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On Sauntering vs. Walking: When is enough enough

The homework came in. The feedback I got from the assignment centered on a theme that basically said, ‘We used to be that, but now we’re only this.” Today I invite you on a stroll, a saunter, into who we are as a community from the perspective of someone who has been around you since only January 25th of this year. There is, of course, two sides to the story. One is sort of like the reading in Deuteronomy (Walk in God’s ways) and the other is like the reading in Psalms (We are wonderfully made). The Deuteronomy reading is about doing something. The reading in Psalms is about being grateful for what we already are. The first reading is a walk toward a destination. The second, is a saunter and a celebration of where we are.

I have found that to get to a destination as a community, while it may seem best to simply march ahead, I’ve found that it is best to start with a saunter. I have coached basketball for ten years. The first three years I did a common sense march ahead type approach. I focused on what we needed to do. I found where we were lacking and I frequently pointed it out. And in the first three years my team’s combined record was 3 wins 45 loses. Then in the fourth year, I decided to saunter. I decided to go less on the Deuteronomy and more on the Psalms. I started by pointing out where my team was right. And I quickly saw that I saw more and more of what was right. I realized that every time a team runs down the floor, there is something simultaneously going on that’s right and wrong. I started looking for what was right. And the more I pointed it out the more they kept doing what was right. From that season on, in the next seven years of coaching, we won 75% of our games and along with 2 championships.

Today, instead of the warnings of Deuteronomy “…you shall perish; you shall not live long” if we don’t do x, y, and z. I want to start with grace—a message that we are fearfully and wonderfully made as we are right now.

Buckwalter at mile 1.6

So let’s start with a story from something that happened just the other day. As I tell it, think about if or how this story relates to our recent history here at UCC in say the last couple years.

The other day I was running on Buckwalter. I was wired up. I had a watch keeping track of my pulse, my phone keeping track of my mile pace by the second. I had headphones on Youtube playing some interview of Jimmy Carter. And I’m just knocking it out. Getting stuff done. Plus, my pace was a little faster than usual. I was feeling pretty good about the workout. Then exactly 1.62 miles into the run, a sharp knife stabbing pain hit my left calf. I stopped. I knew I’d have to walk back. I texted a complaint to my wife who wrote back, “Enjoy the walk.” That instantly framed it differently for me.

I started walking back. More than that I started to saunter. I unplugged from my digital world and became present in what was going on around me. I even started taking pictures. It was as if I were seeing this familiar pace for the first time. I realized that I could tell you my mile time average, my pulse, the elevation change, but I couldn’t tell you much about the scenery. My wife had re-framed the run. I mean I could have focused on how it’d probably take a month for my left calf to heal and how that ruined my workout. I could keep thinking of the good old days when just 10 years ago I used to run 13 miles at an average pace that is a 1:15 faster than what I do today at only four miles. I could just keep focusing on how I’m not enough. But in truth, that walk or saunter back home was probably better for my overall health, than another hurried run multitasking my way through space and time. Even with a blown out calf muscle, by slowing down and looking around, I realized that there were still many things to celebrate. I had all these beautiful views, a family to walk home to, birds sounds, cows in the field, and by the way I could still walk and I can still see. Life is pretty good. But I wouldn’t have been aware of any of that unless I had sauntered. Sometimes we may need to slow down and saunter a bit and take in the beauty around us. And it may be more important that just an ‘Oh, that’d be nice to do a little more sauntering.” Sauntering may be more than a cute and quaint little thing. It may be vital. It may be something we need to intentionally develop as a lifesaving discipline.

Thoreau & the Origin of Sauntering

One of my favorite essays in literature is by Henry David Thoreau. It’s entitled ‘Walking.’ Henry David Thoreau might be called one of our foremost experts on the art of walking. Thoreau’s walking might be better called sauntering. The word saunter may come from a Middle English word santren—which is to muse. Or it may come from what Thoreau described in his essay, as someone on their way to the Holy Land. ‘A la Saint[e] Terre’ with the first part of the word Saunt—Santo, Saint, and the latter part of the word coming from Terra, tierra, land. It was said of those on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, ‘There goes a Saint[e] Terrer, a saunterer, a holy lander.’ Thoreau saw walking as an act of worship—a component of spirituality. Maybe even a spiritual discipline.

Two types of walking

Today we will look at the art of walking as a guide to being more fully awake, which is to say to develop a rich inner spiritual life. I think we find that there are really two types of walking—one type of walking gets you from point A to point B. The other type of walking is about savoring the moment as you go. It’s like the difference between eating food for mere calories in order to supply the body with energy (mac and cheese or roman noodles) vs. eating to savor the flavor, the aroma, and to bask in the ambiance and culture of fine cuisine (a cheese