The Walking Cure

There is a reason we don’t talk about “sidewalk rage”: It doesn’t exist, at least where I’ve lived. Like many people, I often get frustrated while driving in traffic. I also get upset on my bike if drivers don’t acknowledge the presence of bikers, even as drivers justifiably get frustrated with me on a bike if I do not follow the rules of the road. But the sidewalk? I honestly cannot remember a time when I was angry on the sidewalk. Even if I were frustrated before I started walking, the repetition of steps has a way of putting me at ease and clearing my mind.

Life is slower on the sidewalk—this is most definitely not “life in the fast lane”—but it’s also far less stressful. You don’t hear of someone complaining about how he was late because of sidewalk construction or a “sidewalk jam.” I may know that walking will be slower than another means of transportation, but if it is a route with which I am familiar, I can know almost to the exact minute how long it will take me, whereas other methods of getting around are subject to many potentially delaying variables.

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I’m far more open to pleasant surprises and simple beauties while walking and am able to change my plans completely. I can actually stop and smell the roses. While driving, I’m likely not even to notice the roses. Or if I happen to see them, I then may need to turn around—far more difficult if there is traffic or if I’m on a one-way street—look for and probably pay for a parking spot and then walk around looking for the roses that I saw from the car window.

There are also many more opportunities on the sidewalk for making the world a better, kinder place. It’s impossible to strike up conversations with passing cars, and even if I try to smile at other drivers, they are unlikely to see me. These things, however, are normal on the sidewalk, at least in most of the places where I have lived. (I admit, however, that this isn’t necessarily the case everywhere; my smiles and pleasantries on the sidewalk have been returned with very confused looks in a few cities I have visited.)

Additionally, walking has a surprising number of parallels with the spiritual life.

At an initial glance, walking seems rather unproductive, similar in many ways to spending time in prayer. There are usually far faster modes of transportation. Additionally, if one walks for exercise, it initially appears to be less efficient than other types of exercise that will raise your heart rate much faster.

Scientists, however, are starting to see how intense exercise is not necessarily the secret to losing weight; one may then be more likely to chow down and be lazy during the rest of the day, whereas simply incorporating more walking into one’s daily routine might be more effective for reducing one’s waistline.

Analogously, one can look around and see how there’s a whole lot of work we need to do in the world—starting with ourselves and our families—and that prayer can initially seem like something that takes time away from the more important action.

Though I am not motivated by productivity in choosing to walk or pray, I might actually be far more productive when I do these things. Starting my day with a walk, rather than a traffic jam, even if the walk takes some time, is far more likely to put me in a relaxed state, ready to work. Prayer, while it might seem far less productive than active service, is likely the well that can sustain continued service over a long period of time.

More than this, walking, like prayer, makes me feel more like a human being, rather than a human doing. Sure, I could travel in a way that is far faster or spend my time producing more, but I often feel most liberated when I realize that I don’t always have to produce. I don’t always have to rush from place to place. I slowly learn with each step that life is not about efficiency or productivity.

People often ask me where I’m going during my evening stroll. “I’m just walking,” I often respond, at times to perplexed looks. It can seem like wasted time. Similarly, one of my favorite definitions of prayer is “wasting” time with God. The truth is, however, that time with God, or time in the pedestrian lane during which I’m able to appreciate God’s creation, is never really wasted time.

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Gail Neever
4 years 6 months ago
Thanks for the wonderful reflection on "wasting time with God" while both coming and going. It is a needed reminder to slow down, enjoy the journey, use the quiet moments for conversation with Him.
Bruce Snowden
4 years 6 months ago
I agree with Jesuit Scholastic Michael Rossmann that walking is good for body and soul. My cardiologist told me to do some walking daily to keep my heart working better. At 81 its difficult for me to walk much but I walk as much as I can with help from my “third leg” – my cane! As a kid all I did was walk, and also in my early later years. Once on one of my sidewalk walks I spotted a newly hatched but unfortunately dead baby bird fallen from its nest, which I removed preventing people from stepping on it and I place the little creature on the soil near shrubbery. Sidewalk conversations happen easily and can sometimes become reciprocal learning moments, uplifting and underlined with smiles. And it’s true as Mr. Rossmann said, as one walks one can “smell the roses” that is, become aware of lots of beauty often missed. Sidewalk-walking is also soul-good. Many times as I walk, a crack in the sidewalk that looks like a Cross will turn my thoughts within, to Calvary, producing some of my best “wasting time with God” meditations . Once thus prayerfully engaged and kind of lost in prayer, I bumped into a sidewalk bus stop, luckily not knocking over anyone which quickly reminded me to keep my eyes open, as prayerful bumps can hurt! I love that term, “wasting time with God” in prayer which as explained by Scholastic Rossmann is never at all a waste. God not only resides in time, but more interestingly time resides in God it seems to me as from its source. But as I write I find myself asking the question without getting too bogged down, “What is time”” I think time is really measured eternity. I think we live in eternity – eternity is really NOW, all around us and to give it some tangibility we call it “time” Maybe that’s nutty? Augustine liked to play around with the human concept of time too, its tributaries of present, past, future, as do I. Once he penned the following brain-twister – “How can the past and future “be” when the past no longer “is” and the future is not yet? As for the present, it were always present and never moved on to become the past, it would not be time but eternity ...” on and on he goes. I did like reading “Walking Cure” and I do agree walking does have healing qualities for body and soul.
Christopher McDonough
4 years 6 months ago
Dear Fr. Rossman-- Thanks so much for this piece. How refreshing it is to be reminded that "life is not about efficiency or productivity." Your essay, with its juxtaposition of walking and praying, reminds me of another, Thoreau's "Walking." As he writes, "I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre — to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, "There goes a sainte-terrer", a saunterer — a holy-lander. ... For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this holy land from the hands of the Infidels." How much more true is this in our age, and how much less possible is it to saunter, and how much more necessary.
quenni chile
2 years 9 months ago
Hello! I agree with you. A sidewalk is an alternative way of going to other place. It is very useful and at the same time easy way or path of walking. Check this out-->get soundcloud plays
summerlove haynes
2 years 9 months ago
As I read carefully your essay, I can't say anything but to be proud of you. You are one of countless people who achieved their goals despite of hindrances you've bound to met. You inspire and motivate me suddenly, to do different things that I can apply to myself, not only for myself but for society, for the world. I hope I could make better ways that would turn into great ideas and share it to the world. You inspire me a lot and I mean it. Thank you for sharing it, I learned something new that would change me for better. For the meantime, click this where to buy soundcloud downloads and try our services.

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