Tuesday, March 12: While reading Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking, it occurred to me that walking could be explored as a spiritual resource. That’s no great discovery. Walking has been the mode of transportation within the spiritual practices of pilgrimages, missions, and crusades. And, while we may use the notion of a spiritual journey in a more metaphorical way, at its heart, it implies the act of walking. (I don’t think one imagines going on a spiritual journey riding a scooter or driving a Prius.) I hope these reflections will be an invitation to walk for any amount of time and distance that you can manage and to regard walking as a spiritual discipline. In Lent, we turn to God in all dimensions of our lives as we wipe the ashes of death off of our foreheads and reorient ourselves to God’s way of life.
To speak of God’s “way” implies movement and its essence. And both are embodied in walking. Solnit would say that when we walk, we align the mind, the body, and the world, “as though they were three characters finally in conversation together” (p. 5). When you walk this day, experience that alignment between your mind, body, and world and, with each breath and each step, that holy alignment with the One who generates and animates all living things. Dear God, give us the energy and intention this day to walk. And as we walk, direct us to your way, the way that brings harmony, balance, and alignment. Amen
Tuesday, March 19: Walking slows us down to the humble speed of 3 miles an hour—the average human speed of walking. Rebecca Solnit writes, “I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour” (Wanderlust, 10). I would add that the senses join the feet and mind in thriving at that speed. At three miles an hour, you can see the wide 180-degree spectrum and notice movement, variations of light and color, the height of buildings and trees. You can hear a car horn, the drum of a woodpecker, the tussle of squirrels in the underbrush. You can smell the cherry blossoms, street food, saturated soil; you can touch the pavement or ground with each step, and, with the hand, the smooth edges of the crosswalk button and the tree bark’s rough contour. Life happens more readily, more immediately, more deliberately when you walk. In his book, Three Mile an Hour God, Kosuke Koyama, who taught at Union Seminary in New York, observed: “Love has its speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It is “slow” yet it is lord over all other speeds since it is the speed of love. It goes on in the depth of life, whether we notice or not, whether we are currently hit by storm or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore the speed the love of God walks.” When you walk today, God will be matching your pace, giving you life, and filling you with love. Dear God, you who are present in the depth of my life, match my pace this day and pour your love into my senses that I might be fully alive. Amen.
Tuesday, March 26: In Lent, we turn to God in all dimensions of our lives as we wipe the ashes of death off of our foreheads and reorient ourselves to God’s way of life. I offer these reflections as an invitation to walk for any amount of time and distance that you can manage and to regard walking as a Lenten spiritual discipline. The spiritual practice of going on pilgrimage often entails setting one’s sight on a destination of some religious significance and walking to it. The destination may be a cathedral, a Holy Door, a shrine, a mountain summit, a tomb. While the specific destinations intrigue me, I find myself more interested in how the whole journey toward the destination has a sanctifying effect. Rebecca Solnit writes, “Pilgrimage is premised on the idea that the sacred is not entirely immaterial, but that there is a geography of spiritual power” (Wanderlust, 50). By moving the body, following the trail, engaging with other pilgrims and walkers, keeping silence, watching wind-blown branches, listening to spring peepers, and reaching a destination we interact with the material world as a spiritual experience. Solnit suggests that “…perhaps it reconciles the spiritual and the material, for to go on pilgrimage is to make the body and its actions express the desires and beliefs of the soul” (Wanderlust, 50). As you walk this day, let the geography guide you more deeply into your soul. And may you become aware of the Spirit moving through material and into the material of your heart. Dear God, as I walk today, reconcile in me the material and spiritual that you might reveal yourself in all I encounter. Amen.
Tuesday, April 2: In Lent, we turn to God in all dimensions of our lives as we wipe the ashes of death off of our foreheads and reorient ourselves to God’s way of life. I offer these reflections as an invitation to walk for any amount of time and distance that you can manage and to regard walking as a Lenten spiritual discipline.
The lyrics of “That Lonesome Valley,” an early twentieth century folk song, are bleak: “You gotta walk that lonesome valley, You gotta walk it by yourself, Nobody here can walk it for you, You gotta walk it by yourself.”
Folks tell me about loneliness. Even if we’re fortunate enough to have a partner and maybe even a family, loneliness is an existential condition that leaves none of us untouched.
That we all “walk that lonesome valley” may be true, but why sing about it? Perhaps we do so so that we don’t wallow in it, so that we don’t imagine that we’re the only ones dealing with it. Maybe in the moment of naming our loneliness, it loosens some of its hold over us. And perhaps by imagining loneliness as a valley to walk through, we end up walking through it and out of it.
In Lent we can sing this song with Jesus and dare to resist the temptation to gloss over life’s messy, hurtful, and broken realities. His cross draws us to the depths of loneliness and forsakenness and into the heart of compassion and love.
Today, walk that lonesome valley. And trust that even when the valley seems unending, God will provide you with the strength and resolve to keep walking, one step at a time.
Dear God, Jesus walked that lonesome valley. Help me to walk this day through that valley and in so doing bring my heart into alignment with yours, compassionate and loving Spirit. Amen.
Tuesday, April 9: In Lent, we turn to God in all dimensions of our lives as we wipe the ashes of death off of our foreheads and reorient ourselves to God’s way of life. I offer these reflections as an invitation to walk for any amount of time and distance that you can manage and to regard walking as a Lenten spiritual discipline. A new acquaintance sent me an email message with this Mark Nepo quotation as her signature: “One who journeys without being changed is a nomad. One who changes without going on a journey is a chameleon. One who journeys and is transformed by that journey is a pilgrim.” While it may be that the only constant in life is change, change that is intentional or change that we are open to can be transformative. Here is Rebecca Solnit: “As Nancy Frey writes of the long-distance pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, ‘When pilgrims begin to walk several things usually begin to happen to their perceptions of the world which continue over the course of the journey: they develop a changing sense of time, a heightening of the senses, and a new awareness of their bodies and the landscape’” (Wanderlust, 51). To walk as a spiritual practice is to be open to transformation. Walking is not just about individual transformation. In the twentieth century, there was a “shift in the nature of the pilgrimage” (Wanderlust, 57), so that pilgrimage became associated with collective walkers with a common and often political purpose: Think of Gandhi’s Salt March, the civil rights and anti-war marches (Vietnam, El Salvador, Iraq), and, more recently, the Women’s March. Looking at a photograph of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marchers, Solnit interprets their mood: “They seem to know they are walking toward transformation and into history…They have found in this walk a way to make their history rather than suffer it, to measure their strength and test their freedom…(Wanderlust, 59) We observe Lent as a time of transformation from shorter to longer days, snow to rain, dormancy to vitality, death to life. On today’s walk, be open to your own spiritual transformation, and imagine that all of us walkers are walking toward a collective transformation that embraces the Spirit’s gifts of release, reconciliation, and renewal to all. For we are all pilgrims. Dear God, as I walk this day, lead me and guide me toward transformation. Amen.
Grace Church | Red Hill is an ecumenical community in the Episcopal tradition.