Virtual Methodist | Walk on

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I’m on sabbatical currently but that hasn’t stopped me fulfilling my biannual quota of BBC Radio Ulster Thought for the Day’s. So yesterday morning I found myself sitting in the studio delivering the attached live version of my script. It must be said however the subsequent discussions, text traffic and social media interactions were probably more influenced by a brief aside regarding how much I spent for ticket to a U2 gig in the early 80s. What follows is a slightly longer version of the script, with the red text omitted for length and other reasons.

“We make the road by walking.”

This time last week I was preparing for the second day of a three day sponsored walk for Belfast Central Mission, marking their 130th Anniversary and to raise money for their new dementia care facility Copelands which will hopefully open next year. It wasn’t particularly long, around 40 miles, from Carrickfergus, where BCM previously had a residential home called Castlerocklands until around 25 years ago, to the site of the new facility in Millisle, via a number of current BCM projects and Methodist Churches en route.  40 miles is the sort of distance that many would run at a single stretch, and among those walking with me last Friday was a retired lady who has walked long stretches of the famous Camino de Santiago on a number of occasions and another retired man who does 100 mile endurance events for fun. But I am a 54 year old overweight sedentary individual… not so much couch potato as couch turnip, who would do anything to avoid walking. I often attribute this to my Mum who walked the legs off me as a child, putting me off walking for life. Mind you, as a young boy from the Protestant community I did relish the long summer walks associated with the so called “Loyal Orders”; not only the longer and more famous Twelfth of July, but the less well known “Black Saturday” which this year takes place this weekend, the last Saturday in August, marking the end of the parading season.

But these days I would barely walk the length of myself be it the 12th of July, the last Saturday August or any other day, so in preparation for last week I did a lot of walking in different places over this summer. At the beginning of July it was in the Northern Cascades in Washington State, USA, although a number of trails there were closed due to bear activity… The week before my walk I was tramping the streets of Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, where there were no bears, but plenty of street entertainers and festival-goers to avoid… and thankfully the route of my sponsored walk did not involve Edinburgh’s cobbled streets or steep inclines, nor indeed bears.

Everywhere we walk, we walk in a different environment. And walking you become aware of that environment in a way that you never do in a car. Walking also means that you can’t do quite so much in a day, so perhaps if we walked more not only would it have a positive impact on the environment and our weight, but our stress levels; both stress created by how much we try to cram into our diaries, and that caused by being unable to process what is going on in a world that, increasingly doesn’t seem to know where it is going, but is going there very fast. 

The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are packed with journey stories, and repeated references to walking… because back then the vast majority of people walked everywhere… Moses told the people of Israel to “walk in obedience” to God and a number of individuals were said to have “walked faithfully with God”; the Psalms begin with a warning not to walk with the wicked, but later Psalms including 23 assure us that God will be with us wherever we walk; the prophecy of Isaiah promises that we will be guided by a voice telling us “This is the way; walk in it” with Jesus later famously claiming to be “The way, the truth and the life”, while Micah exhorted people “to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” But all such statements are merely trite sayings if we effectively remain spiritual couch potatoes.

The words with which I began are an English translation of a line by Spanish poet Antonio Machada, popularised by Paolo Freire, Brazilian educationalist and social activist. Machada says:

“Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; 

wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. 

By walking one makes the road, 

and upon glancing behind 

one sees the path that never will be trod again.”


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