Thursday, July 8, 2010

God, Life and Everything - Walking

I write a column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

I must apologize. For some reason, I neglected to post my columns from the past month. The next four posts are those columns.

As you read this, the World Cup is wrapping up. This final is almost here, and I’ll be watching.

But then it’ll be over. After all that sitting in front of a TV, after all that adrenaline, after all those delusional thoughts of, “If I were a bit younger, I could play better than that clown,” what’s left? How do we overcome the inevitable sports hangover?

Take a walk.

The fifth century theologian and bishop Augustine of Hippo once said, “Solviture ambulando” (It is solved by walking). And while he was talking spiritually, walking does indeed solve or at least help in so many areas of our lives.

In the physical realm alone, walking may be one of the best things you can do for yourself. Better than going to the gym or playing on a team, regular walking keeps you fit, costs very little to do, is easy on the joints and muscles, can be done year round and is open to most of us. You don’t even have to learn how to play because you already know!

Of course, you can overdo it. Stretching, proper shoes, and proper posture are important, especially if you start walking long distances on an ongoing basis – but it doesn’t take that much to get going. And if you’re just starting out, start with short walks.

There’s something else wonderful about walking. Unlike so many of our sports (which I love, mind you), most walking is noncompetitive. Okay, there are competitive walkers, but that’s not most of us.

Most people walk to stay in shape. They walk to enjoy the great outdoors. They walk for the sheer joy of it. Just by walking, you win.

Or better yet, you get out of the mode of winning/losing. Those terms are meaningless in walking. You don’t beat anybody because there’s nobody to beat – it just is.

I know we live in a competitive society where we talk about winners and losers in every aspect of life. But walking reminds us that this is not how life really is. Life is not won or lost – it is lived. And it is those who constantly feel they must win at everything who are the poorer in the end.

Because in the end, we will all die, leaving this earth with no more and no less than we came into it with – ourselves. You can’t win extra life or extra youth. As Christians, we don’t even believe you can win life after death. It simply is; a gift we have no way to earn. Those we call losers have it just as much as those we call winners.

Walking out in the woods or a rail trail or on the Walkway over the Hudson (despite the $5.00 parking fee! Here’s an idea: park on the street and walk to the Walkway!), helps us appreciate the bodies God has given us. It helps us feel physically connected to the world – which we often don’t after endless hours of television or web surfing.

By the way, if we start walking more, not only will we be healthier but the planet will, too. The more we walk, the less we need our cars. Who knows, maybe if we walk around our neighborhoods more, we’ll meet more neighbors (okay, I live next to a graveyard – bad example – but you...).

St. Augustine encouraged walking as a way to be alone and be with God. He used it as a form of prayer. In a world that sees physical activity as something largely left to the professional athletes, in a world that sees most human interaction in terms of wins or losses, that is a prayer we can all take part in.