Every so often, we come across a news story about an adventurer. Maybe someone is sailing around the world, or biking from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, or hiking the Appalachian Trail from end to end. We know that such a person leaves behind the comforts of daily life and a job, regular meals, padded armchairs, pocket-handkerchiefs, and many other things we non-adventurers simply take for granted. Of course, we all need a break from our usual routine on occasion, but we generally opt for a pleasant vacation over a disturbing, uncomfortable adventure. And yet, even the most stolid homebody is willing to acknowledge that adventure does sound interesting, and those raised on a diet of fantasy or National Geographic might even feel a twinge of desire for sleeping under the stars.
One possible explanation for this is that we take delight in the beauty of human self-reliance. There is a real beauty in the man who sets out on the road to face the world alone, or perhaps with a close friend. The simplicity of a man with his pack cuts through the faceless complexity of a traffic jam or a video screen, manifesting the power and beauty that lie at the heart of the human person, and we justly take delight in this.
Even this insight, though, seems limited. True, man is capable of wonderful things. But he can’t build the oceans he sails or the mountains he climbs. Worse still, we might compare the adventurers to our own limited selves, quite at home in our padded armchairs. Nonetheless, adventure retains its appeal. Perhaps this is because of the very simplicity that gives adventure its daunting edge. Perhaps we know, even if not quite consciously, that we are happiest and most fulfilled when living simply. Think of St. Dominic singing joyfully as he walked across Europe poor and barefoot.
We seem to be made for simplicity! If you have stepped into the adventure of faith, you already know this to be true. What is heaven but the eternal contemplation of the Divine Simplicity? In this life, of course, we cannot embrace the complete material simplicity of heaven, but we can prepare ourselves now for the life of heaven. Even a flabby late sleeper can step out and, with the help of experienced guides, become an adventurer himself. Beware, though, for this is an adventure of literal, concrete simplicity: “Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). Indeed, following the Lord is the ultimate adventure, for it is truly “impossible” for human self-reliance (Mt 19:26). The adventurer must instead rely on the goodness of God to carry him through.
And He will not disappoint! He grants manifold consolations to His beloved children, both our daily bread and glimpses of His glory, as we struggle toward His gates. There we weary adventurers will finally be able to throw away our packs—and join in the real Adventure.
Image: Isaac Levitan, Trail in the Forest.