We began our Lenten Journey a week ago with Ash Wednesday. This is a season of reflection and preparation, and many persons focus in on their relationship with God and neighbor by embracing spiritual practices. Bruce Epperly, a regular contributor to Ponderings on a Faith Journey, returns during this Lenten season to offer guidance for the journey. Today he brings to us a word about the spiritual value of walking, making use of reflections on a Martin Sheen movie. Take a read, offer your thoughts, take a walk. As for me, I enjoy getting out in the neighborhood for a walk, but don't discipline myself enough to do this as I should. Bruce has encouraged me to get moving!
It Will be Solved in the Walking:
Reflections on Martin Sheen’s “The Way” and the Lenten Spiritual Journey
Bruce G. Epperly
I am a walker. Every morning at sunrise, I walk a few miles and most nights I hit the trail for a few more. My best ideas for books, sermons, and blogs come while I’m wearing out shoe leather in my neighborhood or hiking the paths near our home. Wherever I travel, I bring my walking shoes and hit the trails – whether in Manhattan, Fort Worth, Milwaukee, or Montreal – in search of adventures, with my eyes open to the ever-changing world. I fear God’s nearness on my ambulatory adventures.
I came upon the Emilio Estevez-Martin Sheen movie The Way purely by accident as I was surfing the cable channels a few weeks ago. It intrigued me because it was about walking, self-discovery, and adventures along the Camino de Santiago, the Way of James the Disciple, a five hundred mile pathway which crosses the Pyrenees along the border of France and Spain and then meanders across Spain toward the ocean.
Put briefly, the film describes the unexpected spiritual journey of an American physician who finds his way in walking the Camino, following the death of his son from an accident on the first leg of his pilgrimage. Like other journey stories, Tom finds his way spiritually as he wanders the Camino, completing his son’s journey, spreading the ashes of his son throughout the journey.
Walking is a spiritual practice, whether our pilgrimages are on a famous path such as the Appalachian Trail or the Camino or in your own neighborhood. The spiritual advice, “solvitur ambulando,” reminds us that when our bodies move, our spirits move as well. All things flow and new insights flow as we encounter new data and experience inspiration flowing through our muscles, lungs, and brain cells.
Walking reflects the nature of the universe – movement, novelty, innovation, new possibilities even while traversing the same pathway. Processive in approach, we never walk the same path twice. As Heraclitus, the philosopher of movement proclaimed, no one can step in the same waters twice. An upstart student added: you can’t even step in the same waters once! Each step brings new experiences and new ways to look at old things.
Walking opens us to new possibilities and liberates us from old ways of thinking. I have often joked that staff and church board meetings should be held while people are walking, rather than when people are sitting in fixed positions. When we are in immobile positions, our ideas often remain fixed and we become intransigent in holding our viewpoints. When we move, especially as we address potentially divisive issues, we tend to more fluid in holding our positions and more open to finding alternative solutions to otherwise polarizing issues.
In the biblical tradition, God is on the move. The Israelites discover their identity as a people on a forty year pilgrimage. Jesus takes a walk in the wilderness to claim his vocation as revealer, prophet, healer, and savior. Jesus’ ministry was almost always on the road, going from place to place, faithfully responding to human need in novel and unexpected ways.
Lent is an opportunity to become a spirit-walker, creating your spiritual “songlines,” like the aboriginal peoples as you open to divine insight on the walk of life. Each sight on your walk can illuminate the world and your own spiritual adventure.
I have a number of walking practices: Often I use my walk as an opportunity for intercessory prayer, opening to God’s energy within my life and sharing that same healing energy with others. At other times, I simply open my eyes and let them graze on whatever I see – taking in the world in its wonder and beauty. Still at other times, I begin my walk with a seed idea and then let the seeds sprout in words and images. When I conclude my walk, words bubble as sentences and chapters. Great ideas like an ever-flowing stream come to me effortlessly.
On his Camino journey, Tom discovers a sense of meaning and is able to come to terms with his son’s life and find healing in their relationship. He finds his way, and discovers an open future beyond his grief. He discovers the difference between “the life we live and the life we choose.” Walking inspires choice and choice leads to unexpected energies and possibilities in living out our vocation. In our walking, we also discover a moveable sanctuary filled with insight and possibility to match the challenges of our ever-changing world.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process:Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.