Back in a dim and distant past, I was a phys ed major—seems downright extraordinary to me now, but at the time, for a strange season, it fit. In a fluke I was accepted into a top-notch physical education college and so got used to high-octane calisthenics, cross-training, and all-round physicality.
It was not meant to be, clearly. I moved into more cerebral, mystical, and aesthetic pursuits. But I was imprinted. Inside this scrawny frame was a toned athlete, raring to race around the track, spike a game winner, or stick a perfect landing.
I maintained a modicum of fitness through the rigors of parenting, seminary, training, and officership, but the glory was fading and intermittent at best.
And then, two worlds fused: physical exercise and spiritual formation. It began, where many good things begin, in a small group where we worked through the popular Experiencing God book by Henry Blackaby. One assignment was to rise early and walk, praying, talking, and listening with God. I dutifully followed through, choosing the quite beautiful Casco Bay cliffside in Portland, Maine.
My goodness, I can only describe a quite transcendent experience. The old gospel songwriter got it right on: “He walked with me and He talked with me.” For me, Casco Bay, in the crumbling Munjoy Hill district, will always be holy ground.
Like Samuel Logan Brengle on Boston Common, I was loving “the sparrows, the dogs, the horses, the little urchins on the streets, and the strangers who hurried past me.”
What happens when you experience something like that? You go back again, and again, and again. And it fairly stayed the same. I walked and talked with God. And today? I walk and talk with God. I’ve done so in Sydenham, Sydney, and Suffern, and many, many places in between.
Some additional fuel was added to this latent phys ed fire when I read a Time magazine article outlining the long-term benefits of walking as being ultimately more physically helpful than running. And then I read that, for centuries, people have walked in pairs and talked through their problems and concerns—that in the physicality of walking, the release of endorphins and other such intriguingly named chemical secretions actually help humans to process knotted-up complexities.
Come to think of it, I always enjoy a Good Friday pilgrimage, walking through town with an old rugged cross, infinitely more than three hours at the cross seated in a pew.
So, sanctified ramblers, walk on. And as with the startled disciples of old en route to Emmaus, may “Jesus himself draw near.”