The Art of Walking
"God bless the Ground!
I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go."
~Theodore Roethke, 'The Waking'
A couple nights ago, John and I had the (rare) opportunity to go on a date in the north woods. We did some of my favorite things: shared a couple pizzas and tried a local IPA they had on tap, found a little walking path and explored some of the enchanting woods of this area, and then, circled back to the pie shop next to the pizza pub for some dessert.
It was a dream date. And it got me thinking.
I love to walk.
Truth be told, it’s probably my most consistent form of exercise. There was a time when I ran daily. I’ve been a faithful yogi for brief seasons. I get on kicks where I decide to lift weights or “work on my core.”
But I am always walking.
I’ll walk a river path, I’ll hike on a mountain trail. I’ll do laps at the mall with a good conversation partner. And I’m a sucker for the solace of walking a prayer labyrinth.
Before deciding to go to seminary, I used to go on “future walks” in the Avenues of Salt Lake City. I’d get up, put on my Saucony sneaks, take a bag to pick up litter, and end up at 7-11 for a cup of well-earned coffee. I’d walk, caffeinate, pick up garbage, and try to discern what was next, vocationally, for me.
And walking can be more than exercise, prayer, contemplation. It can also be a symbol of protest.
Rebecca Solnit in her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking tells the story of Peace Pilgrim, an activist in the 1960’s who was dedicated to walking until world peace was achieved. She relied on the kindness of strangers when she was too weary to walk anymore or needed food or shelter.
One of my favorite stories from the Civil Rights movement is about a woman known as “Mother Pollard.” In her early 70s at the time, this elder of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery surprised many of her fellow Alabamans when she participated in the Bus Boycott in 1955. On one occasion, someone in a car stopped when he saw this elderly woman, slowly drudging down the sidewalk. When she declined the ride, the driver asked, “Well aren’t you tired?” Her epic response was: “My feets are tired, but my soul is rested.”
Walking is movement, but it can also make a statement. I think that’s why I like it. It’s an activity many age groups and abilities can do together or by themselves. You can walk to burn calories, catch up and hang out with a friend, walk to protest injustice; walk to stimulate creative ideas or to be in tune with nature.
The scriptures say “we walk by faith, not by sight.” But maybe it’s a spiritual discipline to do both: attentively walking and taking note of our surroundings, as well as walking our path - our faith journey - towards closer fellowship with our Creator.