In 2010 Forest Fenn, an art dealer and former Air Force fighter pilot, wrote a self-published memoir entitled, The Thrill of the Chase. In it he announced that he had buried a lockbox full of gold coins and nuggets, precious gems, and artifacts worth over $2 million. Every buried treasure has to have a mysterious clue, and Fenn hid the key to the lockbox’s location in a 24-line poem. The prize was in the Rockies—above 5,000 feet—though he said a healthy 80-year-old could find it.
More than 65,000 people went in search of the treasure. Many had to be rescued.
Two died. Randy Bilyeu’s remains were found in the unforgiving wilderness of the Southwest. Then six months later a Colorado pastor, Paris Wallace, disappeared in the hunt and was found dead.
I always think of this chase as the classic American quest. Looking for X marks the spot. Sometimes the X on the tattered map is where we are supposed to find true love and the perfect mate. That will set us up for life. Or X is the spot where we will uncover the house with a swimming pool, the prestigious job, the two children (a boy and a girl) who one day go to Yale. Day after day, 166 million Americans stand in lottery lines at 7-Elevens, bodegas, and liquor stores to buy a long, long shot at the buried lockbox.
There is of course nothing wrong with swimming pools, great careers, true love, and smart children. They just can’t bring us lasting happiness, much less pure joy. Nothing external can.
The quest of a lifetime is to find the treasure buried in the last place we’d ever look, right inside our own hearts. If we can find that X of naked nothingness, the spot where we stand simply as a son or daughter of God, perfect as-is, then all those other things—swimming pools and true love—are “nice-to-haves.” But we don’t need them to make us happy.
Isn’t that what we love about the Advent search for God? That the mysterious clue puts the X on a barnyard feed trough?