Saturday, April 6, 2013

Walking is good for the soul

Today I must finish responding to a student's 50-page thesis draft; plan two medieval dances to teach a group of honors students; research hotels in Venice and catacomb tours for Rome; reckon my tax returns, read Book 8 of Middlemarch, and prepare lessons on Paradise Lost. 

Some Saturdays, this ambitious list would have me burrowing into my pillow for an extra hour, reluctant to begin a non-stop day, especially after a month of Saturdays filled with moving plans, preparation, and labor. This morning, however, I did far better thing: I went for a walk.

After sleeping, walking is one of my Favorite Things. For my first nine years of school, I walked between home and school nearly every day, and and we almost always walked to church, as well. In college, when I did not own a car, I walked not only to class, but to church, for errands, and for recreation. I would spend hours wandering the neighborhoods around campus, or making wide circuits on the walking and biking trail by the railroad tracks. During grad school, I took advantage of a beautiful riverside walking trail that ran behind Baylor's Law School and athletic facilities. I paced that trail while chewing on thesis statements, praying, laughing with friends, wondering if I could be in love, listening to new music, dreaming of life after the dissertation.

Here in Alabama, our campus is beautiful for walking, but my apartment, dear in so many ways, did not encourage wandering. Venture beyond the fence of the complex itself, and you stumble onto a very busy road. My new neighborhood, however, invites walks, strolls, strides, and many other forms of perambulation. In fact, the older parts of the city were actually designed to be pedestrian communities, so the architectural front of my house faces a sidewalk, not a drive-able street.

From my house (my house!) I can easily walk to several general stores, to the library, the park, to Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, and Catholic churches. I can walk to the homes of several friends. Today, I walked to a community yard sale. Here are some of the reasons I believe walking is so good for the soul:

* Walking changes my sense of time. I become eager for the hopeful twilight of morning hours, so I will rise early in order to walk. I expect walking to take time, much more time than a car, and so I set aside all hurrying instincts. If someone invites me to step inside for a few minutes, I am much more likely to say 'yes' if I have walked there.

* Walking encourages me to pray. Without the distractions of work or internet at hand, my mind settles into a rhythm of watchfulness. If I pray at home in the mornings, I nearly always fall asleep or find my mind wandering. With my body occupied by walking, my mind regains its simplicity, and if I notice something--a child's swing, a house needing repair, a church--my attention carries it into prayer as if it were part of my breathing. Prayer-walking is a spiritual discipline I have loved since my teens, and after so many years, walking nearly always feels like a form of listening, thanksgiving, confession, or intercession.

* Walking keeps me aware of and wise for my body. Too much sitting produces half-formed appetites and unwise cravings. Fresh air, light, and movement make me deeply and properly hungry for good food.

* Walking enriches both solitude and community. I never mind going for a walk by myself. Indeed, when living in community, walks often become my best recourse for much-needed solitude. At the same time, some of the best conversations I have had with friends have come while walking. Today, I walked to the yard sale, met my friend Grace and one of her daughters, and then walked back home with Grace to help her carry the fabric she had purchased. Had we been in cars, we would have bid one another farewell and parted ways, but instead we chatted about sewing plans, about the university, about the children, the students. Little Alathea sang us a song about polka dots.

* Walking teaches me to love a place. For my first two years in Texas, I walked to church nearly every Sunday. I meditated on those walks in one of my first blog entries (read it here), realizing that without them, I would not have come to love Waco nearly so deeply or so well. May the same be true for Alabama.

This week, I challenge you to walk somewhere you would normally drive--the grocery store, school, a friend's home. Come back and share what you notice! 

Setting out for a morning walk along Grant Street

Through the park.....

...and across the bridge.

Yard sale! 

Headed home from Grace's house. This is the "street" my house is on. 

I notice more when walking. 

Learning to love the way home. 


  1. This week, Lucas & I spontaneously decided to walk to our church (across town). Lucas labeled it a 3 mile walk (it took almost 1.5 hours). We got to talk, hold hands, and dream together. It was fun.

  2. Beautiful and well needed reminders, Bethany...Thanks!

  3. You certainly had a lot of things to do, and I agree that walking can have many benefits in our lives. And it is good to have a break every once in a while when writing thesis. That way, it can be a way to refresh the mind that would help a lot to formulate the thesis ideas. Anyway, I do hope everything would be good. But, from hearing what you’re doing, I know that everything would be.