Upon my first full day in the town of Cannes, France, I was reminded of a truth I often forget, sometimes it’s good to get lost. The day following my 29 hour trip to this sublime town, and after a long night of sleep followed by a couple of naps, I set out to explore the area. The first thing I found was of course the Palais Des Festivals, the home of the famous Cannes Film Festival and soon to be my home for ten days.
Next I began exploring the town. Cannes is a wondrous mixture of extreme wealth and hardworking shop owners and workers. It’s also a mix of grand boulevards and tiny streets and alleyways. All along the boulevards are large restaurants and stores with names known around the world. If you stay on the bigger streets, you’re less likely to lose your way, more likely to run into well-known attractions, and certain of a very predictable experience. If, on the other hand, you turn onto a smaller street, or better yet, an alleyway, you’re in for a less predictable, but often more meaningful experience. Here, less often means more.
I had this choice my first day exploring Cannes. While I was still hung-over from the grind of three flights, two layovers and one train ride, I was tempted to stick to the main streets, but in a breath of fresh energy and channeling my inner Robert Frost, I made a turn onto a less traveled path and was off on a beautiful stroll into the heart and soul of the city and people. I saw modest but beautiful apartments, which were obviously taken care of and beautified by very modest flower boxes and other small, personal touches. I also discovered small, family-owned cafes and ristorantes that were charming and intimate. In these streets I experienced peace, not just from the quiet, but from the genuineness of the area and the people.
I did get a bit lost but I found something special. This charming peace was in direct contrast to the preparations underway at the Palais and along the famous Le Croisette, the promenade that hugs the Cannes beach and is the address for the Ritz, and other famous hotels. Here, cranes were lifting giant cement planters and placing them along the street. One crane was even lifting 15 foot palm trees onto an upper balcony of one of the fancy hotels in order to temporarily give the space that “genuine” Mediterranean look and feel. While those trees will be gone within a fortnight, the real beauty of Cannes will remain in the small streets, paths, and modest apartments hidden from view but easy to find.
Upon reflecting on my choice to get lost, I was reminded of the film Up and Ellie, the wife of Carl Fredricksen, who from her earliest days had a great desire for adventure. In her words, “Adventure is out there!” but it’s usually not found on the path well-traveled. To always stay on the main roads and only see the famous landmarks makes one a tourist. By getting off the beaten path, trying something new and even unknown, one becomes more of an adventurer. I understand that traveling to the south of France is not exactly an adventure into the wilderness, but within this or any locale, one can still get lost and have wonderfully meaningful experiences. I made some wrong turns and had to backtrack a bit from time to time. But it’s that stroll that will stay with me long after the glamour of the landmarks have been packed away and the last grains of Cannes beach sand has been shaken from my sandals.
As it can be good to get lost when we travel, getting lost is also helpful in our spiritual journey. As with travel, faith can be prepackaged with set itineraries, timetables, and expectations. Certainly there is importance in encountering the faith landmarks, but one should resist the temptation to hit only the hotspots of faith, special occasions such as baptism, confirmation, and Christmas and Easter worship. Knowledge of scripture should not only include popular texts and uncritical reception of packaged lesson plans. Rather, one should linger among lesser known texts, contemplate the observations and teachings of others, and learn more about different traditions, both within and between faiths. Being open to and interested in what is not known or familiar–in teaching, traditions, and other experiences–is certainly not the safe way to journey, but it produces longer lasting faith experiences and spiritual growth and development.
Taking time to stroll down these off the beaten spiritual and theological paths adds to the richness of faith experience as well as an understanding of other expressions of faith. As always, learning about the customs and understandings of others builds upon and deepens one’s personal faith and spirituality. As with traveling, there will be times when we get a bit lost. We may not understand, agree with, enjoy, or even appreciate what we learn or encounter. We may not come away with all of our questions answered, but in thinking about these questions and pondering possible answers, we grow in our faith and broaden our spirit. Who wants to be a spiritual or faith tourist, when one can be a spiritual and faith adventurer? As Up reminds us, the spirit of adventure is out there! May we desire and follow such a spirit.