Transformed by walking

Post 49/2021 Saturday 4 December . . . Converting water to steam, effects a transformation. By boiling water, you change or convert a thing into a different thing. Digesting food converts it to energy. Reading books converts them to entertainment, information, inspiration. Going on a walking pilgrimage can effect a personal transformation.

The latter effect is what I read in Arthur Paul Boers’ book, THE WAY IS MADE BY WALKING (InterVarsity Press, 2007). I’ve just reread it, some of it for the first time.

In 2008, we took the book with us on a month of walking in north Wales from a base in Conwy. (As I was reading, I found Marty’s Boarding Pass for the KLM Cityhopper from Amsterdam to Manchester (27/AUG08), used as a bookmark). At a fellowship evening for seniors at the Methodist church, just across the street from our lodging, we met a man in his 80s who the previous summer had walked the 500-mile-long Camino de Santiago (The Way of St Paul) with his daughter. We told him about our friend Arthur Paul Boers and before we could add another word, he said, “I’ve read his book!” Another pilgrim!

We have not walked the Camino in Spain, but more than a dozen times we’ve walked the connecting 13-mile-long St Michael’s Way path in Cornwall, UK. St Michael’s Way crosses Cornwall, linking Ireland to France on into Spain and then to Italy, all part of the Santiago de Compostela Pilgrim Way, of which the 500-mile-long Camino, starting on the French-Spain border, is the central part. The European Network of Pilgrim Ways represents a “collective memory . . . overcoming distances, frontiers and language barriers,” notes a guide to St Michael’s Way.

Like Arthur, we have walked the 550-mile (890 km) Bruce Trail in Ontario, Canada. In our copy of his book he wrote, “Fellow Bruce Trail Pilgrims!” and added “Psalm 84:4.” The verse heads Chapter 9, “Secular Seekers, The Disconnect of Pilgrims and Church:” “Happy are the people whose strength is in you! Whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.” (Book of Common Prayer)

In Chapter 9, Arthur said many of the pilgrims were unchurched. “A good number did not consider themselves even nominal Christians. At the end of the pilgrimage a young fellow who said he was not religious nevertheless told me he was surprised that so few pilgrims called themselves believers. . .. Before the trip he anticipated vigorous group discussions on faith, God and the meaning of life. But that seldom happened for him.”

Arthur saw his walk on the Camino as a pilgrimage of prayer, listening to others and to God enroute in both personal and spiritual reflection. In the Foreword, Eugene Peterson noted, “We are immersed in a compelling documentation–detail after–detail, conversation after conversation–that prayer on the road has to do as much with feet as with faith, moving, in his words “at the speed of life.”

Seeking health and wellbeing in such an endeavor is indeed one aspect of a pilgrimage walk, but the blisters, thirst, and other challenges of the route belie that there’s something deeper at work in the walk. For Arthur that involved a desire to know God better. Rather than a travel memoir, the book is an account of engaging in an activity that leads to life change, a transformation in which you remain the same but also a different human being.

I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with Arthur in his Camino and related reflections along The Way of Saint James. We’ve not seen each other since he and Lorna moved back to Ontario after teaching at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.

I’ll conclude by quoting the second last paragraph of chapter 9: “If the church took pilgrimage lessons more seriously, we might yet connect with people of good faith who still want and long to meet God. Their hearts, as Augustine taught us, are also restless. We could learn again from pilgrims. We’d be in good company. Jesus often journeyed with people on the move. It was there that he taught followers, encountering and evangelizing newcomers. There he listened to questions and concerns. There he observed how people lived and what preoccupied them. The road was where he was usually found, and it was his classroom, podium, laboratory and sanctuary.” Last paragraph: “It could be ours as well.”

Boots on for Boot Lake Nature Preserve

Boot Lake is a 300-acre area of prairie, forest and wetland, managed by Elkhart County Parks. The Boot Lake flyer says: “Nature Preserves are living museums and contain a record of Indiana’s natural character.”

We heard a few birds and our own swish, swish sound of boots walking on leaf covered trails.
On the edge of Boot Lake, we saw these Sandhill Cranes, a species the brochure identifies as of Special Concern, including Osprey, American Woodcock, Grasshopper Sparrow and Eastern Box Turtle.
Sandhill Cranes stretched around the right side of the lake as far as we could see.
The woodland includes a section of Red Oaks.
Looking south from a looping woodland trail.
The prairie.
Leaving Boot Lake Nature Preserve, with the resolve to return and walk areas we missed this time round.

Sunset, stars, sunrise

Following are images from a few days spent with family Gerald and Mary at Oliver Lake. Not pictured, the euphoria with which Marty and Mary celebrated winning two games of Canasta. There’s always next year.

Sunset on Wednesday.
Three stars, visible, Wednesday night.
Sunrise Thursday.

Cold Weather Prayer

Prayer reprinted from The Social Responsibility News, December 2021 / January 2022, of the Diocese of Truro, Cornwall, UK. Author not attributed.

Watch over your children,
Especially those with no homes to return
to at the end of long and weary days.
Protect them from all harm and keep
them from despair.
Open the hearts and eyes of those of us
with blessings to share.
Unite our voices in a call for justice:
So that no man need ever lay down
for the night on a wooden park bench
because he has no home;
So that no woman need ever tuck her
children into the backseat of her car
because she has no home;
So that no child need ever wonder,
"Where will I feel safe?" because they 
have no home;
So that all those who wander and all 
who are in need, find the shelter and the 
peace they seek.
Remind us, O God, that we cannot rest
fully secure in our homes each night until
all your children are at last, home.


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