This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Steps of faith

Speaking Out column

I walk more lately. Last summer, I changed my exercise routine so that I walk four miles most weekday mornings. I leave early, usually before daybreak, and trek from the Park View neighborhood to downtown Harrisonburg, Va. I walk the sidewalks, varying my route each day. Irene, my wife, and I also walk more together than we used to. When we’re in the mood for ice cream at Kline’s, or supper at Little Grill, we’ll walk the several-mile round trip rather than drive. Once we joined 150 others in the CROP Walk downtown.

I like to think of walking as part of my faith journey. No, I don’t experience divine revelation on every walk, I don’t pray and recite Scripture with every step, and my mind is not focused on God at all times. Nothing dramatic has happened at all. But the daily discipline of walking has changed me. My awareness of the world around me has sharpened.

In contrast, when I drive through town with windows up, air conditioner on and radio playing, I effectively separate myself from the space I inhabit and the people who inhabit it with me. I need only road signs and automated traffic signals to safely navigate. I never need to make eye contact with another human being or even acknowledge their existence. No wonder we are so prone to road rage. The physical and social isolation of a motor vehicle encourages us to treat others not as fellow human beings but as objects in my path.

I’m not saying the car is the devil’s handiwork. Cars are useful, practical and necessary as a mode of transportation, especially when distance, cargo or groups are involved. Thank God for the creative and entrepreneurial minds that made it possible. But as a society we have become so dependent on it that in the course of several generations we have slowly stopped walking. Without realizing it, we daily choose a way of life that maintains our isolation, not only from family and friends but, more importantly, from strangers.

So I have decided to walk more. Not because it makes me holier but because it keeps me more human. Since I started walking every day, I have a growing appreciation for how beautiful our town is and how diverse in class and ethnicity. I have observed some early morning rhythms of people who work at the poultry plant, sweep sidewalks, mow the courthouse lawn, go to the diner for coffee, lounge on the steps of apartment buildings, deliver bread to the grocery store or engage in other morning rituals. I now recognize the faces of some area residents whom I greet regularly, though I don’t yet know their names. Several times I’ve met someone I know on the sidewalk and joined them for several blocks, sharing an unexpected and pleasant conversation. I have lived in this area for 17 years, but in four months I gained a much better grasp of the cultural geography of our community. I know in a deeper way what sort of houses, businesses and shared spaces line the streets.

My awareness of and attentiveness to my community has grown immeasurably, simply because I walk more. I think greater awareness and attentiveness must be pleasing to God. Our calling as Christians, and as human beings, is to participate with God as collaborators in this world. But how can we do that if we shield ourselves from the world and its inhabitants? How can we love our neighbors when we make sure they stay invisible to us? Let’s make our walk with Jesus more than just a metaphor. The rest of you can start wherever you need to. I’m starting with the streets of my town.

Philip L. Kniss is pastor of Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg, Va.

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