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Being lost

As I write, the search for the four British sailors lost in the Atlantic continues. When you read this they will almost certainly have been either lost or found. There have been a series of dramatic “losings” over recent months: the strange case of the missing plane MH370 somewhere in the Indian Ocean, the more-than-200 Nigerian girls taken by Boko Haram and secreted away somewhere in the vastness of northern Nigeria, to name but two.

Part of the drama comes about both because of the tragedy contained in such losses and because of the unusual nature of the incidents, but also because such news comes to us instantaneously (in previous generations it might be weeks before news of this kind would reach the general public) and because, well, we have been getting used to the idea that in this world no one gets lost anymore.

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) operating in millions of mobile phones, in cars, ships and carried in small devices by walkers and adventurers, tracked by the many satellites that criss-cross the globe; Satellite Navigation (Sat-Nav) systems fitted to many vehicles from new and available for not-that-much-money as portable devices; cities riddled with CCTV cameras (and traffic cameras); computers everywhere linked via the internet and spewing out large amounts of personal information to anyone with the skills to acess it.

In such a world the idea that a few human beings or a group could get lost, could be hidden away, could not be found by sophisticated search-and-rescue efforts, is an idea that feels increasingly uneasy. Technology is spreading at a fast rate; mobile phones work in many wilderness areas; a few clicks or swipes on a computer or tablet can bring up a detailed view of a street or address almost anywhere.

Maybe the day is coming when such losses as we have witnessed recently will be a thing of the past. Plane technology will soon develop so that every plane in the sky will have its position pin-pointed to within a few metre every few minutes. New and more accurate sattelites are being launched all the time. CCTV coverage increases daily – no self-respecting TV detective drama could run a story-line without it.

The world in which Robert Cavalier de La Salle in the 17th century claimed Louisiana for the French Crown, then after having returned from France to the US spent some three years trying to find the mouth of the Mississippi again, is a world that’s gone for ever.

Getting lost might be just an inconvenience – adding an hour or two to a journey; or it could be tragic – if a sailor or a plane or a group of girls go missing. But a world in which there was no possibility, ever, of getting lost? Anyone with any sense of adventure or even half a wish not always to have their every movement tracked would baulk at such a world. There’s just something deep in the human spirit that calls us beyond the boundaries and fences that life puts round us. Being free, surely, requires risk, even the risk of getting lost.

The Christian faith arose in a world where lost and found was as dramatic as today. But, I guess, the likelihood of getting lost was greater and the consequences more immense. A few roads linking major centres, and in between huge distances of remote and uncharted countryside. Darkness as soon as the sun went down. No maps, lights, satellites or technology to help – communication difficult and long drawn out.

Being lost has always been a metaphor for the plight of human existence. Perhaps in today’s world where getting lost is rarer than it used to be the plight doesn’t feel quite so crucial as it used to. But plenty of people still describe their situation – battling addiction, victim to violence, illness, poverty, depression or unfortunate circumstances – as like being lost.

Jesus pictured his own ministry as being to find the lost – the lost sheep, the lost coin – and never to be lost at all – that’s part of the ancient heritage of our faith. The Psalm says “if I take the wings of the morning and settle in the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand hold me fast”.

In that hope we remember all today who are lost and long to be found.

Michael Docker