I certainly would have made much faster progress through The Lord of the Rings books if I had not been so invested in looking at Tolkien’s maps. Everytime they were in a new location, I’d flip to the front of my little paperback and see where they were on the journey. Somehow, that map just made me more grounded in the story.

In an odd moment of life, I had the same feeling as I waited for service at a postal shop today. Behind the counter, there was a huge map of the United States, one of those with the states in shades of orange, pink, blue, and green. I just sat and stared at the places I’ve lived, where I’ve driven, where I have people I love. Just that look grounded me into my place at the moment.

Maps are profoundly about the present. They represent a place at the time they are created (any of you with a GPS knows this – new roads can take months to appear). They show us when our ground was all Pangeae, when imperialists ruled vast swaths of continents, when roads ran through woods not strip malls. They remind us where we are or show us where we came from.

Dave recently got a phone (an HTC Evo, for those of you into those kinds of things), and now when we take road trips, I find myself just watching the GPS for long stretches of road. It’s very soothing.

Perhaps maps simply show us that there is a homeland and that there is a destination ahead. In a world that often seems to be so much about wandering, maps remind us that there is a path.

Antique Map of the World