Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Forced Walk - and the need for Seeing

It’s a beautiful place. Located on the shores of lake Bodensee. My window looks southward to a small field, beyond which lies the massive lake whose name defines the region. On the far side of the lake lie the shores of Switzerland, and beyond them, the Alps loom, larger and clearer at sunset than at any other time of day.

It had snowed here over the weekend, but today being in the 50s, the snow is completely gone. It’s as if a woolen blanket has been peeled off the landscape to reveal life in all it fecundity underneath. Having run through the blanketed farmlands yesterday, I determine that today, my break from studies and teaching shall be brisk walk instead. This isn’t some noble quest, some slowing down so as to ‘see’. Rather, it’s a hip that has seen enough punishment from running on pavement and sitting on planes and trains. It has said, “enough” and I can hear it’s threatening voice, whether sitting or standing: “run and you’ll pay dearly”.

“OK. I’ll walk” I say, humbled by being 51, and pondering how I can feel both grateful for such good health and frail at the same time. So I set out to walk, northward, past the small church. Less than a hundred meters from this church there’s the house pictured above which, to my mind, functions as the demarcation between rural and urban. There are no suburbs here. One is in the city. One walks a hundred meters. One is in the country. It’s that simple, that sequential, like moving through Lewis’ wardrobe and quickly entering another land.

On this day, the farmland is brilliant green, and a stream runs noisily along the roadside, the product of the heavy melt today. Some pruned back trees, along with hops, even some grapes, mark the landscape of this rich soil. There are couples walking, hand in hand and we pass each other with customary greetings. Tracks divide the land, and soon I see a train passing through. The sound of it produces a descending pitch and I remember that Einstein explained this once, but I don’t remember what he said. Are the waves settling, as ripples do in a pond, or is there something else at play?

It’s quiet. I look at the tiny one room cabins that are dotted along the land near the train tracks. These, I’m told, are places where city people to ‘farm’ tiny plots of land, family gardens. Each little cabin is clean and uniquely decorated to express beauty. I ponder once again the theology of beauty, as I wonder why it is that the beautiful captures us, draws our attention. I wonder if this little garden cabin is a part of the ‘beauty of the Lord’ spoken of in the Bible, or just a little cabin. I wonder the same about the dignified old man who is walking the other way.

I pass another couple on the road and think of my wife, wishing her hand was here in mine. I give thanks and pray for her. I turn a corner and follow the train tracks back. Walking gives me the chance to correct my gait so that my hip doesn’t hurt so much. I’m now off the road, and in the middle of the forest. I stop. I’ve turned and am heading south now, so I can see the Alps rising up in the far distance. It’s a naked forest. Were it summer there would be no view, but just now, the trees reveal more than they hide, invite more than they conceal.

I turn another corner, and soon am once again on the outskirts of the city. Here’s the school. Now the houses, with the bakery on the left and apothecary on the right. Children are playing in the street. I turn once again, past the mid-city cemetery, and am quickly back at the school.

Walking. What I thought was a sentence turned out to be a gift. What I thought would confine me, turned out, in fact, to liberate me. I’d run this route several times in previous years, but never had I seen. Perhaps I need to walk more – and see more.

I wonder what else I run through in life: Bible reading? Conversations? Meetings? “Let’s see, can I get this meeting down to a 7 minute mile? Excellent! Maybe next month, 6.5.” I’m getting suspicious that such efficiency is in danger of blinding all of us to things that really matter. Maybe we need to walk a bit more – to soak into a passage of text – to really taste our coffee – and hear what’s being said by listening for body language, or what’s not being said. Yes, I think I’ll walk again this week. I’ll choose it even if my hip grants permission – because sometimes seeing what’s needed.