We do not walk in our country, unless it is on a treadmill. Seriously, one of the readily noticeable differences when you travel abroad is that in other countries you see people out along the roads, walking. Here, people walking along a road signals that something is wrong. Either their car has broken down, or, (heaven forbid in a culture that worships the automobile) they don’t have access to a vehicle.
In recognition of this, we don’t waste money when constructing roads by creating paved shoulders or pedestrian lanes. OK, some of the newer roads have this, but in general you do take your life in your hands if you decide to walk along a road. I’ve tried it a few times, and the road shoulders hardly give you room to get out of the way of the speeding cars.
During the Living Christmas Story over this past weekend, we walked the street of Bethlehem, recreated in our church’s parking lot. One of the features that makes for a good LCS is when we have a lot of participants out in costume, walking up and down the street, talking and pretending to barter at the shops. The irony is that those who come to “see” Bethlehem and the manger ride through in their cars.
This year there was an exception. A large tour bus pulled up to the entrance. With the trees and turns in the route, the LCS isn’t designed to handle such a large bus. So forty people disembarked and walked through as a group. (One of my friends suggested we tell them they had to do the Monty Python thing and walk through keeping the same seating arrangement they had on the bus.) I wish I walked with them, just to see what I could pick up from their ambulatory experience of the event.
The experience of life changes dramatically when we walk instead of drive. I’m not just talking physically, though that is true too. Our bodies were designed to walk, with the large muscle groups in our legs. For those of you wanting to burn calories, it’s those leg muscles that do the job. That’s why cycling (or stair stepping) gets you in shape like nothing else. If you have a desk job, get up every hour and walk briskly for five minutes and just that reactivation of the leg muscles will keep the calorie furnace going. I don’t do it, but that’s what the research says.
When I walk through our neighborhood, the same streets I drive along regularly, I see a different world. The walking makes me aware of the changing texture of the pavement or the ground. I observe trees and animals and light patterns and all kind of stuff I never notice riding by. But besides being more observant, my mind settles into the rhythm of reflection.
Saint Jerome (340-420 CE), who after some years of contention near Rome moved to Bethlehem to finish his years in a monastery, gave much of his scholarly life to translating the Hebrew Bible into Latin. Jerome apparently often used the expression, “solvitur ambulando,” to solve a problem, walk around. Jerome dealt with a variety of textual and theological problems of his day, including the heresy of Pelagianism, and debates with Origenists. My issues don’t even make the cheap seats in his ballpark. Still, walking about works just as he advised. Walk, until your thoughts and prayers match the pace of your legs, until you actually see what makes up the blur of your life, until the wear on your shoes becomes a witness of waiting, anticipation and patience.
I wonder how church members would react if their pastor went on walks regularly? What if a couple of mornings a week we went walking instead of visiting, studying, attending meetings, or doing administrative stuff. Would they (and could we) appreciate the difference?
Rev. Maltbie Babcock used to take regular morning walks along Lake Ontario while serving as a pastor to a church in Lockport, New York. Bill Dagle, who writes HymnStories, says it was from those walks that Babcock wrote the beautiful hymn, “This is My Father’s World.” I think of the number of times his lyrics have spoken to me during worship. How many walks did Babcock take before those lyrics came clear to him? Was it good management of his time as a pastor?
In this busy season of Advent, with so much to “do,” I think I’ll take a walk.