Why walk? Lessons from the week

CornwallCogitation2015#2 (15 February)–Why walk?

The obvious answer, if you can walk, is exercise. Also, walking gives you time to think, breathe fresh air, enjoy nature. There’s more. Let’s see what more is revealed in a ramble we took last Thursday with members of The West Cornwall Footpaths Preservation Society.

The Society’s auspicious name is well deserved. The group does weekly walks, occasional work parties, educational events and gives keen attention to keeping footpaths open and maintained.

Thirty of us gathered at Gulval, near Penzance, for a four-mile walk (another member group does an eight-mile walk).  We started out at 11am, heading along the edge of a cauliflower field recently harvested. In a meadow, skylarks stopped us in our tracks as they bolted into the sky. It was a wonderful sight, and scolding sound, from birds whose numbers have declined by half in recent years, At noon we stopped to eat our picnic lunches. Thereafter the path soon wound across four or five fields spread with slurry. No one seemed to be overly put off by the smell or the slime. We were out in the open, hearing birdsong, seeing early signs of spring, joined in an invigorating ramble.

Going about in the out-of-doors replenishes one, say, like a nourishing meal. As the meal feeds the body, the activity in the natural world feeds the spirit. One person on the walk said, “It’s great to be alive.” Right on. We were experiencing a tonic, a sense of togetherness, an “I-Thou” relationship, as the late Jewish philosopher Martin Buber said, rather than an “I-It” one.

How we engage with ourselves and with others, and with God’s creation, does offer the potential for an intimate, even speechless, “I-Thou” relationship with our Maker. Life offers many “I-Thou” opportunities. I like this quote from David Young: “As you age, your life should expand, not contract, and your spirit should grow.” That’s from his book, Celebrating the Rest of Your Life: A Baby Boomers Guide to Spirituality (Augsburg, 2005). In retirement we’re aiming to stay connected to the people, friends, world, Saviour and Spirit–I-Thous–that God took the trouble to give us.

After church today we walked to the restaurant at the Wyevale Garden Center in Lelant, five-miles round-trip. We were too late for lunch so we had afternoon tea–sandwiches, scone, jam and clotted cream and piece of lemon cake. We ate it all, even if we would have preferred the salmon that they had offered for lunch.

On our way to Lelant we took a Public Footpath across fields that had wet spots at the stiles. We managed well until the last field. There I had to roll a loose stone into the mud to be able to get on without sinking deep into the stuff. As we got into the field, what should appear but a herd of young cattle. Curious, up close, the whole herd gathered and stared at us.

I talked to them as we cautiously moved toward the exit stile. They followed. One started to get frisky, more in a challenging than in a happy-to-see-you-in-our-pasture way. I put out my hand and commanded, “Stop!” They stopped. We breathed easier once out of the field. Laughed even. These were not cows. They looked like bulls, or steers, young cattle in any case.

Thankfully we didn’t need to go home the same way. It was one of those “I-It” encounters, though I thank our guardian angels for every “I-Thou” aspect of being protected and guided through that brief field experience. I believe they (the angels, not the cattle) are smiling, too. Thanks be to God. -John

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