The experience of living mostly outdoors, and walking every day, is slowly soaking into me with a sense of scale, frame of reference, and perspective. It seems good for my soul. Walking near the sea and in the mountains allows me to sense how small I am with reference to all of God’s creation. Disconnecting from my beloved work for a while calms my over-inflated sense of anxiety and importance. And walking, for me is sacramental. (Another post to come on that subject.)
Here’s how I noticed last week, that a sense of perspective was soaking into me: I found myself loving a horse and identifying with a snail. We had walked a long day full of hills and were still far from our destination, so we stopped at the side of a rural road, sat down and peeled an orange. Immediately a huge horse head appeared over the wall above us. Evidently, horses have a strong sense of smell and love orange peels as a snack – who knew? I threw one of the peels over the wall, and then TWO horse heads appeared. One of them wagged back and forth, begging shamelessly. Of course we fed them the rest of the peels. Reflecting at the end of the day, I realized that tremendous joy invaded my day through the horses. The horses were the highlight of a beautiful day. I really cared about how those creatures felt, and I felt love for them. Now I regularly carry orange peels or apple cores for MILES in order to brighten the day of livestock.
At home, I’m a snail hater. For the sake of our garden, I kill them regularly without a second thought. On this pilgrimage, my attitude is changing (maybe only temporarily!). We are walking through country – miles and miles of folksy country, with the occasional large village or small city. Plants and animals, rocks and dirt are our companions throughout the day. Little by little, I feel connected with the land and the creatures around me. Also, we walk slowly. Younger legs (and honestly some older ones) pass us by. So the other day, I noticed myself avoiding snails in the road, going out of my way to not step on them. On reflection, I realized that I was rooting for the snails to get across the road. I actually prayed for some of them. I felt deeply identified with them on their slow pilgrimage to the other side of a long expanse.
Susi and I are praying through Psalms as we walk each day, and today Psalm 37 gave some words to my experiences of perspective. Three times David compares human lives to plants, with the emphasis on sense of scale. Our lives are temporal and passing, like grass and flowers. Even the “flourishing, luxuriant native tree” becomes simple fuel in the end. We are small creatures in the midst of a large universe, and it helps us to experience that truth. Also in the psalm, David reflects on the goodness and permanence of creation. Those who trust in God will inherit the earth in eternity, he notes. So, while I am a small part of an enormous world, God thinks of and cares for me AND for the whole of his creation, horses and snails included.
Pilgrimage is slowly teaching me that I am small but loved. That I am connected to all of God’s good creation. And that loving horses and identifying with snails are signs of God’s intimate love.