(Another guest post from Jason here… along with a note about Susi after her last post about walking through pain. She is walking well and getting stronger along the way! You will hear from her again soon.)
I was hiking up our biggest ascent on the Camino so far, about 1000 meters climb over a few kilometers – next to D, a Spanish twenty-something who left an excellent job in order to discern his true calling. That is already an awesome day for me: mountain climbing while having a conversation in Spanish with a young adult interested in eternally significant things. I love every part of that. But it got better, because D gave me my new favorite Spanish saying: “Andar es pasear el alma.” It means something like, “to walk is to let your soul take a stroll,” or, “to walk is to process your soul in a peaceful way.” I think it is the best description to date, of my sense that walking is sacramental.
Now a disclaimer and some context. I realize that using the language of sacrament is dangerous, as it means different things in different traditions, and is VERY important. Please forgive any offense or let me make it right. In the meantime, this is what I mean right now, in this post, by sacrament. Sacraments are concrete physical actions that allow people to experience the real presence of God, especially when practiced with expectant faith. I suppose that even if you don’t believe in God, there are actions that draw you to something deeper, more transcendent. I often live my life too much on the surface, concerned with many small details, and yet miss the expectation of the Divine. Sacraments help people like me connect with God.
I like what N.T. Wright says in The Way of the Lord. He offers a: “reminder… of the fact that all of life is, so to speak, sacramental; that the world is charged with the grandeur of God, and that what we do with water, bread and wine in the official sacraments of the Church is simply the tell-tale sign of reality in a world where God’s glory will flame out unexpectedly. Thus, too, a rebuke: that we so often content ourselves with going through the motions of a pattern of Christian discipleship that stays on the surface, that doesn’t get too excited or exciting, when not far away there are levels of reality, of God’s reality, waiting to be discovered, if we will take time and care…”
Walking helps me experience the presence of God. It allows me to relax and process what is going on in my soul, but also in the world around me. Walking slows me down enough to actually pray about what has just passed and what is coming. It allows me to notice, to expect, to remember, and to hope. When I walk, I see the world from a different perspective, and I notice and appreciate God’s voice. There is something about the physical experience combined with a slower pace that puts my soul aright. When I walk with others, I find that conversations take surprising and deep turns. Caminar es pasear el alma.
These are the kinds of reflections that come when you take a 500 mile walk across Spain, I suppose. But I am resolving to do more walking even when I return, and to practice it as a sacrament, full of expectant faith.