The maps we are familiar with are grid maps. Invented in the sixteenth century more or less at the same time as the rise of modern science, grid maps provide a means of locating the confusion of our three dimensional landscape into a neat and controlled two-dimensional grid. This was a hugely powerful and fruitful invention. But it has its dangers. Grid maps reduce our complex locality into rather bland coordinates. They suck the mystery and happenstance out of place, they order chaos by measurement and precision. They tell us we can master a place. Furthermore, they suggest we might therefore exploit a place now we know where everything is and how to get there. They also start to eliminate the element of surprise in a place. The authority of the grid-map tells us what there is and therefore what to expect. American poet Robert Penn Warren writes:
‘our maps have grown less speculative, less interested in the elemental possibilities of the Earths skin, and that suggests that the Earth has lost the capacity to keep secrets’
However there are other kinds of maps. Earlier map-making was based on story as well as place. Maps were oral and fused places with occurrence and with people; that tree or that mountain, the place where such an event occurred, that area beyond the river ford where the grass is good for grazing. Inspired by reading about such maps I began making such a map myself with the intention of noticing and deepening my understanding of this place I was in. Firstly I began making a map of Poole Harbour in relation to its natural life. As a bird watcher and forager I began to outline the landscape, none too accurately, and then sketch and write notes on this; ‘chanterelles found Oct ’12’, ‘marsh samphire here’, ‘roosting site for wintering hen harrier’, ‘osprey seen here Aug 2011’ etc. The map soon filled up with wonder and with story. The flat coordinated world of my beaten up OS landranger map began to be replaced with a map of my own making replete with my experiences, testimony and surprise.
The point is that these are the kind of maps we must be making as we start to live and minister in a place. Pioneer maps must have a limited horizon. They must not get carried away with themselves and start drawing themselves on ambitious scales. Nor must they act like grid-maps for a mission programme or off-the shelf model – a two-dimensional resource map ready for mining. Pioneer maps are the cartography of incarnational love. They blend history and place and people to begin to reveal something of the soul of a place. They begin to unveil the secrets of the work of the Spirit over time in a place. They begin to offer to us a door into the hidden Kingdom that is already at work transforming a place behind the plane of grid-maps, quietly and steadily. And they begin to write us an invitation to enter into that story in that place in such a way that we are servants of it and not masters.
It takes time to allow such a map to be made. And the process never ends. Unlike grid maps, story maps are not snapshots in time with their suggestion of completion. Listening, editing, adding continues. This requires a change in us. It takes humility to make a story map, a willingness to sit at the feet of a place and let it tell its tale in the words of history, landscape and personal testimony. It requires sacrifice, a kenosis, an emptying of our own assumptions and expectation. A relinquishing of our ambition and its allies, power and control. Making story maps teaches us to be incarnational pioneers, immersed in a place, listening and learning from it. They teach us to love a place purely for itself and for the secrets of the Kingdom that may be revealed in it if only we stop to look and listen.