The story goes that as Harvard University added buildings around the famous Harvard Yard through the 19thcentury that they did not include paved paths between the buildings. For decades, they simply kept adding buildings and allowed the students and professors to find their ways from building to building without set sidewalks between them. This created a spider web of intersecting paths. It also created a network of paths that were the fastest and best paths that had been discovered from getting from one building to another. Yet none were ever planned beforehand. When the walkways were eventually paved, it was the network of student and professor made ruts that were converted into sidewalks. Harvard Yard is filled with those same pathways today.
“We make the road by walking.” This is the phrase I repeat often in ministry. So much of what was once fixed and normative a generation ago in ministry and elsewhere is in flux. Like the early students and professors at Harvard, we are once again charting the quickest and best path between where we are and where we are going. What we are to do tomorrow is still in front of us.
The phrase comes from a proverb poem by the Spanish writer Antonio Machado. The suggestion is that the future only exists as we begin to live into it. It is in beginning something, anything, that we find our way. We may plan (and we should), but until we actually walk and make the road, it does not yet exist.
We are a month from the start of Advent. In Advent, we prepare ourselves for the arrival of Jesus Christ, the baby meek and mild, but also the savior King of all creation. In entering creation, the entire biblical narrative of God’s interaction with humanity was turned on its head. Never since the Garden of Eden was the divine and human so close. And yet, dangerously, unexpectedly, it was. God was here in the person of Jesus Christ, a baby in the manger, the Son of God on earth.
Whenever the church and the people in it are afraid of an unknown future, I think of Christ, the disciples, and the entire gospel experiment. Nothing like that had ever been done before and every disciple knew it. And still, they followed that path. No god had ever died, let alone for the sins of all creation. And nevertheless, Jesus does. We make the road by walking because often the future into which God has called us has never been trod. We make the road by walking because where God is calling us nobody has ever been before. We make the road by walking because we are the ones called out into God’s good future to do so. We make the road by walking.