Free to Roam


 I have always loved to roam freely, but with the qualifier that by the  freedom to roam, I do not mean merely the ability to run off half-cocked in any old direction, but the freedom fully to follow some inspired impulse to wherever it might surprisingly lead.

 Which means therefore that when I take off somewhere to roam freely, that I am acting in accord with my highest and best impulses. 

 I am not in a state of discord as I journey forth. I am instead centered as I start out. I inwardly cohere. 

 So my kind of inspired roaming will inevitably result in refreshment and rejuvenation. I will not feel wasted at the end of the adventure. At journey’s end, it will be well with my soul. 

 For me therefore, the freedom to roam involves pausing first to listen for a still, small voice and then to venture forth, like Abraham, (to give authority to my point!) who “went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8) 

 I am at pains to stress the point that Abraham did not know where he was going. The important thing was the inner impulse, his sense of call. It was more critical to answer the call than to know where he was headed.

 Isn’t this the nature of the greatest of adventures? You’re never quite sure where it’s going and what it will lead to. If you already knew what lay ahead, wouldn’t that spoil the fun?

 In like manner, my preference is to follow some inspired impulse even if it means getting lost in the process than to be led to some must-see sight by a tourist guide.

 I am so passionate about living with a sense of adventure, for example, that I have a strong aversion against maps and plans. If someone pulls out a map, I always feel a great protest welling up inside. While she's checking the map, I’m feeling restless to get on with the odyssey.   

 I simply don't like the feeling that everything’s been, or is going to be, mapped out, pre-planned, or pre-destined.  

 I want to get on with the adventure of exploring the unknown. Living thus, I continually expect to be surprised by new discoveries that could not have been anticipated or planned.

 I don’t expect the tour guide to have anything to tell me about what’s important to see, any more than I expect a disc jockey on am radio to know what good music is. 

 So my sense rather is to follow my own impulses, confident that I am better off to follow these, than to traipse off with a crowd somewhere.

 If you ask me to explain what’s it’s all about as I roam freely, I might be hard pressed to tell you. For I don’t know yet. I’m following the impulse. 

 You may think I’m nuts. But every time I’ve ignored these impulses, I’ve regretted it. So, not this time!

 Michael Polanyi, the scientist turned philosopher, reinforces the point I’m making when he writes about tacit knowing. I may tacitly know something, that is, have a hint about it, but be unable (at this time) to spell it out for you. 

 I can’t yet express it. But everything depends on whether I heed the call or not. 

 Polanyi put it this way: "We know more than we can say.” We may not know, for example, exactly what we’re looking for, when we walk into a clothing store. 

 When asked: 'Are you looking for anything in particular? I answer: 'I’ll know it when I see it.'

 Inwardly I’m thinking: 'Please don’t pin me down so fast! I’ve got some exploring to do! Don’t take the adventure out of it! I want to discover the unexpected, the unanticipated, the surprising something that could never have been planned for. 

 Another way of writing about roaming freely is to say that I don’t want to go into the forest only to head down the path that everyone has gone down before.

 I want rather to find some new path, some new way, my way - the ‘insecure way,’ the road less travelled, and to risk insanity. 

 As Joseph Campbell put it: "If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path.” 

 "Where there is already a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.”  

 So, says Campbell: “You enter the forest, as in the search for the holy grail, "at the darkest point, where there is no path.” My wish is to roam freely  even when it comes to the search for the holy grail.

 In light of this desire to roam freelyI feel rather grateful that nobody planned out with exactitude, my childhood. My memory is of the freedom to roam almost anywhere. I used to set out on my three-speed bicycle and find myself wonderfully lost in wide open spaces, woods, fields and trails.

 There used to be, where I grew up in South Burnaby, British Columbia, lots of fields and ravines. I noticed recently however that my favourite ravine  has been blocked off. I had hoped, alas, to roam there again.

 Childhoods seem to be very structured now. Not much roaming going on. Everything’s been planned. Not much open space. 

 Back in the day, I roamed freely in an imaginary world. At the time, I was a child warrior, always involved in life-threatening combat missions. Gone for hours, in fields hither and yon. My troops and I never quite knew when an attack would come.

 One day Union troops came up against us. They’d seen that I was dressed up as a Confederate officer. Why was I ever on the Confederate side? I think it may have been because I liked the way General Robert E. Lee looked in his grey/silver uniform and shiny boots. 

 At one point, I had the neighbourhood children build a fort for me in the backyard of my house. From there I sat and ruled the neighborhood. I was the prince, you see. One of my regular duties was to line up my troops and to march them up and down the street - some 10 or 20 of them, as I recall. 

 Is that kind of thing still going on anywhere, with flags, air rifles and all? Gosh, I loved my air rifle. I roamed everywhere with it.

