I walked my way through 2016.
I walked to the bar, cutting through back alleys and across unmaintained parking lots at abandoned car dealerships. I walked back and forth from my office to the hospital when I was a chaplain, cutting across the little metal bridge and through the miniature forest that surrounded the rehabilitation community. I walked and walked and walked through the parks in Atlanta, miles and miles of urban pilgrimage.
I noticed how the geese were getting more aggressive at Piedmont. I stopped and watched how babies chased squirrels around overgrown bushes. I watched the sky when it was about to rain, but didn’t turn to go home, walking in rain and thunder and feeling what it was like to get soaked from a car smashing its monster wheels through puddles on Ponce when they barrelled by. I walked loops around the monastery in Georgia, back and forth on the shore of the lake, up and around and over apple trees and through awkwardly unmaintained fields of weeds and wildflowers. I walked in circles around the blocks of Decatur, looping in and around and back and through the side streets and behind coffee shops, like a perpetually wound windup toy.
In January 2017, my sprained ankle was finally strong enough to start running again. Running is good for me – good for my anxiety, good for my body, good for my passion for delicious baked goods (permission to eat 1200 calories of brownie GRANTED). I ran down Ponce and past Emory and through all the parks that had water fountains and up hills that didn’t ever end.
I didn’t go walking for awhile. I was too busy running.
Last week, my spiritual director and I sat listening to the Spirit together. I wasn’t hearing very much. I hoped that she was having more success.
“I have a lot of clarity about where not to go,” I had just told her. “Like Jesus said NOT TO THE LEFT! so I turned right and then He was all NOT TO THE RIGHT! It feels like being herded.”
We sit with the image of border collie Jesus for a minute, which seems like a pretty Biblical metaphor to me. Then we sit for awhile more, watching the wax drain off the edge of the candle. I try not to feel too judged by the gentle Annunciation painting of Mary, who is looking incredibly submissive and obedient. I’m not even sure I’m really “listening” to the Spirit, just sitting and wondering if I look like I’m listening to the Spirit.
Finally my spiritual director breathes out, and looks at me expectantly.
“I don’t know,” I bleat. “I still don’t know, I have no idea!”
“Well,” she said carefully, “maybe at this time in your life, you are simply called to be attentive.”
I went walking again this week.
I listened to sap crackling right underneath the skin of the huge elm and watched ants marshall themselves up and down the jagged bark edges. I met a puppy named Lila who looked like a floppy stuffed animal and she floppy-trotted behind me while her dad chased her. I watched a baby meet Lila-puppy and it was like pecan pie, too sweet to have more than one bite but damn that bite is good. I ran a stick down the length of the metal cross-hatched fence and felt the rhythm in my hand and wrist when it thump-thump-thumped like a drumbeat, syncopated with my feet on the bricks.
Swallows clustered up on a dying tree over the water, sun hitting the lake like bullets off Wonder Woman’s shield. A guy and his friend sitting on the dock, one of them livestreaming his friend with his phone – “hey, Derek, man, uh, this is just to say, hey, hope you have a great birthday, man, I’m just glad you’re around.” The roots of the old magnolia tree wind up and around and back and through the dirt and the air and the water, touching a little piece of each one before they stretch out and back again. You will be like a tree planted by streams of running water, the Spirit reminds me, when I curl up on those dirty roots.
Tell me what to do, I want to whisper back to Her. Tell me where to go.
But maybe I am simply called to be attentive.