Posts Tagged ‘compass’

I’ve taken members of my family to the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area on the Minnesota / Ontario border four times beginning in 1998. The BWCWA is a heavily forested, roadless region dotted with thousands of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. The way you get around is in a canoe and by foot.  The waterways are connected by portage paths that hearken back to the days when the Native Americans roamed the land.  Paddling your canoe across the lakes and through the quiet streams is an incredible experience.  Carrying all your stuff from one waterway to the next is hard work.  And while it is not “fun” in the traditional sense it carries with it a strong sense of satisfaction to successfully negotiate a difficult portage in an efficient way.

The times we have gone to the BWCWA we have used a map and compass for our navigation.  I really enjoyed the navigation aspect of our trips because we were forced to use a skill set that we weren’t familiar with and it required focus and attention to detail.  The skill of successfully using a map and compass is called orienteering.  Simply stated orienteering requires;

  • accurately identifying your place on a map,
  • determining true north with the compass,
  • adjusting the map to align with north on the map with true north, (for you true orienteering experts I am skipping the discussion of declination for sake of simplicity)
  • selecting the direction you want to go on the map,
  • transferring that direction on the map to the direction over the lake you want to travel,
  • picking out a landmark in the direction you want to travel,
  • striking out toward that landmark with a consistent focus upon heading directly toward it.

On one trip we covered 50 miles in 7 days with about 15 different portages.  To cover this distance with a group of young men required that we be efficient with our travel time.  Mutiny was a constant concern…  Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little, but it was important that we not paddle aimlessly around the lake trying to find the portage.  Being able to accurately select the location of the next portage from 1, 2, or more miles down the lake was crucial to paddling the shortest route and minimizing the pain and soreness that our “fun” generated.

As I think about those trips I realize that there are a few keys that made our orienteering successful.  Obviously the map and compass were essential.  We had to know where we were, where we were going, and what lay between us and our destination.  The map showed these things provided we knew how to read it.  The compass told us where True North was.  It gave us a constant and correct location of North which we could then align our map and then our direction to.  With the map and compass as essential tools, we also had to have the right map and we had to understand how to read it.  Finally we had to have a focus upon the point we were heading toward and we had to paddle.

I’m struck by how well this mirrors life.  Our map is the Word of God.  It gives an exact picture of the lay of the land… what lies around us, the path we should take, the dangers that lurk if we go the wrong way, where our destination is, as well as lot’s of detail about areas we aren’t likely to explore.  The compass is symbolic of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity who comes to live in us when we are born again.  The Holy Spirit is our guide and counselor constantly pointing toward truth in a similar way to the compass always pointing toward true north.  The Word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit together can always show us the right direction.  However we still have to focus upon the point which they identify and we have to do the “work” to get there.

At any one of these points we can get off track.  There are a lot of lakes in the BWCWA and if you don’t know where you are, the map can be confusing.  Map reading takes some practice.  The most important concept in reading a map is to know where you are.  Unlike modern GPS which tells you where you are, paper maps expect you to be able to pick out your location.  The bible has some verses which help with this.  Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  That’s the starting point for all of us.  But the next step is found in several places but I like the standard from John “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

The Holy Spirit who resides in the believer is gentle and loving.  He does not demand or control.  He prompts, counsels, encourages, and gently corrects.  There are three terms used that describe a negative reaction that we can elicit from the Holy Spirit: we can grieve the Holy Spirit, we are told not to quench the Holy Spirit, and finally Jesus mentions blasphemy or sin against the Holy Spirit.  I’m not going into these in-depth now, but the point I want to take away is we can choose not to follow the direction the Holy Spirit much like we can ignore the information our compass gives us.  We do this to our detriment, but we do have this choice.

Picking out a landmark is one of those subtle points of orienteering that make navigating on the water so much easier than land navigation in a trackless area.  The corollary to this is being actively involved in the Church and being well read of inspirational literature.  Here are a few general landmarks that often come up – asking what would Jesus do, considering what my dad would do, reading about examples of others who have lived selflessly, observing humble, faithful followers in the Church.  These give me a landmarks to aim toward.  These are examples that the Word and the Holy Spirit point to.

The last step in this four-step process is the work we do.  We can do the first three and yet still end up dead in the water if we do not exert our will, strength, and energy in striving toward our destination.  As I think about this point it brings to mind the multiple different paddling experiences I have had… many times in beautiful weather with light winds or even a slight breeze behind me.  The time when we rounded the corner of an island and then headed into a strong breeze that was beginning to lift whitecaps.  It was day one of the week so our canoes were heavily loaded and riding low.  My anxiety was mainly for my wife who was in the canoe with our son Jon.  We really had to stroke long, hard, steady and the going was tough, but we all made it.  There were paddles in rain and mist that made the selection of a landmark more difficult and we had to trust the map and compass, constantly consulting them to be sure we were headed in the right direction.  We have made it through in all these cases.

When I say the last step is the work we do that includes the times of Godly rest.  God rested on the seventh day of creation which gives us an example we are to follow.  Our pastor is about to take a well deserved and necessary sabbatical.  We wish you well Pastor P!  Isaiah 41:31 tells us that “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, the will run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  The work is the sum of activities that we undertake to get to the destination we are striving toward.

One of my life metaphors is that life is an adventure.  I see the map, compass, landmarks, and the work before me.  And in my heart I hear God whisper, “Dan, come out and play.”

Have a blessed day.

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