Taking time to see life at a walking pace

Published June 1, 1999

`With practice I’ll do it in 25 minutes’

YEARS AGO friends of ours bought a house and we went to visit them in their new surroundings. They had moved to a location nearer to where they both worked, and I observed that they could probably even walk to work in good weather. “Oh yes,” replied Dan. “I’ve already done it, and it takes 20 minutes. But with practice I’ll be able to do it in 25.”

I thought that was a wonderful, impressive comment then, and it means even more to me now. Taking time to walk becomes more important to me with every passing year. When I am on retreat I have two paces of walking. One pace is for exercise, and is as vigorous as I can manage it; the other is for reflection, and is as leisurely as I can make it without becoming a hazard to others on the path or the sidewalk.

I use the leisurely pace especially when I am walking a familiar route. I find that if I take my time I can notice things that are different, and if I really keep my eyes open, I notice things that have always been there but that I had not seen before. Every few years I vary my route to work, and each time it takes a bit longer. That’s fine for two reasons: first, I wake earlier with each passing year; and second, I need to walk more with each passing year. (My present route always guarantees me a seat on the streetcar, and provides two kilometres of walking a day; I appreciate both those blessings.) The only drawback to leisurely walking in a city is the need to be on the lookout for uneven pavement; I’ve already fallen once where the pavement was uneven, thereby sharing in a common experience of older people and in the most common cause (outside of events in the home) for admissions of elderly people to emergency wards in Canada.

This is a serious drawback because it prevents me from observing the world around me and paying attention to things other than myself. Just studying the sidewalk concentrates my mind on myself and my own well being rather than focussing my mind beyond myself.

Every time I walk along a street on which I usually drive, I realize how full the street is of things I never notice when I go past them more quickly. People, houses, buildings and gardens all have more character when I see them as a pedestrian than as a driver or even as a passenger. I often think that seeing things at a walking pace is closer to the way God wants me to see them, perhaps even closer to the way God actually sees them.

In my contemplation of the wonder of God, a reflection that always staggers me is that God sees, contemplates and cherishes every creature, every insect, every blade of grass, every flake of snow, and me, simultaneously and profoundly. One step along the path to godliness, God-like-ness, must surely be the imitation of God in this loving concentration on all the multitudinous works of God. So I pray with the Psalmist that the Lord will bless my going out and my coming in and all the steps in between.

Archbishop Michael Peers is Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.


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