Many decades ago, it was somehow impressed on me that, if there’s a silver bullet for preserving health through the course of one’s life, it’s exercise. I already knew I wasn’t a runner, and fairly quickly figured out that I’m not the sort to make a gym membership worthwhile. So I became a walker. I have walked intentionally and avidly since the early 1990s. In 2016, I took the longest walk of my life–500 miles across northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela.
Walking, of course, is a robust scriptural metaphor for the life of discipleship, for our journey back to the creator God from whom we come. Jesus’ disciples during his incarnate time among us literally walked with him all over Galilee, and eventually to Jerusalem, where they witnessed his passion and resurrection. St Paul invites us to “walk in love, as Christ loved us” (Ephesians 5:2). When we celebrate the Eucharist according to Rite One, we conclude the liturgy by asking for the grace to “do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.”
As I walk, more or less daily, through the neighborhoods around which I live or work, I try to cultivate the habit of walking attentively. This would be the opposite, I suppose, of walking around with ear buds in, trying to be distracted from my surroundings. Rather, I try to be mindful of my surroundings, to notice them–the way people care for their yards and decorate their homes, the businesses that seem to be thriving and the ones that seem to be in peril, others who are walking or running or cycling by me, and the vehicles on the streets. Where I live now, I’m only three blocks away from a major hospital, so it’s an infrequent walk when I don’t encounter at least one ambulance siren, signifying, at the very least, that somebody is having a day that is not proceeding as they had planned when they went to bed last night.
In our metaphorical walking as Christian disciples, might we do well to also “walk” mindfully, with an awareness of our surroundings? I’m fond of the collect, appointed (implicitly) for use at Morning Prayer on Thursdays, asking that amid “all the cares and occupations of our life,” we may not forget that we are always “walking in [God’s] sight.” We could do worse than to start with this simple awareness of being constantly in the presence of God, no matter what else we may be doing. This thought is both comforting and potentially intimidating, I realize, but before it’s either comforting or intimidating, it just is; it’s true. How might such an awareness then affect our everyday interactions with family and colleagues and neighbors and strangers?
A keen awareness of “walking” in God’s presence, then, leads organically to an awareness of the humanity and dignity of those among whom we live. And such an awareness invites us to extend ourselves, to get outside of ourselves, to become curious about others, not in a nosy or creepy way, but out of genuine concern. I have a couple of “friends” on Facebook who regularly post something like, “How can I pray for you today?”, sincerely offering to give their time and energy in prayer on behalf of people whom they may not even know in “real life.” Even as I discipline myself to be generous with those who hit me up for alms on the street (when I am able; I don’t often carry cash anymore), I feel myself invited in my “walk” to also discipline myself to connect with those whom I am helping at more than a perfunctory level, to see them as whole persons who are created in the image of God and deeply loved by God. This is not easy for an introvert (!) and will be an ongoing challenge.
Will you walk with me?