When I was a kid, I went barefoot a lot. We lived on 6 acres out in the country, and my feet traversed many of those acres without the comfort of shoes. Through the long tall grasses where we made grass huts, up the dirt path through the trees to my fairyland place, through the creek where we raced our “boats” consisting of just a piece of wood. My bare feet were fearless back then. I could run across gravel and not flinch. I think I am still scrubbing the earth out from the bottoms of my feet. Today, if I go barefoot outside the house, the tiniest pebble or twig can do me in.
Jesus walked a lot, too. He probably wore sandals. We have accounts from the gospels recording him walking through the countryside, walking by the Sea of Galilee, walking in the Temple, and even walking on water. Imagine if Jesus had driven a car instead. What would have changed? He walked everywhere he went, except for a short stint on a donkey at the end. This gave him time to see things, to see people, it slowed him down – places and people might have been a blur if he were going faster than his own two feet. Because he was going slowly, they came into focus for him. Sometimes he had a destination. Sometimes he did not.
Today, we are in the fifth week of looking at spiritual practices by exploring Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World. And today is the Practice of Walking on the Earth. Paying attention to where our path – whether it is literally walking, or another means of moving slowly on this earth.
I have two friends who are on pilgrimage in Spain. One left in the middle of August to walk the Camino Frances, the other left in the middle of September to walk the Camino de Santiago. I am keeping them in my prayers, and fighting off the bug to go join them. It is lovely to imagine them walking in another country, in another culture on this World Communion Sunday – a day when we recall how we are connected to the rest of the Body of Christ throughout the world.
When I was a kid, my explorations through the woods on barefoot was all about play and adventure. On World Communion Sunday, I am reminded that for many, walking on the earth is about sustenance – about gathering enough food and water to sustain their family and community for that day. I remember my parents and grandparents talking about “the old days” when they had to walk five miles through the snow, uphill both ways, just to get to school. In a sense, “the old days” are still with many people throughout the world. I heard a story just this week about how some of our families staying with us from Family Housing Network, walked great distances from the bus, just to get to our church – their place of shelter and safety and sustenance for the night.
This past April at the Paris Marathon, there was an interesting sight. In the middle of 54,000 runners Siabatou Sanneh stood out. Carrying a 20kg water container on her head and wearing her multi-coloured traditional dress. I had to look up how much 20 kg was. 44 pounds. That’s the amount of weight I am hoping to lose by the time I turn 50. That’s a lot of weight to carry, especially on one’s head. It was the first time the mother of 4 had ever left her country, Gambia, but this didn’t deter her from raising awareness about the difficulties African women face in accessing clean drinking water. She was there with Water for Africa, a non-profit building boreholes in her village.
“I came to Paris for the marathon to raise awareness and help the African women get clean water – for drinking, cooking, washing and gardening to grow agriculture. In my country, you eat what you grow, but you can only do that with sufficient water.”
By walking the marathon with a plastic barrel of water on her head, Siabatou is hoping to send a message: she does not want to be drinking water from wells any more.
“I want them to help us dig bore holes, a sustainable water source, but not only more holes, I want more sustainable ones too. That’s all we need. I don’t want my children to be collecting water from dirty wells when they are older,” she said. Siabatou first started collecting water when she was just five-years-old, and is now accompanied by her daughters, Nyima, 12, and Mamina, 20. “ We wake up in the morning, and go and collect water from a well. We have to walk 8km there, and back. We do this three times a day at least.” All three carry the equivalent of 20kg of water in containers, plastic bottles, and buckets, wearing only flip flops to tread on the rugged ground. “It is a difficult journey,” Siabatou explained.
While she did not walk the whole 42km “because it was too long and the container on my head was too heavy”, Siabatou, says she is proud to have accomplished the walk, carrying a placard that read: “In Africa, women walk this distance every day to collect water. Help us shorten the distance”.
Today, a few of us are participating in the Hunger Walk with Associated Ministries by walking in solidarity around Lake Steilacoom to raise money and awareness about hunger in Pierce County, and across the world. A few more are participating by donating funds and with their prayers. I love that this event occurs ON World Communion Sunday. when we are reminded that the Body of Christ is bigger than just our own faith community, and bigger than the community in which we live. The Body of Christ is represented across the globe. Today we pay special attention to the unity that Christians all over the world share. The love of Christ brings us together, no matter where we live, no matter which national flag we wave, no matter what country we are from. Communion is not the sacrament of holy isolation, but of holy Communion. As the Body of Christ, we need to put the Union back into Communion. A child in one of my churches said, “The bread & juice are here. Now we can have community.”
In the midst of community and holding the tension between our spiritual journey, and the well-being of community, I encourage you to enter into the practice of Walking on the Earth – to feel the earth below you. Page 68- Altar in the World…
Jack Kornfield: One of the most useful and grounding ways of attending to our body is the practice of walking meditation. Walking meditation is a simple and universal practice for developing calm, connectedness, and embodied awareness. Use the natural movement of walking to cultivate mindfulness and wakeful presence.