The story goes that as Harvard University added buildings around the famous Harvard Yard through the 19th century 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 walking paths. 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, particularly in this COVID-19 era. Much of what was once fixed and normative 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.
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 exist.
Another way of saying this is that we walk in faith into God's good future. We rely on the promises of God to us in scripture, even when the recent past has been so unnerving and the future appears so unknown. Perhaps faith is only truly faith when we are stepping into the unknown and making the paths by walking them.