‘Pilgrimage’ is such a tired metaphor it’s hard to remember sometimes that it’s based on actually doing something. “Let’s go on a pilgrimage to my favourite restaurant”. “Life is a pilgrimage from birth to death.” Yes, sure. But…But what keeps me interested in not just studying journeys, but also walking them, is the way the brain unhooks at 5 km/hr. Without even trying to, you begin to notice geography, and your own body, and the relationship between the two (as you walk up a long prairie hill, for instance, or start to sweat in the sun). You pay attention in a different way to nature. Or better, nature presents itself to you, when you are available: coyotes sleeping in a burrow, badgers running ahead along the fallow-line, the meadowlark calling from a grey fence-post, a family of otters playing as they cross your path from the river, some old abandoned buildings, the soil at your feet. This is almost impossible at highway speeds. When you walk, you begin to think emotional and philosophical and spiritual thoughts – not because you plan to, but just because of the leisure and the rhythm, maybe even the slight boredom. For those fortunate enough to be able-bodied, the fact is that walking is one of those conscious activities closest to being unconscious, freeing the mind up for contemplation and surprise intuitions. Walking journey connects landscape, body, story and movement in a unique way. For those of us who try to allow space for the spiritual, walking pilgrimage is a gift. It’s meditation for anyone, like me, too undisciplined or lazy to meditate in other ways. Rebecca Solnit puts it this way: Pilgrimage is premised on the idea that the sacred is not entirely immaterial but that there is a geography of spiritual power…. 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” Penguin Books, 2000. Page 50).
6 replies on “Why Walk?”
Reblogged this on from the gap.
thanks Kristin! Hope perhaps you can join us for a bit of the walk this summer?
I think there is an anthropology of mobility to which these experiences point … for further comment, I defer to the great early medieval peregrinus, St Columbanus (AD 543, Kingdom of Meath, Ireland – AD 615, Bobbio, Italy): ” … human life is like a road … we should live as travelers and pilgrims on the road, as guests of the world …” (Sermon 8)
Yes to deferring to St Columbanus, and to the anthropology of mobility (the fact that the metaphor is tired doesn’t mean the experience is!)
I still think walking is a way our feet pray. Had a nice long walk home today turns that reminded me that it is the rhythm of the walk that is really the language of the legs: now slow and plaintive, now hurried and clipped, now nearly stopped to look at, or listen to, a surprise in the many guises available to those outside of the harried pace of the car.
Amen to these thoughts from a theological and poetic peripatetic!