When our world is changing “faster than we can say Jack Rabbit,” sometimes life can get overwhelming. My dad often used this quaint phrase when he wanted something in a hot minute, like a bowl of ice cream just before bedtime. Or when he wanted us kids to get a move on and not dilly dally. Usually we were messing around and goofing off when our parents had time constraints, so the tone of his voice sometimes sharpened with the promise of consequences if we weren’t front and center right now. My parents were usually in hurry mode, while we kids never quick unless the destination was the local Dairy Queen. We all screamed for ice cream in my family.
Grownups have a different sense of time than children do. Adults know from experience how short lived is the human existence, for they’ve lived long enough to have loved and lost. Children, who’re generally protected from such harsh realities, live in worlds in which time both stretches into eternity and seems to stand still. I call this variable sense “rubber band” time, since it can both stretch to the moment of breaking, but also snap back to inertia or non movement. For children, especially at year end, Christmas comes on lumbering feet, but for parents, the season is far too brief. The day blows through on a wind from the north, like a polar front charging into the Deep South on a mission to freeze every fragile magnolia blossom before the new year can make an appearance.
Children’s worlds are different from adults, for they still have a sense of wonder and all things are new to them. I remember seeing my first rainbow high up in the sky. I put up such a clamor on the front porch as I called for my mother, she was sure I’d seen a snake or some dangerous animal. She was put out I’d called her away from her household tasks “just to see a rainbow.” To this day, I still think rainbows are wondrous writings in the sky and meant to give us joy for our mundane lives. Seven decades later, the child in me still celebrates rainbows.
Our sense of time changes as we age, for everything a child sees is a first and a best. This is why we can have such deeply imprinted memories from our childhoods. Later on, we’re doing the same things over and over, so unless these events stand out for some different reason, they all tend to blend together. We also tend to think of these as “this is the way life is,” or they become the “model” for our world. This is also known as our cognitive map.
Some people can give good directions to their home, while others wouldn’t be able to get someone to their place even if they lived in a teacup. Those “others” lack good cognitive maps, for they don’t have a good mental image of the landmarks on the way to their home. Today, our cognitive maps are undergoing rapid change. The world we used to know doesn’t exist, mostly because of COVID. Once we had a service economy, but now we don’t do face to face experiences because of the pandemic, so we buy goods. We’re buying so many goods (can we ever buy bads?), we have supply chain problems trying to provide them all. We’re so used to same day or next day delivery from our pre-pandemic lives, we think our world is coming to an end if it’s going to take a week to get our cherished gifts delivered.
That old world existed back in 2005, when Amazon Prime partnered with the US Postal Service for its packages’ last leg of delivery. Today we have on demand groceries ordered through the app for immediate pick up or delivery, as well as restaurant foods for the same. This was unimaginable just a decade ago. It’s still so new, some folks won’t use it, even if they were on their death bed. Their cognitive map won’t let them try a new thing, for these new places and experiences aren’t encoded on their mind maps.
The ancient world maps, dating from the peak of the Middle Ages, take their cartography from both faith and geography. One of the earliest is the Map Psalter, which takes its name from its full-page illustration of a map of the world. It’s design shares close parallels with the famous Mappa Mundi, now housed at Hereford Cathedral. The manuscript was made in London during the latter half of the 13th century but after 1262, as the Psalter’s calendar commemorates on 3rd April the feast day of St Richard of Chichester (d. 1253) who was canonized in 1262.
The image shows Christ holding the orb of the world, flanked by two angels. The map itself is highly detailed. Jerusalem is marked in the center, with Rome appearing slightly below it. Major rivers, such as the Ganges and the Danube, are drawn in blue, and the Red Sea is also included. Representations of the so-called ‘Marvels of the East’ line the right-hand side of the painting. The British Isles are found to the lower left.
The Hereford Mappa Mundi is unique in Britain’s heritage. An outstanding treasure of the medieval world, it records how 13th-century scholars interpreted the world in spiritual as well as geographical terms. The map bears the name of its author, ‘Richard of Haldingham or Lafford’ (Holdingham and Sleaford in Lincolnshire). Recent research suggests a date of about 1300 for the creation of the map. An unknown artist drew the Hereford Mappa Mundi on a single sheet of vellum (calf skin), measuring 64 × 52 inches (1.58 × 1.33 meters), tapering towards the top with a rounded apex.
The geographical material of the map is contained within a circle 52 inches in diameter and reflects the thinking of the medieval Church, which places Jerusalem at the center of the world. Drawings of the history of humankind and the marvels of the natural world are superimposed onto the continents of the world. These 500 or so drawings include around 420 cities and towns; 15 Biblical events; 33 plants, animals, birds, and strange creatures; 32 images of the peoples of the world; and 8 pictures from classical mythology.
