As a boy, I could ride my bike for hours in the neighborhood. In my mind at least, it was a grand adventure, exploring and hoping for something unfamiliar and new. It’s an experience that I think is common to most boys — to explore the woods, climb trees, dig holes, ride bikes and take rowboats on lakes and rivers.
Men don’t change much from when they are boys — except that their world is not just the backyard, but a continent, or the sea. But this adventure ends too. Tolkien’s prose is evocative here:
And those that sailed far came only to new lands, and found them like to the old lands, and subject to death. And those that sailed furthest set but a girdle about the Earth and returned weary at last to the place of their beginning; and they said: ‘All roads are now bent.’
The globe has been mapped and explored — and it is now too small and too familiar, perhaps, to provide adventure. All roads are now bent. Having explored the furthest, we have felt our roads bend back on themselves until we ended where we began. Indeed, all purely human endeavors are, at some point, compassed, traversed and completed. The mistake would be to conclude that adventure should now be abandoned, that it was a phase of one’s boyhood grown out of in one’s manhood.
T.S. Eliot, in his Four Quartets, writes:
Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion (202-6)
The desire for adventure is not an ignoble thing in man. Rather, it points to what is best and deepest in him. The human heart looks for what is new and unexpected constantly to revive and renew itself. Precisely because it points to what the human heart is, man may not cease from exploration.
The great mystery of revelation is that there is something which, although ancient, is ever new. As Hopkins would have it, “there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” For there is a God who has first loved us, and Who with that unexpected love pursues us even now. It is He who will renew and revive us as He draws us into the endless mystery of His being. It is only this “adventuring in God,” as St. John of the Cross says, that can adequately fill the entire human life. For the grace of the mystery of the Annunciation remains perpetually open to us: that God Himself will visit us, renewing us and making us to bear abundant fruit.
Image: Heinrich Bunting, World Map