This morning a friend from Canberra forwarded us a reflection on walking called: Keep Moving. It noted that walking was good for physical health but that it is also good for spiritual health. It recalled the many stories of the New Testament where Jesus and/or the disciples were walking, not just physically from one place to another but also spiritually: walking away from the old way towards a new way of being closer to God.
Walking is also great for our relationship.
For many years, we’ve been in the habit of taking a walk together after dinner. It is our time to debrief and reconnect. Sometimes we’ll do an extra lap of the block so that we have time to finish a conversation but mostly we’re done talking by the time we’ve completed our usual route.
Walking brings a number of practical benefits. Firstly, in a busy household like ours, being on the move and out of the house gives us privacy. Much as we love chatting with our kids, we have no desire to bring them with us on this sacred pastime.
Secondly, walking allows for silence without one or both of us looking for the door or reaching for the smartphone. We can have pauses in our conversation and because we’re still four blocks from home, we can stay silently in each other’s company without it feeling intolerably awkward. Walking makes these silences productive.
Finally, walking helps us to discharge intense emotion. When we are aroused with frustration, sadness, shame, anxiety or any other uncomfortable emotion, physiologically our bodies change. We become like the hyperactive kid who just drank a litre of red cordial. We’re wired and it’s really hard to sit still, be focussed and be other-centred when we’re in this state. There’s just too much energy going to our muscles and we become fidgety and physically agitated. The bodily exertion of walking, even though slight, helps to dissipate this excess energy so that our bodies to return to a more relaxed state, and allowing us to wrangle our distracted mind!
Walking has become one of our prized connection rituals and something that we know is an excellent measure of our relationship health. When we’re too busy, or we’ve lost the rhythm of the daily walk, our relationship soon starts to show the cracks of discontent. After the inevitable hurt or argument, we are reminded again of the value of this simple practice.
But it’s not just about talking which we could just as easily do in the lounge or car. The walking is conducive to a more reflective process. Perhaps it’s being out in the night air which automatically connects us to the natural world with its unique wildlife (in our suburb this means possums and fruit bats and the neighbour’s twin cats). Perhaps it’s being away from the usual distractions of emails and phone, kids’ homework and chores.
Whatever. The thing is, something happens to us when we step out that front door for our evening walk; something changes and we stop being parents, house-mates, colleagues and instead become a couple journeying together in this path of life. It’s like our daily ‘examen’; the practice of reflecting on one’s spiritual challenges and triumphs that Saint Ignatius prescribed for his followers.
We are convinced that the value of our walking ritual is not simply human, there is also something spiritual happening. Recall the resurrection appearance of Jesus to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Tradition holds that these disciples were a married couple. How interesting to reflect on this story from this perspective: Jesus appearing to the couple as a stranger, instructing them in the scriptures, allowing himself to be recognised through the ‘breaking of bread’.
As a couple, our way to God is ‘through’ each other and not ‘despite’ the other! Our evening walks help deepen our relationship, bring us closer and help us find the capacity to be more loving towards the other.
This time together is a form of spiritual exercise that is reflected in our physical experience: we’re walking and on the move. We’ve left stagnation behind for the natural energy boost that comes with physical exertion.
We’ve also got a supernatural boost. It’s not so much about where we are going, but about the journey itself, a journey we’re on together!