particular point, perhaps when the path crests a rise or veers away from structures. I remember vacations with my family, the campgrounds where we parked our rented RV, and the paths that my brothers and I immediately set off to explore.  I remember church camps, with the paths that led from cabins to dining halls to campfire pits to circles of benches out in the woods. At the end of the week, treading the now-familiar paths, I felt like a newly-minted expert in the ways of the place, a veteran ceding the ground to the next group like Charlie Brown: "I've done my hitch."

I'm not an adventurer. I don't strike out into the unknown. I like a path because a path says "this goes somewhere." I can never resist finding out where. But the greatest pleasure of a path isn't finding out for the first time where it leads.  It's knowing where it leads, the next time.

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