We all make maps in our minds, otherwise we’d get lost going from our easy chair to the kitchen to get a snack on a commercial break. This is because our hippocampus is working well. Some of us have a talent for getting lost in a proverbial tea cup, especially when landmarks aren’t visible. When I lived in Colorado, I always knew which way I was headed as long as I could see the mountains. At night, I had no idea, so I could get lost easily.
The ancient western world oriented their maps with east at the top and Jerusalem at the center because the sun rose in the east and faith was primary in their world view. The Chinese, who were the first to invent the compass, often drew maps with South on top because they always thought the compass pointed to South. South was their sacred direction, for in any religious or royal ceremonies the kings faced south. This perception may have come because the northern parts of China were cold and dark.
The Islamic maps of the era also drew the south on top, since the initial Islamic habitations were north of Mecca. Therefore, South-oriented maps would show the followers looking up towards it. Yet, our maps today orient north instead, due to Mercator, the noted mapmaker of the 16th century. By this time, sailors were navigating not only by the North Star, but also with the compass. Their sailing records were complete and detailed. Mercator used these to create the first Mercator Projection map, which was more correct than any map beforehand. After this map, all western maps set North as the top of the map.
Columbus managed to find the Americas in 1492 with the map he had at the time, but he was convinced he’d found islands outlying Japan or Asia because he’d traveled the distance the map had indicated was necessary to find the Asian continent. This is a classic case of cognitive dissonance, for the map Columbus had in his mind and in his hand didn’t correlate with reality. This disconnect can cause us discomfort or cause us to make decisions or conclusions based on a reality that no longer exists or doesn’t fit the facts in hand.
All of us have this problem, to one degree or another. As we grow up, we discover our childhood myths are just stories, and the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Rabbit, and Santa Claus aren’t real, but just our parents acting in secret to bring magic into our childish world. As the oldest child in my family, I recall the Christmas I realized Santa Claus wrote in the same distinctive script for which my father was known. Unlike many doctors, my dad had elegant and legible handwriting. At the tender age of five, I made the choice to keep the secret of Santa Claus safe for my younger brother’s sake. Besides, as long as I believed, I would get presents from both my parents and Santa. Keeping the Santa secret safe had its advantages.
These old maps also remind us how our point of view determines our world view. If we see the world with the eyes of faith, we’ll observe the world through a different lens than the person who looks through a microscope or telescope. A person of faith can look through these tools and see the wonders of God in the smallest or most distant bits of creation, but without faith, these views will be unique, but not inspiring.
In ancient times, while sailors navigated with their eyes fixed on the Northern Star, they also depended on the written records of previous sailors. They depended on the capricious sea gods to protect them and their cargo from harm. Sailing was a dangerous occupation and goods were often lost at sea. The apostle Paul was caught in a storm on the Mediterranean for two weeks, when the crew finally threw the cargo of wheat overboard to lighten the load. Even in the first century, there were supply chain issues in the grocery business (Acts 27). Afterwards, Paul met and healed people on shore and the ship finally got under way with new supplies to replace the old ones.
Today, our settled lives have been upended by a tiny virus that seems to mutate and persist. What we used to know as normal now feels strange. I grew up hand washing dishes at the kitchen sink, but since COVID and the demise of my garbage disposal, I’m back to hand washing them until the plumber can rotorouter my drain and I can put Mr. Dishwasher back to work. I’m not sure my dishes are clean or sanitary. Of course, I obviously made it to a ripe old age without a dishwasher, but the pandemic has changed my worldview. I see germs everywhere now.
“‘Adjusting our expectations to account for unpredictability, uncontrollability, and the fact that our lives may be disrupted on and off, and building that into our expectations, would be good for our mental health,’ said Karestan Koenen, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “As humans, we don’t have as much control as we think we do. The virus has just made it very clear.” Many of us have a world view that puts us in charge of all things, when in truth we aren’t the captains of our fate.
The first stage of my icon map followed the original map fairly well, but I let it rest next to my easel for a long time. This was a sure sign I wasn’t happy with it. The old map was a world view which belonged to a different age, but not to me. When I thought of my own world view, Jesus still had priority as Lord and Ruler of creation, but the world over which he reigned wasn’t merely the earth, but all of the known universe.
After a vacation, I decided to repaint it. The central swath of color represents the Milky Way in the night sky, as seen from earth. The warm golds and reds are the energies of all the planets and the stars in our universe, as well as the heat of all the life on earth. If we are all one, and Christ is lord of all, we humans have a particular responsibility to care for life in all its forms. As John 10:10 reminds us, Jesus said:
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Joy and Peace,
Cognitive Map – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics
Map Psalter, British Library
Mappa Mundi | Hereford Cathedral
No, It’s Not Just You: Why time “speeds up” as we get older – Science in the News
Why maps point North on top? – Geospatial World
The Washington Post Analysis | This is how America is responding to Omicron
By Olivier Knox and Caroline Anders