Walking

    New Yorkers will say that they are healthier than most Americans, and they’ll attribute their good health to walking. Most people in most places, I think, would not instantly associate “New York City” with the word “health,” yet it is true that New Yorkers walk. In that city it is possible to walk and get what you need—possible, and necessary.
    As I anticipated my move to Dallas, I hoped that I would find a way to keep walking in my new city. The Church Pension Fund, in its “Credo” initiative to encourage clergy health, had given me a mechanical pedometer a bit over a year ago. I got addicted to knowing how many steps I had taken. I also got a lot of pleasure in showing off the little plastic thing. My friends are indulgent. But eventually they, as it were, cleared their throat and told me I needed to get out more. They pulled out their cell phones and showed me how they were already counting their steps, had been counting their steps since about the time Elvis was alive, could draw up their average walking for the past month, the past year, etc. You get the picture.
    When I lost the plastic pedometer, I downloaded an app. I am now even more addicted to this thing. Which is good: it gets me on my feet. I take the stairs, when I can. When I must drive, I park in a far corner. And, although it took awhile, my average Dallas walking has risen above my old New York averages.
    Who says clergy aren’t competitive?

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    There are many long walks, long-trodden paths, pilgrimage ways. There was a young man at Saint Thomas who, fed up with his finance job in California, sold off his goods and took several weeks, walking from the snows of France in February to Santiago de Compostela. He then moved to New York, looked for a new job, and found it. I asked him, eventually, where the “camino” begins. He wisely instructed me: It begins wherever you are.
    For centuries pilgrims have walked to Santiago. Or Jerusalem. Or Rome. Or Canterbury. Or Walsingham. Christians looking, hoping, or escaping, not finding what they expected, finding what was unexpected. But why, I wonder; what is this necessity for the walk? Why a rather difficult walk, a walk that takes a large chunk out of your life (more than a vacation allows), a walk that may be expensive, may be hard, may indeed be dangerous.
    What is this inner drive to walk?
    
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    Jesus called himself, among other things, “the way.” I wonder, do I want to walk because I think I may find Jesus in the “between” places? Surely the thousands upon thousands of pilgrims on the Camino are doing that walk, not to reach the destination (and not to pile up the count of steps on their app!). I think we all have a guess, an intuition, that there is a gift for us in the walking, in the in-between, in (as dear Eliot says) the middle of the way.
    On the other hand, there is a destination for us! Jesus is the way and the destination, and for that matter the origin too. Our life begins in him, it moves in him, and it aims at him. He is one with the Father, who holds all things in being; and he is one with the Spirit, who animates our life from within. Which is to say, there is a trinitarian reality to everything about a Christian life.
    Fellow pilgrims, let us keep walking.

 

Job's Problem

As Morning Prayer works through Job in these weeks, I am brought back to the remarkable commentary by Robert D. Sacks, tutor emeritus at St. John's College in Santa Fe. (This commentary is available online in various places in various parts, and once there was a printing of it.)

Recently I was in Santa Fe and I got to visit Mr. Sacks in his home. He showed me an advance copy of the 2nd edition of his commentary. It is said to be extensively revised, and is to come out in October from Green Lion Press (or more specifically, Kafir Yaroq Books, an imprint of Green Lion). I recommend looking for it. It is both modestly priced and bound, thus (in my view) superior to the previous printed volume (which was expensive) and the online articles (because I continue having a prejudice in favor of printed volumes).

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If you're wondering about that "Mr." in the previous paragraph: At St. John's, all faculty have the same rank, "tutor," and they are all called "Mr." or "Ms." (or sometimes "Mrs." or "Miss"). The books are recognized as the real teachers; the faculty is not to "profess" but to be tutors. It is to my mind a remarkably clear understanding of what goes on in real teaching.

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For the record, I have never objected to being called "Mr. Austin."

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If you want to see a concretization of the problem of Job, compare two verses. At 4:19: we humans "dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth." And at 5:8: "I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause." Both of these verses are spoken by Eliphaz, the first of Job's comforters to speak, and they are in his first speech. For Eliphaz, it seems, there is no problem committing his own cause to God even though God sets up us humans in situations that crush us like moths. For Job, there is a problem.

Both men acknowledge two facts. God lets terrible things happen to human beings. And we must commit ourselves to God. For Eliphaz, this is seemingly an easy thing to do. Job does not deny that both facts are facts. But he does deny that it is easy to hold them together.

As I've said, it's the greatest book of the Bible.

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."