by Will Fletcher.
Do you like walking? Do you like gardening? These seem to be two of the most commonly asked questions that I get as a minister. The truth is that I do enjoy going for a walk, and I do also enjoy spending time in my garden. Yet I’m always a bit cagey about answering these questions positively. For it often seems that if I say that I enjoy walking that therefore must mean that I want to push myself to walk the furthest mileage possible, up steep craggy paths, barely stopping for sustenance let alone to take in the view (this may have something to do with first being minister on the edge of the Peak District, and now on the edge of the South Downs). If I answer that I enjoy gardening the expectation seems to be that I’ll be out spending every available moment tending my immaculate garden, and that I’ll be an expert in growing a variety of plants and vegetables.
Anyone who has been for a walk with me, or seen my garden, will know that neither of these things are true. I get side-tracked in both activities by stopping to look at all manner of bug or flower (that some might call weed). I don’t care how far I walk, or even how challenging the terrain is, being out walking is enough. And the best walks have an extended pub lunch with a pint in the middle of them! My garden isn’t immaculate, because I don’t actually know a lot about what I’m doing, but it is a haven of calm where I try and make room for all wildlife – slugs and snails included.
It did make me wonder whether the assumptions behind the questions point to attitudes in society that we always have to aim at being the best, going the furthest, never being satisfied, always looking to the next thing.
Our Methodist heritage may contribute to that assumption. The Wesleys’ desire for Christian perfection, meant that they could never be satisfied, and always had to be looking to the next step, the next experience, moving that little bit closer to God. This can be a positive intention, but it can also leave us dissatisfied or feeling like we have to keep pushing ourselves, and not rest.
Having that mindset of yearning for perfection can lead us to aiming only at the greatest spiritual experiences or feats. We have to give up everything for Lent, or go on one of the huge pilgrimages, or spend x number of uninterrupted hours in prayer. Anything short of the maximum doesn’t feel worth it; and anything short of some profound new spiritual experience feels a bit of a let-down.
Now Jesus obviously spent his 40 days in the wilderness fasting and praying, so he wasn’t opposed to such endeavours. Yet we see far more often Jesus and his followers walking from village to town around Galilee and Judea. Even when he had turned his face towards Jerusalem, he didn’t seem in a rush to get there. The journey was important, not just the destination. When Jesus was on the way to Jairus’ house when his daughter was taken sick (Mark 5.21-43), he was prepared to stop when the woman who was haemorrhaging touched his cloak, and restore her to wholeness. So many times do we see Jesus walking along but being prepared to stop to offer healing, to notice a fig tree, to visit a tax collector’s house for tea.
I was asked recently when the last time I ‘went paddling with Jesus’ was. It was a question that pulled me up short. In the focus on ministry and striving to be the best disciple I can be, have I failed to make space to be with Jesus – not swimming as many lengths as I can, but just to enjoy being in his presence.
In recent years we have started learning that immaculate gardens aren’t always great for encouraging the beautiful diversity of God’s creation to thrive, that being a slightly lazier gardener might not actually be a bad thing all the time. So I wonder whether we might all be called, at least on occasion, to be less worried about how much, or how far, or how ‘perfect’, and instead make space to notice the little things on the journey, which might be just as important as the destination. Maybe we all need to make time to ‘paddle with Jesus.’
3 thoughts on “Do you like walking?”
Many years ago, living in a house on a hill, we experienced a real cloudburst, and a stream of clear water ran down the gutter. The sun came out, so I went out too and paddled in the stream. Got some funny looks, but who cares? The sensation was unforgettable.
Let’s embrace the interruptions – they might be the very moments that matter in the end.
Thank you, Will!
Thanks Will, I agree with you, we need to slow down a bit, not to be striving all the time! Jesus clearly took time to appreciate the wild flowers, enough to describe them certainly! During my week off I think I may go paddling with Jesus, what a great idea!
Thank you for this important reminder, Will. Early in ministry, a Clinical Pastoral Education experience put me on a hospital ward as a chaplain. One day the head nurse sat me down and said, ‘I’ve watched you walking purposefully along the corridor on your way to see someone. I would suggest you learn to ssssstttttrrrrrroll. You will be a lot more approachable”.