 It’s the same with conversations. I like conversations that flow freely and roam wildly. I once sat up all night with a friend from childhood in Toronto, talking together in white heat. At 5:30 a.m. we wondered if we could get breakfast anywhere. No Denny’s existed then.

 More recently, a conversation with a couple began at dinner time and was still going strong at 2:00 a.m. when someone chanced to look at a clock, astonished to find that so much time had passed. That was free play - roaming freely, in the living room. 

 I feel the same way about arranged dates, not that I’ve ever been on one. However, I’ve always thought that I’d rather naturally meet the love of my life where nobody had ever found love before. 

 I like what Professor Joseph Campbell said about finding love without consciously searching for it: "There I was teaching all of these beautiful girls (Sarah Lawrence College) and there would be certain classes where I’d feel wrapped up a little more... it took me about six months to locate the little mouse that was responsible for this - and then I knew I was gone.” (Joseph Campbell, A Fire in the Mind, Stephen Larsen) 

 I am making the point through these reflections and stories that I am passionate about preserving the roaming, searching spirit. 

 But in so doing, I am wondering if I sound a little like the deconstructionist, Jacque Derrida, whose wish to deconstruct philosophy was a desire to roam freely, like me?

 Derrida's emphasis was upon the “full free play of meaning” which sounds to me like the attempt to be so open that you never end up anywhere. You’re always searching, but never finding. Truth is always slip-sliding away.

 I therefore don’t mean what Derrida meant. He felt constricted by the idea that reality might have a heart or center. That it does, makes me feel free. I’m free to roam, using the full range of my powers and abilities, because this life is about something. 

 Derrida rejected this logocentrism, which Professor Lous Markos explains was "the long held metaphysical and aesthetic beliefs that most theorists from Plato to Coleridge took for granted.” 

 Derrida's argument was that 'there exists no pure, undifferentiated presenceno normno centerno touchstone against which all other “imitations” can be measured.’  

 In a phrase, there was for Derrida, no ‘orginary presence.’ That is, there is no logos or meaning at the heart of reality. You might wish, says Derrida, that it was there, but it isn’t.

 Thus for Derrida, meaning can never be found. It is perpetually deferred. Just when you think you’re getting somewhere, the sand slides through your fingers.

 Dr Markos describes Derrida as a modern re-expression of Plato’s nemesis, Gorgias, who, like him, said that there was nothing at the heart of everything. Their shared conviction was that there is no logos or center that ties everything together. (Louis Markos, Jacques Derrida on Deconstruction From Plato to Post-modernism: Understanding the Essence of Literature and the Role of the Author) 

 Gorgias, who Derrida would later channel, had three points in particular to make. His propositions were these:

 One, nothing exists; Two, even if something exists, it cannot be known, and, three, even if something exists and can be known, it cannot be communicated.

 He wasn’t exactly singing: "He’s got the whole world in His hands. He’s got you and me sister, in His hands!”   

 No! His song was that there’s nothing there. As I expressed in a previous article - the deconstructionist has no bed-time stories to tell his children. For there’s nothing there. God is not there and He has not spoken. That’s it. Now, go to sleep.

 But in a counter move against Gorgias and Derrida, Professor Markus proposes that the Prologue to John’s Gospel may be read, as "a succinct refutation of their propositions.

 Thus in answer to proposition one that nothing exists we read: "In the beginning was the Word (Logos) and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." 

 Instead therefore of the nihilistic position that nothing exists, the answer of John’s Gospel is that He was there and is there. He exists. Life therefore has meaning. 

 In contrast to proposition two, that we cannot know, we have in John chapter one: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” The answer to we cannot know is, yes, we can know. "We have beheld Him."

 For proposition three that, even if something does exist, it cannot be communicated, we read furthermore in John’s Gospel: "No one has ever seen God; the only Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.” 

 That is, it is not true that this knowledge cannot be communicated. God can be known. Jesus Christ made Him known. And indeed, He is That, the Logos, who holds the universe together. It’s actually true that He’s got the whole world in His hands.

 I think of the resounding truth and glory of the Gospel message every Sunday when I present my three and half year old, goddaughter for the Holy Eucharist.

 In so doing, I am making the three-fold affirmation that God exists, He can be known and can be communicated. 

The Holy Eucharist is the highest level of communication that exists in the world. It is God and man in union. It is the desire of the ages fulfilled through a holy ritual. It is the experience of communion with the living God.

 Perhaps the great adventure of my life is to roam freely to the front of the sanctuary while carrying Marta in my arms. 

 I would not be free if I were not there with Marta and involved instead in other pursuits and headed in contrary directions, bounding off in this way or that.