Walking: A Soliloquy

I am one of those people who much prefers to read about walking than to actually walk. I am not talking about those healthy “hike a nature trail across half of North America” types of walking books, but rather those that reflect on philosophy and walking, or perhaps the philosophy of walking. It turns out, there is an entire genre of books on this subject that allow one to meditatively reflect on walking while sitting comfortably in a chair at home.

As usual, we can blame it on the Greeks. The early philosophers were called Peripatetics – Socrates, Plato, and the crowd – because of their habit of walking around while they disputed. Rousseau walked from Paris to Geneva and back a couple of times (mainly because he could not afford the stagecoach fare). Nietzsche was famous for his long walks in the Alps, especially after his mental break down. Kierkegaard paced the streets of Copenhagen being very glum. The list goes on to include poets galore, not only those who wrote romantic nature poetry, but many others as well. Walking and thinking.

“Christ on the road to Emmaus,” Leicester Cathedral, Richard III window detail,” J. Guffogg & J. Hannan., https://flic.kr/p/PPPL84

And Jesus walked. He walked everywhere. Those few occasions when he did not walk, when he took a boat or rode a donkey, are so freighted with significance that each alone would require an entire essay. He walked and he talked. Jesus did not walk alone, but was followed about by great crowds who wanted to listen in as he taught his disciples. It must have been very exciting to be in this crowd walking along behind Jesus, getting caught up in the movement to bring in the Kingdom of God. It must have been noisy, dusty, and smelly. With the crowds and the noise, it is no wonder that not everyone heard things well, and we have different versions of the same stories (“Blessed are the cheesemakers,” according to Monty Python).

There were times when Jesus had to walk apart. He had to seek out the quiet and the solitude in the hills to pray and to think, and he walked through the desert for 40 days and nights. Walking and praying.

In one of the most common metaphors we hear, we are invited to walk with Jesus. We walk with Jesus because of the sheer physicality and materiality of walking. The physicality of our own bodies exercising and exerting, sweating and being chilled. We become very aware of our bodies, our embodied existence. And we are reminded that God embodied Jesus with the same strengths and limitations as our bodies. And as he walked Jesus was exercising and exerting, sweating and being chilled.

As we walk, we are reminded of the very materiality of the world around us. On pleasant sunny days, we can glory in the joy of the world. On rainy, snowy, -40 days (we are Rupert’s Landers after all), the physical world is much more “in your face,” and it is difficult to give thanks. As Jesus walked, he pointed to the vines and the vineyards, the workers in the fields, the fig trees, the sheep and the goats and told stories about them. The very material world is also called into the Kingdom of God.

As we exert our bodies and we are stung in the face by blowing snow, we have time to think. We can think about what we are going to have for supper, give thanks for what God has granted us this day, or wonder about the relationship between essence and existence. Or do them all at once.

That is the joy of walking. Our minds can fly to the highest heaven and the deepest problem while remaining connected to the nitty, gritty of the everyday world. We are whole: mind, body, spirit, world all united.

Christopher Trott is the Warden of St. John’s College.

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