In my previous post I quoted from Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church. This week I’ve been reading her more recent book, An Alter in the World. It’s a great book. I encourage you to read it. If you are like me, Taylor will speak not just to your mind, but to your longing for something more. Taylor discusses practices that help us discover God in the world. She starts with these: Waking up to God. Paying attention. Wearing skin. Walking the earth. Apart from the first, these don’t sound like spiritual practices, do they? But they are. Taylor helps me see that simply paying reverent attention to the world in which I live, I encounter mystery. I begin to wake up to God right here, “in this place.” Taylor encourages me to “take off my shoes,” both figuratively and literally, and feel the holy earth on which I live. In short, Taylor reminds me of the presence of the divine in everyday life, if only I will open my eyes and pay attention!!
Taylor’s chapter on “The Practice of Walking the Earth,” got me thinking about walking. Real walking, she makes clear, means paying attention, slowing down, feeling and listening to where we are. We rush about, focusing on where we are coming from and where we are going to, seldom paying attention to the in between, where we are right now. But Jesus walked—a lot. I can remember musing about why Jesus lived when he did. If Jesus is really God incarnate, God could have arranged this incredible incarnation to occur at any time. Why would God appear in an age before the technology to get around, and the media to spread the word? In the day of the internet, social networking and tweets, Jesus’ message could have “gone viral.” Virtually, the whole world would know about Jesus in just one day!! Much more efficient.
Jesus, however, lived in a time of walking. Taylor writes,
“The four gospels are peppered with accounts of him walking into the countryside, walking by the Sea of Galilee, walking in the Temple, and even walking on water. If Jesus had driven a car instead, it is difficult to imagine how that might have changed his impact. Surely someone could have loaned him a fast horse. Instead he walked everywhere he went, except for a short stint on a donkey at the end. This gave him time to see things, like the milky eyes of the beggar sitting by the side of the road, or the round black eyes of sparrows sitting in their cages at the market. If he had been moving more quickly—even to reach more people—these things might become a blur to him. Because he was moving slowly, they came into focus for him, just as he came into focus for them.”
Maybe there is a reason why Jesus lived in a time of walking. We need to start walking, too. The world is full of sacraments, visible signs of God’s grace. But to us they are a blur. Taylor reminds us to slow down. Following Jesus means taking the time to walk, both literally and figuratively, letting the things around us come into focus. As we do, I believe we’ll see God’s grace, how incredible it is that God has placed us in bodies to walk this wonderful earth. Our eyes will also be opened to the needs of those around us, and ways that God can use us here and now to help meet those needs.
Taylor observes a child, walking along with her parents. “The child has only recently learned how to walk, so she still knows how. She feels the heat radiating up from the sidewalk. She hears the tapping of her shoes on the cement. She sees the dime someone has dropped on the crosswalk, which she leans toward before being yanked up again. The child is so exposed to the earth that even an acorn underfoot would topple her. . . . ”
May God help us learn to walk like children.
For more information on Barbara Brown Taylor, see http://www.barbarabrowntaylor.com/.