Hiking – “I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”John Muir
Walking the mall with my older sister Sherry was a challenge. Back in the day when malls were shiny and new and novel, our family would take an afternoon to explore the retail hallways of Towne East in Wichita. Hickory Farms, Chess King, United Colors of Benneton, Radio Shack, and Orange Julius — all the classic 80s stores were there, doorway to doorway, sprawling out over a million square feet, divided into two levels. There was a waterfall fountain in the middle that was so loud you had to talk at the top of your voice if you were near it. The fountain was turned off for a piano recital on the adjacent stage where I played when I was about eight years old. With that great, rambling expanse to explore, we sauntered through, window shopping mostly, saving our dollars and dimes for purchases at less expensive stores such as K-Mart. But my sister Sherry, who is deaf, always seemed to walk as if there were a definite destination and a deadline to get there; she was on a hike. She’d get three or four storefronts ahead of us, and I, being the youngest in the family, was sent dashing ahead to get her attention and slow her down.
Now walking is a challenge for her. Even short walks are exhausting, and a longer walk in a park or mall is impossible. But still, my impression is that when she walks, you can see a determination to get somewhere. Anywhere.
This is the challenge of a spiritual walk, whether it’s a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, or the inner pilgrimage of life. Many of us struggle with an impulse to have a direction, a destination, in mind, and the time and effort spent getting there is a necessary evil. The point of traveling to Bethlehem is to see that place that Jesus was born. The point of an inner spiritual pilgrimage is to arrive at fulfillment and complete peace. But once you’ve been to Bethlehem, you can never fully relive the feeling of being there for the first time. And having achieved what feels like complete fulfillment and peace is fleeting at best, and at its worst, very painful to lose.
There’s an old saying among the Buddhists: “If you ever meet the Buddha on the road, kill him and keep going.” The interpretation of that saying is if you ever think you’ve arrived at a point that all your questions are answered and you’ve reached perfection, let go of it because it’s only a delusion. There’s a Christian truth to that sentiment. In 1 Corinthians 13 the Apostle Paul reminds us that in this life we live in the imperfect, the partial; we’re always looking at life through the distorted mirror of our experience, feelings and assumptions.
So it’s important to reframe the importance of getting there.
We sometimes forget that the forty years the Israelites spent “lost” or “wandering” in the wilderness, they were never really lost — they knew exactly where they were. Throughout that time, God reshaped the Israelites from a formerly enslaved people who were ready to return to Egypt whenever things got tough, to a people who learned to trust God’s leadership in their wandering. I’m reminded of the end of the second stanza of the hymn, “Lead on, O Cloud of Presence”, a hymn which recalled the meaning of the Exodus:
We are not lost, though wandering, For by your light we come, And we are still God’s people. The journey is our home.
So this week, don’t be in a hurry to get somewhere. Remember that even as you amble toward Easter, Holy Week and Easter are already coming to you. Now go, saunter off!
Rev. Dr. David Chisham
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This day I shall saunter, the devil can take a hike!