Something is happening. I am noticing it on my nearly daily walks.
Some of you know, if you look far enough back in my history, that I am a trained athlete. When it comes to my body and setting ambitious physical goals I can be pretty disciplined. Three years ago I set my sights on climbing to Everest Base Camp on my bike and spent the four months prior to that mentally and physically preparing for the feat. I know how to push my body now for a future payoff.
That is why I know something is happening.
Typically, in the winter, when I can’t swim or get into the gym I walk. But my walks are meant to keep me in shape, keep the pounds off, and not lose too much physical conditioning over the rainy months in Oregon. In other words, I tend to push hard on my walks keeping up a pace that gives me confidence that I will be ready for the next physical feat when spring returns.
But something is happening.
Not too far into my walks these days (generally in the first mile) the push evaporates. A voice from inside calls out to me saying, “Slow it down, buddy! Contemplate, feel and breathe.” It seems to be saying, “Let the future come to you, Brian. Quit trying so hard.”
I struggle when it happens. I am obsessive about getting my daily exercise. I want to get my heart rate up for a good aerobic workout. I want to feel like I am winning against the winter funk. I want to show that Oregon winters are not too great an obstacle to overcome for this trained athlete.
But my soul is crying out, “Slow it down. Let life come to you. Make room for God to show up.”
It reminds me of the preaching story about white missionaries on a trek in the Outback in Australia. Accompanied by Aboriginies, one day the white missionaries get up, prepare for another day of hiking and discover that their local companions are refusing to move. Frustrated that they can not get their companions to pack up and hike they finally ask the interpreter to find out what is wrong. The answer they get back is, “We have to let our souls catch up to us. We left them behind a day or two ago.”
I can feel this same dynamic at work in me on my walks. Nearly every day I start off my walk ready to conquer a certain number of miles and check off the accomplishment in my DayTimer. I am determined to keep my discipline to stay in shape, keep the weight off and maintain my conditioning over the winter. And nearly every day, something happens. An unknown force deep in my soul slams on the brakes and my race-like pace suddenly shifts into a slow, reflective meander. My soul demands attention and my body submits to this seemingly greater authority.
It’s a strange experience. My usual pace is a way of preparing me for a future I want and am willing to discipline myself to get there. This new pace is a way of allowing the future to come to me—no work, just receptivity. My usual pace reveals how much I like to be in charge. This new pace acknowledges someone else and something else is in charge.
I write this to you because I am hearing something similar among colleagues, church members, and family and friends. I am hearing in almost every meeting and conversation how people don’t have any more energy to try to hold onto a life they once took for granted. I keep hearing how people are feeling beaten into submission. It’s no longer about beating this thing, but about learning to live with it.
I hear in more ways than one that we are moving from seeing this time as an obstacle to overcome and more as a gift to accept. I think that’s what is happening on my walks. I start out with an intention to overcome this massive obstacle that has been thrown in my path and somewhere in the first mile my soul grabs my whole body and says, “Stop. Slow down. Receive this time as a gift.”
Interesting. Just in time for Thanksgiving.
What a year.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades