THE Bishop of Norwich, Graham Usher, reflects on the many funerals that he has conducted and the frequent use of the comforting 23rd Psalm, which begins by speaking of God in the third person — “The Lord is my Shepherd” — but moves to the more personal second person in the fourth verse: “You are with me.”
It is this bold affirmation of God’s eternal presence which illuminates the whole of The Way under our Feet (the title is inspired by the writings of Henry David Thoreau the New England Transcendentalist).
Usher sees his own ministry as walking in the ways of God, following Jesus who is himself The Way. His sympathy is with the pilgrim en route to Santiago de Compostela who reflected: “The road was where Jesus was to be found.” His episcopal advice to new priests in his diocese is: “Walk your patch.”
Much has been written of late about the value of walking, about its therapeutic value, the healthy nature of the exercise, the strengthening of muscles, the improvement of lungs; walking through woodland as “forest bathing”, breathing in natural protective chemicals; strolling through nature, whether in park or wilderness, to rediscover our roots in the ecosystem, our debt to the planet.
Some of the writing has been inspired by Buddhist teaching and the practice of mindful awareness by focusing on the life giving rhythm of breathing. For Usher, the language is Christian. He is taught the Jesus Prayer by a monk on Mount Athos, praying in the rhythm of the stride with the inward and outward breath while walking: breathing Jesus. Life becomes a pilgrimage at three miles an hour, body and soul united in a spiritual act of physical prayer.
A cloud of witnesses are summoned to emphasis the value of walking; Nan Shepherd, Bruce Chatwin, Robert Macfarlane. For many it is the source of their creativity — from Beethoven to Kierkegaard, from Charles Dickens to C. S. Lewis. “He is the richest man who pays the largest debt to his shoemaker,” Thoreau’s compatriot Emerson wrote.
Usher writes movingly about those who walk in fear, the millions of refugees fleeing their homes, now, as we read; sick, tired, hungry, frightened, making wearisome journeys into unknown futures. The world should adopt the law found in Leviticus, he reflects: “You shall love the alien as yourself. . . You were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
He covers a great deal of ground, often referring to scripture, sometimes producing a mind-stopping thought. So, when considering the story of the man told to take up his bed and walk, we find “Beware extravagant claims of contemporary healing miracles. These promote the heresy that only able-bodied people can be authentic followers of Christ.” Discuss.
The Revd Adam Ford is a former Chaplain of St Paul’s School for Girls.
The Way under Our Feet: A spirituality of walking
Graham B. Usher
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