Friday, January 28, 2011

Life Undivided: Walking Home

What do these things have in common?
  • a man sitting in the grass, playing his guitar and singing to a seven or eight children
  • a sign reading “Warning: High Drug Trafficking Area. Do Not Loiter”
  • fragments of all kinds: pieces of vinyl albums, newspapers, and once, a gun
  • a pony
  • magnolia, crepe myrtle, live oak, and pecan trees
  • men and women gathering pecans into plastic grocery bags
  • goats 

Answer: Each item appears on my “Seen While Walking to Church in Waco” list. 

During my first two years in Texas, I lived about a mile and a half from my church, and during those years, I only drove to Sunday worship four or five times. Every other Sunday, I walked.  While this record may seem quirky or counter-cultural, for me it was intuitive.  Growing up, my family lived barely three blocks from our church, and in college, I attended the church that was across the street from my dorm room.  I did not own a car until I moved to Texas for graduate school, and so while I could have driven to any number of churches, I first visited congregations within walking distance (I had several good choices; this is Texas, after all). My trek to Calvary Baptist was longer than either my childhood or college walks, but I came to treasure those Sunday mornings.  Though very thankful for a reliable car, I have never enjoyed driving, and Sunday became a day I could rest from the rush and worry of controlling an automobile (or automobeast, as I used to call them). 
My view of Colcord Avenue on a typical Sunday morning. The blue is the underside of my parasol--a necessity for walking on a summer day in Texas. 

I mention these walks, and the strange list they helped me compile, because as I continue to ruminate on what makes a place home, I have realized that home is a place I walk. For most of my life, it has also been a place from whence I walk to church. When I moved to my current apartment, I was much closer to campus, the river, the city park, and many other good things, but I could no longer continue my Sunday ambles (Rising at five am to walk across town doesn’t make me feel very reverent). Losing those walks, however, made me realize how important they were to making this city home.

The benefits of walking through the this city for so long makes that curious inventory precious to me. Week after week, I walked the same route: from Maple Avenue to Colcord, from Colcord through a little web of back streets that brought me to the church building. From a car, this route is hardly lovely: a few blocks of stately houses soon gives way to shabbier buildings, unkempt yards, overgrown lots, and at least one intersection with a bad reputation. There are few reasons to linger if you are simply passing from one side of town to another. 

By walking, however, I had the time to see and know this place.  The broken things I saw, whether weapons or windows, frightened me, but gave me prayers for my neighborhood. The trees and the people and the goats became familiar and beautiful.  Eventually, the women on their porches or the guys working on their cars would say hello, asking me, “You goin’ to church?”

I never did learn the story behind the pony. 

Walking used to be my primary mode of transportation--not only to church, but to school, the grocery store, or any other place I needed to be. In college, my church was on a hill, and I would let myself wander for miles in any direction, knowing I could find my way back once I caught sight of the steeple. Both in Indiana and Tennessee, I often walked to the places where I worked, studied, and shopped. While dating both my high school and college boyfriends, we spent most of our time together rambling through neighborhoods around our houses.  These walks always lasted for hours, and even now I somehow expect to see those bright boys whenever I return to one of those Indiana streets. 

But there is something particularly beautiful about walking from house to church, knowing that with every step I am treading both to and from home.  I used to joke that living alone took all the fun out of being an introvert, but my Sunday walks invariably restored the joy of solitude, blessing me with the tension between walking alone and worshipping together.

Perhaps I can put this all another way: home is a place I reach with weary feet, a place I rest and realize that my hair smells like a February wind. Home is a place I leave in order to arrive. Home is a place I am content in solitude and in community. Home is a place I know what is ugly and notice what is beautiful. 

Home is a place it takes a long time to reach, a place I can see and name long before I arrive.  


  1. Great post. This brings back memories of walking to the Amish church when I was a child. We lived less than a mile from the church, so it was much easier to walk than to hitch up a buggy. And many people lived within a close radius of the church, so I/we were often joined by neighbors who would also walk. Walking to a place and returning home again after being somewhere gives a very different sense of journey than motoring or even riding a horse somewhere. The smells, the sights, the sounds, the feelings - the breeze, the floating dandelion seeds, the mooing cows, the drifting leaves, the singing crickets, the growing crops and trees, a bounding deer or honking Canadian goose migrating south or back north again... the the throb of life on earth was different. You are tempting me to take up walking again.

  2. In days to come I want to walk from my house to yours once a year...

  3. Walks contain some of my favorite memories and stories. I think of my 20th birthday saunter in New Mexico wondering up and down mountains all afternoon, then a walkabout that lead me into a cop, a crazy man, and a old spring, and then the time walking,on my Grandfather's farm, following a spring, until I found myself in the backyard of high school friend's house.

    The last few years my walks were accompanied by my ipod shuffle, filled with books or podcasts. One night I walked for about five hours listening to a book and during my walk I walked into UT's library, found the book, found where the speaker was in the book, and read with her for a few pages. Then I put the book away and walked back home four miles. The last mile was in the rain.