The Pateh as Archetype. Leonardo Boff

The Path as Archetype


I have a special fascination for paths, especially for the country roads that climb painfully up the mountain and disappear into the jungle curves. Or the paths in the Alps of Southern Germany, covered by multicolor leaves, that I walked on gray autumn afternoons in my student days. These paths are within us. We must ask the paths why there are such distances, why they are sometimes difficult to follow, or so tortuous that they tire us out. They hold the secrets of the walkers’ feet, the weight of their sadness or the lightness of their joy at having found their beloved.

The path constitutes one of the most ancestral archetypes of the human psyche. Humans keep the memory of all the paths followed throughout the 13.7 billion years of the evolutionary process. It especially keeps the memory of when our ancestors appeared: a branch of the vertebrates, class of the mammals, order of the primates, family of the hominids, the genre homo, the present sapiens/demens species.

Given this incommensurable memory, the human path appears very complex and often indecipherable. In each person’s path, the millions and millions of experiences of long gone paths, walked by countless generations, are still at work. Each person is tasked with lengthening this path, doing so in a way that improves and deepens the path that was received, straightens what was twisted and leaves to future travelers a path enriched by their footsteps.

The path has always been and still is an experience in direction, that indicates the goal and simultaneously the way that goal is reached. Without a path we feel lost, inward and outwardly. We become filled of darkness and confusion. As today, humanity is without direction, and in blind flight, with neither compass nor stars for orientation in the gloomiest nights.

Each human being is a homo viator, a walker through the paths of life. As Argentinean Native poet and singer Atahualpa Yupanqui says: «the human being is the Earth who walks». We do not receive our existence ready made. We must build it. And to that end, we must open the path, starting with and going beyond the paths that preceded ours, and have already been walked. Even so, our personal path is never completely given. It must be built with creativity and without fear. As the Spanish poet Antonio Machado says: «walker, there is no path; the path is made by walking».

In effect, we are always on the way to our own selves. At bottom, either we realize ourselves, or we are lost. Therefore, there are basically two paths, as the First Psalm of the Bible says: the path of the just or the path of the impious, the path of light or the path of darkness, the path of selfishness or the path of solidarity, the path of love or the path of indifference, the path of peace or the path of conflict. In a word: the path that leads to a good end or the path that leads to the abyss.

But let’s pay attention: in the concrete human condition the two paths always coexist, and sometimes cross each other. Within the good path is also hidden the bad, and in the bad, the good. Both cross our hearts. This is our drama that could be transformed into crisis, and even into tragedy.

Since it is difficult to fully separate the chaff from the wheat, the good path from the bad, we are obliged to make a fundamental option in favor of one of them: for the good path, even though it may cost us renunciations or bring us disadvantages, but at least it gives us peace of conscience and the perception that we are correct. And there are those who opt for the path of evil: this is the easier path, it imposes no limitations, because all is fair so long as it is beneficial. But there is a price: the accusation of the conscience, the risk of punishment, and even of being eliminated.

This fundamental option confers an ethical quality on the human path. If we opt for the good path, the small mistaken steps or blunders will not destroy the path and its direction. What really counts to the conscience and to The One who with justice judges all, is the fundamental option we make.

For this reason, the dominant tendency in Christian moral theology is to substitute the language of minor or mortal sins with another, more in keeping with this unity of the human path: fidelity or infidelity to the fundamental option. One’s actions must not be isolated and judged apart from the fundamental option. It is a question of capturing the basic attitude and the fundamental project that is reflected in actions, and unifies life’s direction. If one opts for the good, with constancy and fidelity, it will confer more or less goodness to the actions, in spite of the ups and downs that always occur but which will not destroy a good path. They will certainly pass through the severe clinic of God if they find pity for their wickedness.

There is no escape: we have to choose the path to build and how to follow it, knowing that «living is dangerous» (Guimarães Rosa). But we never do it alone. Multitudes walk with us, solidarians in the same destiny, accompanied by Someone named: “Emmanuel, God with us”.



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