by Christine Sine
I am currently reading Mark Buchanan’s God Walk: Moving at the Speed of Your Soul. I was intrigued by his idea that whereas many spiritual traditions have a corresponding physical discipline, Christianity has none. “Hinduism has yoga. Taoism has tai-chi. Shintoism has karate. Buddhism has kung fu.” he says, but Christianity has nothing…. or does it? His belief is that once Christianity had a spiritual discipline, the discipline of walking that was so central to the way that Jesus interacted with his disciples. Even in the creation story God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden.
Well of course they walked you may say, that was the only way the common person could get around until recently. However Buchanan suggests that there is more to it than that. I love his suggestion that God is a three-mile-an-hour God, a God who loves to move slowly, is never in a hurry and enjoys the journey as much as the destination. Walking deepens the familiar and yet keeps revealing the new he says. He talks about several different ways in which walking benefits us – not just as exercise, but as friendship, healing, remembering, suffering, prayer. There were a few he left out that I felt were important – walking as protest, walking as pilgrimage, and of course walking as awe and wonder being the most obvious, but generally speaking I liked what he wrote and it certainly had me thinking and then going out for a walk.
I love walking and have since I was a child when I would often sneak away and wander the neighbourhood alone, much to my mother’s concern. Now I am not so secretive about it. I often tell people that over my life I have bush walked in Australia, tramped in New Zealand, trekked in Norway, rambled in Britain and backpacked in the US and Canada. Now, as you know, I love my awe and wonder walks which have become a very much alive spiritual discipline for me. They are the place in which I both welcome and interact with God. However, it had never occurred to me that this is God’s preferred pace of walking and interacting. That it is as much a pleasure to God as it is to me.
Over the last few months I have read several interesting New York Times articles that helped me understand these broader perspectives of walking and their importance both for our lives and our faith. They did a five week series on walking extolling the virtues of awe and wonder walks, walking as conversation (think Jesus on the Road to Emmaus) walking as exercise (which includes a great Spotify walking playlist) and walking as adventure. The overall conclusion from these articles is that walking is good for us in more ways than we can imagine, not just as individuals but as a community. Maybe it is good because when we walk God always walks with us. Unfortunately walking spaces are not as common as they once were. Another interesting New York Times article The Right to Roam in England, talked about the challenges that walkers in England have faced over the years with gaining access to paths that cross private land. It made me very aware that here in the U.S. that is rarely an option. Fortunately a growing number of city councils have gained rights to lands along waterways and through forests that do allow all people to enjoy these wonderful nature trails. Perhaps all of us would become strong advocates for this kind of access if we saw walking as a spiritual discipline that was central to our Christian faith.
In The Next Walk You Take Could Change Your Life, Francis Sanzaro, suggests that what walking is asking us to do is to pay attention to the stuff of the place in which we walk. We should not be asking what can get out of a walk, rather what a walk can get out of us. Walking as spiritual discipline should change the way we navigate and experience the world around us. Attentiveness, noticing, listening, feeling, revelling in all the sensations even the noise and the unpleasant odours of an urban stroll are at the centre of what walking is meant to be about. When we open ourselves to fully experience the walk, even if it is something as mundane as taking out the garbage, the world becomes alive in ways we never expected, and that in itself is a revelation of God. Sanzaro encourages us to prepare for any time of walking by saying “Now I’m walking.” He rings a bell in his mind and gets prepared. No matter how trivial the walk, he knows he is walking, breathes in the atmosphere and immerses himself in the experience. What a wonderful spiritual discipline that opens us up to both God and the world God created.
At the end of God Walk: Moving at the Speed of Your Soul, Buchanan talks about walking as a metaphor for Christian faith and repeatedly uses the phrase and the going is slow. I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on that and as I did I found myself slowing down, relaxing not just my walking pace, but my soul pace too . To view God as a three-mile-an-hour God, a God who loves to move slowly, is never in a hurry and enjoys the journey as much as the destination, is revelatory. So my recommendation to you today is – go out for a slow walk around your neighbourhood. Prepare yourself by standing on your doorstep, taking a deep breath in and out and saying “Now I am walking”. When you come home reflect on what you experienced.
Now I walk
Through the wonder of God’s world.
Perhaps a forest,
perhaps a beach,
or through an urban street.
Now I walk,
with my three-mile-an-hour God,
Creator of the universe,
who loves to move slow,
never in too much of a hurry
to enjoy the unfolding journey.
Now I walk,
paying attention, noticing, awed,
through familiar landscapes,
that deepen my appreciation,
Yet always revealing something new.
(C) Christine Sine 2023