A Lenten Reflection: Sometimes we should walk where we normally run.
My mom tells me that I’ve been running from the time I learned to walk. She smiles as she says, “If I wanted a hug from you, I knew I would have to hug you on the run.”
I come by it honestly. My dad is one of those rare people who can do more in an hour than most can do in a day. In the office where he has worked for my entire life, his employees have grown accustomed to the sound of him entering (and exiting) the building. The way he flings the door open creates a whoosh of air and a slight shake of the wall that has become his calling card. Everyone knows its him, because no one else opens the door that way…except me.
Anyone who knows me knows that I like to get things done, and I like to get them done as quickly as possible. When I wash the dishes, I strategically try to figure out the best way to finish in the least amount of time. Do I rinse and then put them in the dishwasher? Do I just give up on the dishwasher and wash them all by hand? Should I wash the silverware first then the plates, or should I just do it in the order they are stacked on the counter? Is it better to use the washcloth or the brush? If I use the brush first will I have to clean bits of food out the bristles later?
I find myself “running” to the grocery store. “Running” to the office. “Running” out to meet a colleague for tea. “Running” to take Q to school and pick him up again. Running, running, running. Even the language I use pushes me to accomplish things as quickly as possible.
One of my favorite places in the world, is the Hakarimata Summit Track located a short 15- minute drive from our home. It’s a short and intense hike through New Zealand native bush that ends with a beautiful view of the surrounding area. On a clear day, you can see the Tasman Sea located about 45 kilometers (28 miles) away. To borrow a phrase from Celtic Christianity, it is a thin place where, for me at least, the veil between heaven and earth is very thin. It’s a place to soak in the presence of God that is so actively present in nature.
I usually make the climb two or three times each week as part of my fitness routine. As with most exercises, I set goals for myself. I want to get stronger and faster. I want to increase my lung capacity. I want to try and achieve a personal best time from top to bottom every now and then. My competitive streak says I want to pass people on the way up and down, but I don’t want to be passed myself.
All of this focus on fitness has its place, but I’ve noticed lately that on those days when I’m pushing myself the hardest, I often gain the least from the experience of being in this thin place. When my heart is pounding in my ears and I’m short of breath, I miss the sound of running water and the trills of birds. I don’t notice the way the tree roots curve and plunge into the ground seeking the nutrients and moisture provided by the soil. Or that the sound of cicadas seems to be lessening as autumn approaches.
At times, I’ve entered the place where God’s presence is, but I have not experienced that Presence. Maybe that means I’ve been running too much.
As one of my Lenten practices these past weeks, I have been trying to walk where I usually run. Last week I decided to just walk the Hakarimata Trail. As I entered the trail, I noticed the temperature drop and the moisture in the air increase. The bubbling stream along the trail began to ease my frazzled nerves. As I passed the waterfalls where the trail gets steeper and the wooden steps begin, I noticed that the lack of rain over the past weeks is beginning to show. I heard the sounds of Tuis in the trees, watched a group of fantails hunt insects in the canopy, and marveled at the rays of sun as they glimmered in the last wisps of fog at the summit. I stepped into a small clearing at the top and was met with the sight of the mighty Waikato River cutting across the landscape.
By walking where I usually run, I was experiencing a sense of God’s presence that I only find when I get out into nature and listen to the testimony of God’s handiwork. I heard God’s voice in the Tui’s call, I saw God’s splendor in the majesty of the river, I felt God’s breath in the pumping of my own lungs, and God’s creativity in the leaves of the trees and the curves of the koru.
As I came down the mountain refreshed from my time in God’s creation, I wondered what this posture of walking would look like in the rest of my life.
What if I “walk” to the grocery store, who would I meet? What would I notice God doing there? What conversations would I have?
What if I “walk” to the office? Are there relationships that I’m missing out on? Are there things God would have me do in that space that I am currently moving too quickly to hear or see?
What if I “walk” out to meet a colleague for tea. Will I be more present with them? Will I see more deeply into their life? Will I be more aware of the value of that person and of this relationship? Will I be God’s grace to them? Will they be that for me?
What if I “walk” Q to school and back again? What will I notice about his school, his classroom, his teacher? Will I better see the world through his wonderful 6-year-old eyes? Will we climb more trees, kick more balls, examine more bugs, pick up more rocks?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but during this Lenten season I am trying my best to walk more where I usually run. As I do so, I trust that God will meet me in the thin places I’m bound to notice along the way.