slow gait

15 Jun

Havering on The Way_8

Sarah: We keep walking at this pace, quitting smoking isn’t gonna be the problem, surviving will be. [Pointing ahead to Tom] Doesn’t this guy ever stop to smell the flowers? [Sarah stops] This isn’t a race.
Joost: No it isn’t.
Sarah: Then why does it piss me off so much that I haven’t seen him stop to take a break? I mean, why does something that should be inspirational make me so…angry? Totally irrational.
Joost: Same could be said for this entire journey.

When we face the vanity of our best efforts, their triviality, their involvement in illusion, we become desperate. And then we are tempted to do anything as long as it seems to be good. We may abandon a better good with which we have become disillusioned and embrace a lesser good with a frenzy that prevents us from seeing the greater illusion. So, through efforts that may seem to be wasted, we must patiently go towards a good that is to be given to the patient and the disillusioned.  ~ Merton

Walking the Camino, making pilgrimage, living life is meant to be taken in stride.

No prizes for first place or even for finishing.

It’s about what – or more importantly – who you meet along the way.

Tom Avery was driven to accomplish a goal as quickly as possible with as little interference or interaction with others as possible and then to get back to and get on with the life he had chosen.

It’s the way most of us journey through life, if we ever even pause to think about it. Always the next goal, the next appointment, the next meeting, the next event, the next drive, the next big push, the next thrill, the next, the next, the next…

It reminds me of the way I felt when my brother and his family would come to vacation with us. Every day was filled with places to go, sights to see, things to do. Exhausting. Sad that we vacation just like we live – with full agendas. And, of course, we must always be “connected.” Connected with everything but with ourselves, with our surroundings, with God.

We suck at Sabbath.

For most of my life, the question of Sabbath has been an abstract theological one. Is the fourth commandment binding on us today? Is Sunday or Saturday the Sabbath? Which is the genuine Sabbath day for Christian worship?


It’s always helpful if we can at least get to the right question. If Sunday is the Sabbath, then “worshipping” in the traditional church format on Sunday tramples all over it. Sunday “church” is the most chaotic, restless, stressful day of the week for most – particularly if you have kids. It takes an afternoon nap typically to recover from it. And maybe a beer. Sabbath is about stopping, not going – particularly if the going involves making a major expedition with everyone dressed nicely, fed early, loaded up, unloaded, sorted out, regathered, reloaded, and then returning. No wonder such is always primetime for heated arguments and unholy shouts – at a time when we are least able to show the stress fractures on our faces.

Sabbath is ultimately about a way of life rather than the way to a sanctuary. Abraham Heschel calls the Sabbath a palace in time where we learn to stop, not as a means to greater productivity, but as the ultimate point of it all. The crowning act of creation from the viewpoint of Genesis 1 is not the creation of humanity (of course we would think that about ourselves!). It is this emphasized palace in time. To never stop is to miss the point and ultimately to waste our days, no matter how much we think we are accomplishing of enduring value. Heschel’s book The Sabbath is now an annual summer read for me. He states the case beautifully:

He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life. He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man. Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.

This book is an annual read for the simple reason I still haven’t mastered the art of stopping, of walking with a slower gait. My journey through anemia, cancer, surgery and chemo this year has actually provided me with my best and perhaps final opportunity to learn how. Six months of being forced several times each month to sink into a cessation of movement, of productivity, even of “redeeming the time” through reading and writing, just might break me of some very unhealthy obsessions of always moving. Two weeks out of every month I am literally compelled to walk at a slower gait. Good benefit, but some price tag. Is this really what it takes for us to get it? Is this what it takes for us to buy out of a furiously paced culture obsessed with achievements? How sad that Christians can be the most frenzied among us, their frenzy justified by times we perceive (like every generation before us) to be uniquely perilous. So much to be done. There will be rest in heaven. Must do more, save more, work more, reach more. If we don’t do it, who will? There’s a world to be saved – a world to be won for Christ, dammit! Move, move, move. Fall out if you have to and catch your breath, but then get back at it! No time to lose!


Think. If we believe that a new heavens and new earth is where all history is headed and that it will be a place of rest and refreshment – if we literally frenzy our way into it, what makes us think that we will be ready for its rest? Doesn’t a frenzied life now belie the Life we hope for then? What is eternity but an extension and intensification of what we value, cherish and pursue here? Will we be able to tolerate rest then if we are constantly wrung out now?

Read recently that Benjamin Franklin was notoriously late to meetings or failed to show up all together – all depending on the quality of the conversation in which he was engaged at the time. I think he’s my new patron saint. If we know not how to stop and savor conversations and faces now, just cuz, what makes us think we will be ready for the ultimate face-to-face encounters that will take place then? Can we stop to linger over conversations that have little to do with furthering productivity agendas and everything to do with savoring Life?

A friend of mine in writing a critique of an evangelical book calling for us to save the world for Christ, made this marvelous observation:

During my time mapping soils in eastern Idaho, I was the recipient of an agency-sponsored newsletter. One issue had an article giving advice on how to succeed in the workplace. One recommendation that stood out to me at the time was this: always walk about ten percent faster in the office during the work day. The rationale provided was that the additional speed would bolster the impression that you were a busy and productive individual. Others would take notice. It would serve to demonstrate that you were quite the worker bee. My first impression was to think to myself, “Wouldn’t it be a better use of one’s attention and energies at work to try to be doing competent, thorough, careful work with attention to a high quality product? Wouldn’t that be a more sure ‘pathway to success’ than trying to create impressions of busyness and productivity by constantly monitoring how brisk one was keeping their pace in the office?”

Certainly devoting oneself to working with integrity cannot help but to manifest itself for all to see. Instead we are commended to pursue inane self-preoccupied efforts, ever trying to ‘demonstrate’ to others that we are productive. In short, the advice was as stupid then as it now must read as I retell it.

What will it take to get us to stop? What will it take to get us to walk at a slower gait so we can take in, so we can touch, even, the Glory that surrounds us, that is in us? What will it take?

This isn’t a race.

No, it isn’t.

Buen camino.


Posted by on June 15, 2012 in Movies, musings


Tags: , , ,

2 responses to “slow gait

  1. LaWayne

    June 15, 2012 at 3:01 am

    I can’t help but think of how many men hate retirement, when they hang around the house pestering their wives, looking for something of “meaning” to do. Perhaps they’ve never learned to rest in their working years. And to think of an eternity in heaven with “nothing to do”! If the spiritual disciplines are about preparing us for heaven, we American Christians may find ourselves woefully unprepared for that eternal Sabbath.

  2. wordhaver

    June 15, 2012 at 4:06 am

    Totally! 🙂


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