Still Walking

There’s a story about John Paul II. In the final years of his life, when he was able only to shuffle his feet, he moved very slowly past, as I recall, the college of cardinals. It was not a long walk to his chair, but it took long. When he got there, he said (mischievously) the words that Galileo is said to have uttered after signing his name to a statement that the earth was the stationary center of the universe: “Still it moves.”
    We humans move, as long as we can, on our two feet. Babies first crawl, and often in age we need a cane or a walker. The riddle of the sphinx, solved by Oedipus for whom it was true in the opposite form (self-blinded, he crawled on all fours as a man): What has four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening? The answer is man.
    The two legs at noon are the key.
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    I read a good deal of Shane O’Mara’s recent book, In Praise of Walking, which emphasizes the evolutionary advantages of bipedalism. When our ancestors rose up on their hind legs, they were able to carry children, and to carry weapons. This made it possible for the early humanoids to migrate across continents. In the short range, lions and other cats (may I point out again that cats are not our friends?)—I say, lions and such creatures can outrun humans when the range is short. But they are not able to—and in fact did not—cross continents to migrate to new places. In the long run, walkers win.
    O’Mara’s book is interesting in many details. When we walk, our thinking has to move back and forth from solving particular problems (such as, where am I?) to wandering rumination (such as, where am I going with my life?). Rumination is encouraged by the pace of walking (unlike faster transport, such as biking, which requires much more defensive alertness and thus less rumination). But one is also forming a mental map of the path one is walking.
    I have sometimes felt guilty that I don’t do any biking. No more. Walking is the perfectly human pace for locomotion.
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    I don’t recommend the book. Although it has a good deal of practical motivation and particular insight, the author lacks religious faith and makes it clear he would never himself walk a pilgrimage. That, I think, is a blind spot. It we are going to praise walking, we needs must praise pilgrimage.
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    Each of our lives is a path. We are walking. As you will know (if you’ve been reading these posts of mine for awhile) I had planned on walking the Camino de Santiago, and more particularly the Camino Francese, last Eastertide. But Eastertide, like Lent before it, and like the current season, turned into Coronatide. I was (then) going to walk the Camino in August and September, but although the hostels and so forth had reopened in Spain, the continent was (and remains) closed to Darn Yankees. Maybe next Eastertide; who knows?
    But in the meantime it is much on my thought, that all our life is a pilgrimage. The Camino begins whenever and wherever you are when you want to begin. That is to say, although my flight to Spain has been postponed, twice, the commencement of the journey has not been put off. It’s happening now.
    You too are walking. You would do well (as would I) to think of your life in terms of walking. It might well be true that you should (and could) walk more than you do. You can walk, even in small towns or non-coastal cities. But more important is to think of your life as a whole as a walking. We are going somewhere. We can carry some things with us, but not too much. We need to think about concrete, immediate things (what’s for dinner) as well as big things (where we might be going) and many things in between.
    Need I add that the Blasted Virus, the Era of Masks, the Host in a Baggie—all such things are but stations on the way?
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    Out & About. I will be teaching a three-Sunday online class at Incarnation in Dallas, starting October 11 at 10:15 a.m. The class is “Three Things God Didn’t Want but He Got Used To: cities, politics, and sacrifice.” There will be a Zoom-sign-up in due course at incarnation.org.

    The fall theology lecture will be Sunday, October 25: “What’s Special about Anglicanism?” This will be livestreamed on F*book, the “IncarnationDFW” page.
    On the Web. Father Mark Anderson, the rector of St. Luke’s in Dallas, invited me to some conversations on friendship. There are three, and as I write this two have been posted: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=Vpi_Bcu1BPc&feature=emb_logo and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeqBCTjfGIo. The third will be posted this Sunday. Each is 30 minutes.
    A couple of Sundays ago, I preached at St. David of Wales church in Denton, Tex. They have a lovely outdoor “mass on the grass,” and then a later service indoors with choir only, which is broadcast and recorded. I preached on the crossing of the Red Sea. The service is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrRcGH4PgzE — my sermon begins at about 23:20.
    If you have a small group or ... whatever ... and you’d like to bring me in to think with you about friendship, let me know. Friendship is special and interesting and also elusive. Sometimes I have called it the final frontier—because it is the substance of the life to come.

 

 

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."