Monday, August 13, 2007

The Way Is Made by Walking

IVP just released a new book called The Way Is Made by Walking: A Pilgrimage Along the Camino de Santiago by Arthur Paul Boers. The author traces his month-long, 500-mile-long walk on a historic pilgrimage route in northwest Spain. (Cue the retro soundtrack: "I would walk five hundred miles, and I would walk five hundred more . . .") What's most intriguing to me about the book is that it blends spiritual formation with theologically astute cultural analysis. So here are some particularly insightful observations about the physical act of walking:
I also know that my watch moves more slowly when I am on foot. Walking affects not just space and distance but also time itself. In our high-speed way of living—which we intriguingly call “driven”—we miss many things. Christian faith calls us to a different pace of life, and walking is a vital way to achieve that.

In an essay titled “Time by Design,” Linda Breen Pierce argues that driving exposes us “to both faster speeds and greater stimulation” than walking. Consequently the brain must “work harder as you focus on safety and process all that you see.” It pressures us with “a rush of sensory perceptions.” Walking then is not just physically slower but mentally as well. There is less to take in, to process, to absorb. And we are able to deal with what faces us.

Technological culture—in spite of “labor saving” rhetoric and devices—actually makes us busier. Pauses, breaks and respites have disappeared. The norm of multitasking leaves us unaware of what goes on within or around us. But walking can move us into a different mode. Einstein showed that time is relative. Moving on our own two feet has its own pace; I call it the speed of life.

In our culture it is less trouble to drive than to walk, even if that choice is wasteful and unhealthy. Strolling is actually discouraged. . . . I could name dozens of people who drive an hour or two each day to and from work and think nothing of it. It is the price they pay for a job. But I know hardly anyone who walks thirty minutes for their commute, let alone an hour or two. How strange we would regard someone who did that, even though it is far healthier physically, emotionally, spiritually and environmentally.

Walking is an act of dissent; it is countercultural.

Indeed, walking is a demonstration, a demurral. Against flagrant expenditure of nonrenewable resources. In opposition to the noise of motor vehicles. Counter to the ugliness of cities and communities shaped to accommodate cars and discourage pedestrians. In opposition to all the burying of topsoil under asphalt. Mourning for how long one has to go before feet can touch the earth. In remonstration against the danger that cars pose. And on and on.

As I made my little declaration of dissent, I realized that I was not angry. I was joyful and sad, both at once. Gladdened by the opportunity to walk, and regretting that others did not know what they were missing.


Matthew said...

Hi Al,

Love your blog. I just moved to the Chicago area this summer after living in Santiago de Compostela for the past 6 1/2 years doing cross-cultural ministry. Your book "The Suburban Christian" has been great for my wife and I as we learn what it means to live life as ministry in a suburban context.
I was totally shocked when you had a post on the Camino today. One of the most challenging things for us as we return to the states is not being able to walk as much as we are used to. We have been in the parking lot of one store and look and see another store that we want to go to that is in close proximity, but sometimes feel that we should get in the car because there i no clear or safe way to walk to the other store.
The Camino (The way or path) is a great analogy to our faith journey. Before the apostles were called Christians they referred to themselves as followers of the way. If you ever get the chance I would totally recommend doing at least part of the Camino de Santiago!


Al Hsu said...

Thanks for commenting, Matthew. I dropped by your blog(s) and checked out some of your Camino pictures. Very cool.

Yep, one of the reasons I posted this entry is that suburban geography is pretty much built for cars, not for walking, and I love how this book talks about how countercultural the act of walking is, especially in our suburban commuter culture.

L.L. Barkat said...

I have been SO looking forward to this book. Next week, I'll go down to my library and ask them to order it.