Written by Matt Perez
I recently lost the use of my car for about a week after I mis-placed the only key I had for it. On top of the usual stressors of adult life, suddenly finding myself relying on the graces of others for rides was a very upsetting, and frustrating thing to happen. I didn’t have high hopes for the rest of the week, but as the first few days went by, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t a bad experience after all. In fact, it revealed to me something very important that I think we all tend to forget; walking is good for you.
I firmly believe that life is best lived slowly and deliberately, like thoroughly chewing and tasting a meal bite by bite instead of simply stuffing yourself as quickly as possible. You can certainly see an awful lot of the world at sixty miles per hour, but you can only truly live where you are present, which is to say, where you’re rooted by your feet. Though I had lost the use of a vehicle, I retained the use of my legs. Luckily, most of my personal life occurs only about a thirty-minute walk from my house. I’m used to driving everywhere in about five minutes instead of taking the time necessary to walk. I rediscovered something I knew very well as a child; when you walk, you drink in the world God built for you much more deeply. You re-integrate yourself into it, rather than simply hurtling through it, detached, in a vehicle. On foot you get to hear every bird’s song, admire the colors exploding from each blossom, smell and taste the breeze as it filters through the living leaves of centuries-old trees, feel the earth and stones under your feet. You become aware of the fact that you are simply a small facet of the epic, intricate, and wondrous work of Creation. All your senses are fully engaged. This kind of immersive experience becomes lost all in a sealed car, drowned out by the blaring radio and sterile air-conditioning. You’re viewing life through just one more screen.
Walking is also hard and time-consuming. It takes a real physical effort to put one foot ahead of the other, uphill and downhill, over fallen trees and around great rocks. You will sweat and your feet will hurt after a while. You might face stinging insects, freezing winds or blazing heat. If you plan on walking anywhere, you need to rope off large blocks of time to allow for travel. Walking, by its very nature, is limiting and humbling. Your body can only endure traveling so far in one day, and a day is only made up of so many hours. The walker is confined by both space and time. As we walk, we become aware of our finitude; we are ultimately small, insignificant creatures, and our time is passing. We are just dust.
This kind of self-awareness is dangerous to our consumer culture. We live in a monetized age of unprecedented abundance and unparalleled efficiency. “On-demand” has become the “Amen” of our era. We are not supposed to think of ourselves as simple, and limited, but rather as the monolithic, dynamic centers of the universe. We confuse rest and intentionality with laziness and sentimentality; if we aren’t currently busy making money, we’re wasting someone’s time, if not our own. Indulgence and accumulation are the ultimate virtues, and abstention and contentment are viewed with suspicion or outright hostility. We are taught that we are perfect as we are, that all our desires and whims are legitimate, and as such we deserve to indulge our every impulse. Anything less is “repression”.
The Christian knows (or ought to know) this is not the case. Scripture reminds us that we are fallen creatures, neither perfect nor entitled. Frankly, we are a mess, buffeted constantly by our desire to sin and cave in to temptation in the quest for fulfilment. Lent is a chance to see with fresh eyes just how far gone we are, how much Mammon has deceived us into worshiping consumption as the key to freedom and happiness. When we realize that we cannot achieve true joy and rest on our own, that material wealth will never be enough, we must turn to God for help.
Lent reminds us in a very real way that we are not the mighty pillars that the universe rests on. We are instead simple creatures, meant to live slow, quiet, child-like lives of peace and reverence towards God. Among many things, Lent is an invitation to experimentally cut ties to parts of our lives that distract, tempt and ultimately enslave us.
Lent is the Lord’s way of asking us to pull off the highway, park the car, and take a walk with Him.